Five final questions for the council election candidates

IN the lead-up to this month’s local government elections, New Norfolk and Derwent Valley News put 15 questions to all 18 candidates seeking election to the Derwent Valley Council. The questions cover a broad range of topics based on questions and comments received from readers. Candidates were also invited to submit a general statement at the end of the questions.

The editor acknowledges that answering the questions took time, and the effort of those who have participated is greatly appreciated. The first six questions, and the answers received, were published on Monday, introducing to the candidates. The next four questions were published Tuesday and the final five appear below. The responses are published without alteration other than minor editing.

Readers’ comments are welcome. Please note that under the electoral regulations your first name, surname, and town of residence must be included for publication with your question, statement or comment. Candidates: If I have made any errors in compiling these answers, please let me know. Damian Bester, Editor

11. With the Derwent Valley Council recently declaring a Climate Emergency, what actions are required?

PHILLIP BIGG: The issues have been recognised and discussed by current council and I support action, although no further measures can take place until the federal government provides guidelines and funding.

PHILLIP BINGLEY: As per the council’s own resolution of July 2022 , “Conduct a greenhouse gas (GHG) audit on Council operations” to help identify measures that can reduce the councils carbon footprint.

PETER BINNY: Council should be taking steps to reduce carbon emissions in its day to day operations, however this could have occurred without the declaration of a climate emergency!

LUKE BROWNING: Response not yet received.

DEB CARNES: When I worked at UTAS as a lecturer I was part of a teaching team that introduced a unit called “Resilience in the face of emergencies” so I’ve got a good base for this issue. Regardless of whether or not Council declared an emergency, actions are required so future planning decisions need to account for climate change. Risk assessment, removing or mitigating risk is what is required and getting good advice if needed. I’m not just talking about protecting/managing physical assets but ensuring wellbeing and psychological interventions are also in place in the event of any future climate events (eg fire/flooding).

HEATHER CHAPLIN: A thorough audit of Council’s emissions including all emission sources i.e. tip methane, cement use, Council vehicle and lawn mower emissions, etc. Solar panel installation on Council Buildings as recommended but still to be signed off. Solar panels will provide significant annual cost savings. “Greening” New Norfolk, tree planting in the new development areas. Drainage is a more important consideration in Planning and Development Applications so the town is equipped to cope with record inundation, along with wild-fire and higher temperatures into the future.

JESSICA COSGROVE: I supported the DVC declaring a Climate Emergency. Councils are required to promote the economic, social, and environmental sustainability of the municipal district, including mitigation and planning for climate change risks. The role of a Council is to provide good governance for the benefit and wellbeing of their community, which is why I acknowledged that we are in a state of emergency in relation to climate change.

JUSTIN DERKSEN: Having a sensible Climate Change Policy as part of the Derwent Valley Council Strategic Plan like 24 of the other Local Government Areas in Tasmania would be of great benefit to the whole community allowing for a focus in the broader sense of all issues effecting residents in the Derwent Valley.

MICHELLE DRACOULIS: In regard to the Climate Emergency Declaration I have already sent correspondence to a number of elected members including Prime Minister Albanese. We are one of 113 councils Australia wide who have made this declaration and I will be making contact with the Minister for Climate Change and Energy Chris Bowen to see what funding and support will be made available for disaster mitigation and response.

JAMES GRAHAM: I recently bought an electric bike. When driving in a 100 zone, driving at 80 helps reduce my emissions footprint. Council will have to walk the talk find the dollars to address any of the climate emergency measures that get embedded in any of our policies and strategic plan. Council will have to be mindful of its duty of care once acknowledging the emergency of any foreseeable harm.

MATT HILL: I believe that a Climate Emergency Plan should be developed first, prior to any actions taken. This plan should be developed in-house as opposed to engaging external consultants. Engaging consultants is a great cost to our community. Once a plan has been developed, it can be costed and additionally utilised to apply for external funding (grants).

SARA LOWE: Response not yet received.

BRETT MARYNIAK: This was a big achievement and I congratulate all current councillors who voted in support of the motion. Although climate change might feel like it is too big of an issue, I firmly believe that in partnership with other levels of government, local government can play a big role in climate change mitigation. Each community will experience the impact of climate change differently, and the Derwent Valley Council should implement a roadmap that outlines how it will support the community to reduce emissions and lay out its plan to adapt to the localised climate change impacts. This could include the imposition of energy and environmental standards in new developments, review of how we use land and the use of trees and parks through our expanding towns, as well as better transport systems to use alternatives to private cars. Council also has a role to play in the culture of our community and in how we educate and work with our residents to create a lower carbon, low emission future. This also means we can build a more resilient community that is better equipped to handle the future impacts of climate change.

