Tree campaigners question black spot consultation

ANY hope Shoalhaven City Council may have had that the Gerroa Road clearing works, including the removal of the iconic Bum Tree, would quietly fade away has evaporated.

The Gerroa Environmental Protection Society (GEPS) has raised the issue of consultation for the federally funded Black

Spot project with federal Infrastructure and Regional Development Minister Warren Truss and NSW opposition environment and climate change and planning and infrastructure spokesman Luke Foley.

The group has also questioned the separation of power between Gilmore MP Ann Sudmalis and Shoalhaven Mayor Joanna Gash.

GEPS secretary Howard Jones said the normal process for a group to raise concerns about a council’s activities would be through its local member.

“For us that would be federal member Ann Sudmalis but we felt unable to do so,” he said.

“I feel that we have a serious problem in this respect because Mrs Sudmalis has echoed the words of the mayor over the radio on this issue and supported her on the destruction of the trees.

“It seems there is no separation of powers in the relationship between these two people, which is problematic for small community groups like ours and raises issues about democratic processes.  

“When residents want to raise legitimate concerns about council processes, who can they turn to? 

“I think we have a very unhealthy power clique with these two politicians that creates a barrier to raising legitimate issues about council processes, especially when they touch on federal matters.”

The federal minister has been asked to investigate council’s processes and find answers as to why it voted against a motion to consult given that a condition

of the funding stipulates that widespread community consultation and participation is fundamental to this program ensuring local concerns are addressed. 

“People have an expectation