EVE NELSON: The actions required need to be carefully considered and planned and need to start with the engagement of specialists in the area. The right advice from experts in the area will ensure the actions taken are appropriate and responsible.

WAYNE SHOOBRIDGE: There is not that Council can do without a huge Capital outlay. They could start may be getting the GM an electric car, when his is due to be replaced.

LIZ VIRTUE: Council now has an obligation to be mindful of the climate emergency in all of its decision making. There was no cost to make the declaration and no direct cost ongoing. The greatest cost will be if it is not factored into the new strategic plan and everyday activities of the council.

BRODY WIGGINS: There are no quick actions that can make a difference but I believe switching to renewable energies as soon as possible is our best bet. I also believe if the council offers some form of grant to help residents with switching to renewable energies that will be the biggest difference.

NATASHA WOODS: Response not yet received.

12. Do you support the sale of the Valley Children’s Centre? ?

PHILLIP BIGG: I support the sale as long as it does not negatively impact the future of our children and our families

PHILLIP BINGLEY: Yes, I feel that private childcare providers are more appropriate than council.

PETER BINNY: Yes an open sale would be supported. The council is not funded to operate a child care centre and the issue of historical under-payment of staff points to an inability to run a child care centre.

LUKE BROWNING: Response not yet received.

DEB CARNES: I’m not a fan of selling assets, especially ones attached to services.

HEATHER CHAPLIN: The priority has to be what is best for the children.

JESSICA COSGROVE: As I am a sitting member of the current council (and not the spokesperson) and the fact that this an ongoing matter, which is a decision of Council, I cannot comment.

JUSTIN DERKSEN: Childcare is important for an ever growing and dynamic workforce to allow working parents to be able to contribute to our regional economy. Services in childcare could be better provided by specialised childcare providers.

MICHELLE DRACOULIS: I will not make comment on the sale of the Valley Children’s Centre as this is currently commercial in confidence and there is no information to relay.

JAMES GRAHAM: Yes.

MATT HILL: Child care is an important to many families in our community. I would only support this type of decision if existing staff is supported and a quality service (best value for money service) is continued to be provided for our community.

SARA LOWE: Response not yet received.

BRETT MARYNIAK: Generally, I take issue with councils selling assets for the sake of short-term gain. It isn’t sustainable. I am a firm believer that councils should provide quality community services, including childcare. I believe it is important to understand why the council has decided to offload the Valley Children’s Centre, particularly given how profitable childcare services can be. I know that this is an ongoing matter and council is negotiating with private providers, so it is important to have access to all the relevant information to be able to make an informed decision.

EVE NELSON: The sale of the Children’s Centre has been made with careful consideration of the consequences and has been undertaken in consultation with the relevant stakeholders. This is not core business for council and enables council to direct greater efforts to the needs of the Valley.

WAYNE SHOOBRIDGE:  Not sure on this one. It has been part of the Derwent Valley for a long time. Maybe if the Council took more interest in the centre it will be owned by the Rate Payers for a long time to come.

LIZ VIRTUE: I would keep an open mind until I’d received informed advice.

BRODY WIGGINS: I do not agree that this should be sold to private hands. This will cause fees to increase if it is kept as a childrens centre. This will cause young families more stress in an already stressful economy.

NATASHA WOODS: Response not yet received.

13. Do you think the council should become involved in providing land for social housing and/or providing social housing??

PHILLIP BIGG: I believe this is a state government issue, of course discussions with council will be welcomed to achieve a better plan for the future of those most in need. Planning for this would need to consider more than just housing, ensuring local services would meet needs.

PHILLIP BINGLEY: Yes, if the land is appropriately zoned . No, the provision of social housing is a state government responsibility.

PETER BINNY: Social housing is a State and Commonwealth responsibility and the State and Commonwealth should provide the necessary funding, however the Council should be engaged in the conversion of under-utilised public open space and other land to residential use to enable more housing to be constructed and sell off land already zoned residential to extend the housing stock and increase the rate base.

LUKE BROWNING: Response not yet received.

DEB CARNES: Providing social housing is not a responsibility for council. However, council does have a role in planning and zoning. As noted above, I’m not a fan of selling assets but if land was deemed suitable for social housing then it may be worth considering a sale in those circumstances. Land is a ratepayer asset and if there are fiscal pressures on the budget it should not be given away (especially when housing is not a council responsibility).

HEATHER CHAPLIN: I don’t think council should provide land for social housing when it is already allocated for social amenity. We need to prioritise residents’ wellbeing before profit. I would like to see more generous rates contributions from corporate businesses who profit from using municipality resources. This would provide a win win and enable grass roots growth. I do think council has a part to play in providing social housing in partnership with State Government. The role of council could be to oversee, provide, and report on maintenance of social housing properties with youth (who don’t have the knowledge or tools) and/or the elderly (who aren’t able to carry out heavy maintenance). We need to be a more caring society.

JESSICA COSGROVE: Whilst Housing is not a local government responsibility, and the DVC has neither the expertise nor the financial resources to play a part in any solution to the housing problem, councils can have a role in promoting an increase in the number of public and social housing dwellings within their local area. The types of housing I will advocate for range from housing rented or sold at below local market rates to key workers, to social housing rented to very low-income households to supporting older homeowners through reduced council rates. Homelessness is increasingly a significant issue in the Derwent Valley. Homelessness impacts disproportionately on women, single persons, sole-parent families, younger and older residents, people with mental illness and people with a disability. I will continue to support our homeless population and advocate for them, whether I am re-elected or not.

JUSTIN DERKSEN: Housing is something that every Tasmanian is deserving of whilst being a complex issue. Complex issues have complex answers requiring a whole of community approach in all levels of government.

MICHELLE DRACOULIS: Social housing is a state responsibility and it is our job as a small regional council to advocate strongly for those most in need.

JAMES GRAHAM: We are landlords already. Providing land could be seen as an extension of that. The local councils of the future will be working and operating with in the reforms that are being talked about now with “wellbeing at the guts of it.” This question could become a done deal for some municipality if it is not already happening. It is a debate worth happening beyond just being a talking point.

MATT HILL: Like many regions in this state, the Derwent Valley Local Government Area has an affordable housing and homelessness issue. Prior to any allocation of land, I believe that Council should develop an affordable housing and homelessness policy. The development of such a policy is an existing and yet to be implemented action of Council. This policy should outline the Council’s understanding of and level of support, collaboration, advocacy, and facilitation towards affordable and available Housing solutions.

SARA LOWE: Response not yet received.

BRETT MARYNIAK: I firmly believe government has a role to play in social housing. I also believe that creating and sustaining a diverse and vibrant community requires a diversity of homes, including social and affordable housing. I don’t believe council has the resources available to provide social housing, however it should be working with state government through our planning system to better influence the social housing system. This could include implementing inclusionary zoning which requires that a certain percentage of all new housing developments is affordable as a condition of planning approval. This also creates housing developments that have mixed demographics, strengthening the diversity of our neighbourhoods. We can continue to work with the state and federal governments to increase the supply of housing in our region and can look at developing better ways of filling empty houses. Beyond this, council has a role to play in ensuring that all residents can stay in their houses when times are tough.

EVE NELSON: The development and provision of social housing is not just the responsibility of any one body but should be a collaborative effort from all sides of government as well as organisations who have this as core business. Careful consideration needs to be considered on the effect of the local community.

WAYNE SHOOBRIDGE: It most definitely can become more proactive in this area. I am not sure how far council could take this. Very interesting situation?, Should council become landlords?

LIZ VIRTUE: It isn’t the role of local government to provide social housing; but they should certainly be representing the Derwent Valley’s social, affordable and supported housing needs to state and federal government and working with them to find solutions.

BRODY WIGGINS: I do think the council should be helping with this by building houses owned by the council and selling the land to private developers.

NATASHA WOODS: Response not yet received.

14. What can the council do to improve access to medical services??

PHILLIP BIGG: I think this is where Mayor Dracoulis has not had the recognition she deserves in the sense that as mayor she has pushed, poked and prodded whoever possible to get the valley closer to better medical services.

PHILLIP BINGLEY: The doctor shortage is a nationwide problem particularly in regional areas. At the heart of the problem is the Medicare rebate which has fallen in value over the last 10 years. Doctors are struggling financially to operate their practices. I would urge Council to lobby our federal Labor politicians , requesting that the Government urgently increase the Medicare rebate to doctors as a matter of urgency. A more viable rebate will I believe encourage more doctors to operate in regional areas like the Derwent Valley.

PETER BINNY: This is not in the council’s purview and should not be seen as a council responsibility. Councils are not funded to facilitate medical services. Having said that the council should endeavour to expedite the completion of the Corumbene medical centre in The Avenue for the benefit of the region.

LUKE BROWNING: Response not yet received.

DEB CARNES:  Support for general practice is the responsibility of the Commonwealth. The way ‘rural’ is defined in Australia has been adjusted several times but New Norfolk sits outside this boundary. However, this doesn’t mean Council can’t lobby Federal MP’s and Senators to consider new and different funding models, like something additional based on an area’s low socio-economic status. Through the work of the late Bill Dermody residents of the Derwent Valley have also made it clear to the State Government there is a willingness for nurse practitioners in the area. This issue should continue to be raised. More importantly we need to look at the social determinants of health which are things like employment, transport, stress and more – I could write a whole article on this subject alone.

HEATHER CHAPLIN:  The council can petition State and Federal Health Ministers, and AMA regularly. Council can liaise, through Mayor groups and Health unions to bring pressure to finding a solution to this statewide problem. Like housing, medical services should not be profit driven. Current, costed Tasmanian Greens policy will see investment in 27 new ambulances, 7 new light fleet vehicles, and new stations in Rokeby, Channel, Ouse, and Legana. We will fund an additional 50 allied health professionals in areas of critical need in community health centres across lutruwita/Tasmania; and we will allocate $3 million each year towards a grants program for community-based preventative health initiatives around the state.

JESSICA COSGROVE: The role of the council is a one of advocacy, I will continue to lobby the State Government for improved access to medical services in the Derwent Valley. In my opinion, The New Norfolk Hospital could be better utilised to provide emergency services and take pressure off the Royal Hobart Hospital, and open to provide services to locals after hours and on the weekend.

JUSTIN DERKSEN: Council could advocate for an increase in training and skills development opportunities to enable a more dynamic work force to be able to address the problem.

MICHELLE DRACOULIS: Access to medical services is again a state issue for which local councils should be advocating. I have certainly supported and helped deliver ideas around how to encourage medical practitioners to set up business in our Valley however this is a work in progress.

JAMES GRAHAM: Continue to advocate and be present in the room where conversations and decisions are made. Over time there has been a shift away from being responsible for one’s health. I believe that council could explore incentive projects and this council presented a motion at the national local government about asking for help with this idea.

MATT HILL: I believe Council has an active role as an advocate. And therefore Council should advocate to regional, state and national bodies for improved medical services in our community.

SARA LOWE: Response not yet received.

BRETT MARYNIAK: The demand being placed on our healthcare services is real, and it only likely to get worse as we continue to grow. Although the provision of health services is the responsibility of state and federal government, local government does have a role to play. Council could, for instance, use policy to incentivise the opening of additional medical services as well as encourage doctors to live and work within the Derwent Valley. Alongside this, council can advocate for better services and funding. The Derwent Valley is part of one of Australia’s most marginal electorates, which council should leverage to the benefit of our community. More broadly, the council can better promote inclusivity and preventative health with all ages and all abilities infrastructure and services, as well as by considering facilitating programs that contribute to the wellbeing of the entire community.

EVE NELSON: There needs to be a strategic approach to the attraction of the right medical services and providers in the area including the benefits on offer to medical practitioners and their families. Also greater transport for the community to attend these facilities.

WAYNE SHOOBRIDGE: Outside of employing medical professionals, the main way Council can improve services is to lobby Government. I am open to suggestions on this one.

LIZ VIRTUE: There is no shortage of potential medical facilities. There’s a shortage of GPs and trainee GPs throughout Tasmania. We need to make the Derwent Valley an attractive place for GPs to live and work and for training organisations to place students. Federal government needs to ensure Medicare rebates are attractive enough to appeal to medical students to become GPs. In the meantime. we need adequate public transport for access to GP and specialist appointments between the Derwent Valley and Hobart.

BRODY WIGGINS: The biggest complaint I get about our medical services is we do not have enough doctors in the valley. If the council can provide some funding I believe getting a Dr that is willing to travel to Maydena etc would benefit the region a great deal.

NATASHA WOODS: Response not yet received.

15. What is your view on council amalgamations?

PHILLIP BIGG:  At current, the idea of for instance the valley amalgamating with another council would ruin the chances of what we need to achieve. It would create an irreparable divide for the valley and I’m not for it.

PHILLIP BINGLEY: My view is that if councils like Central Highlands and Southern Midlands can operate on a financially viable basis with much smaller populations than Derwent Valley then we should be able to as well, without the need to amalgamate.

PETER BINNY: Councils will not survive without amalgamation. The overhead costs of running a council are exceeding the ability of ratepayers and developers to pay for the services provided. This is obvious in the standard of maintenance of public facilities, roads, footpaths and etc. As some residents demand more of Councils there has to be more funding pay for those “wants”. Efficiencies gained through amalgamation will get us through for a few years but there will need to be a new Council facility to cater for an extended municipal area. Then ratepayers will need to accept higher rates (taxes) or reduced services unless significant efficiencies can be achieved through reverting to core responsibilities of road and rubbish.

LUKE BROWNING: Response not yet received.

DEB CARNES: This is a contentious and longstanding issue and I don’t think there’s a clear forward approach available yet. Tasmania has 29 councils and almost half are wholly located in the State/Federal seat of Lyons with the rest spread across the remaining four electorates. So how do you amalgamate areas like that and still maintain a local voice? Do we end up with a situation of a city council central to several rural ones or do we have a clear city/urban divide? How do you ensure regional and rural areas maintain a voice and services?

HEATHER CHAPLIN: I don’t support council amalgamations because research has shown the economic benefits are not likely to be significant. A research study done in 2004 (!) at Uni. of New England NSW *, reported that the economic benefit of amalgamations in SA and Victoria was less than half what was promised. Accordingly, the additional substantial cost of setting up a central administration would not provide value to ratepayers. Expanding the municipality may well diminish service delivery. There is a risk that fewer local Councillors would be appointed to represent the Derwent Valley Community, resulting in our issues not being adequately prioritised. In some instances, resource sharing could be beneficial but with the same or even greater level of services needing to be provided, I don’t believe resource allocation under an amalgamation would make enough difference to be of benefit. *Is Bigger Local Government Better? An Evaluation of the Economic Case for Australian Municipal Amalgamation Programs by Brian Dollery (then Professor in the School of Economics, University of New England ) and Lin Crase (then Senior Lecturer in the School of Business, La Trobe University, Albury/Wodonga Campus) No. 2004-4

JESSICA COSGROVE: I don’t believe council amalgamations would be of benefit to the Derwent Valley community. Local Government is the closest level of government to the people, and I feel that if we were to amalgamate, we would lose the ability to connect and communicate on a personal basis with residents of our community.

JUSTIN DERKSEN: For amalgamations to be considered the proposed plan would need to be of benefit for the whole community. It would need to be structured so that it would allow for a broad representation so that the entire community was represented without focusing on one particular area.

MICHELLE DRACOULIS: Amalgamation is a concept that should be interrogated on a case-by-case basis. My primary concerns in this space are that regional identity is maintained and supported and that local representation and investment in local infrastructure is prioritised.

JAMES GRAHAM: I have been around this debate for a while. I asked what the council’s position would be, anticipating that this chestnut would again arrive during the future of local government process. Out on a limb here but if council gets things right going forward there might be some councils who might want to hang out with us. I’d be more interested in knowing the mind of our rate payers on this one.

MATT HILL: I am concerned that our community will loose its identity with an amalgamation. However, I look forward to the completion of the Local Government Reform; in-particular any recommendations regarding amalgamations and resource sharing. I would be open to discussing the pros and cons of amalgamation and resource sharing once this reform is completed.

SARA LOWE: Response not yet received.

BRETT MARYNIAK: I don’t support council amalgamations and believe that this is an issue that should be led by the community, which is part of the reason I welcome the introduction of compulsory local government elections. I struggle to see which councils Derwent Valley could reasonably amalgamate with, though I will advocate for resource and information sharing. Better collaboration is needed to develop long- term regional development plans that prioritise maintaining our culture and identity. These can also provide guidance on our future needs in transport, housing and employment. Looking broader, I also think there is scope for council to examine its operations to reduce the burden of red tape and make sensible financial savings where possible to ensure our council is as efficient and effective as possible.

EVE NELSON: The Derwent Valley has the means to be totally independent and not need to rely on the surrounding areas to provide services. With the right people sitting on council the Derwent Valley has the means to support itself and be comfortable in the knowledge that the decisions being made actions being taken are the benefit of the local community first and foremost

WAYNE SHOOBRIDGE: Amalgamation discussions have been around for a long time. I believe that yes, they will happen. But I don’t think they will happen in my time.

LIZ VIRTUE: I am supportive of council amalgamations. There is inequity between rich and poor councils, with vastly varying income from rates and charges, allowances for councillors, quality of resources etc. There would be benefits with economy of scale and quality of service. There may also be downsides that would need to be considered so I would keep an open mind on how best to achieve the right balance.

BRODY WIGGINS: I believe there needs to be some form of amalgamation for the areas within the cities but leave the outer areas as there own.

NATASHA WOODS: Response not yet received.

DISCLOSURE: Wayne Shoobridge is a contractor for New Norfolk and Derwent Valley News but played no part in this Q&A other than as a participating candidate..

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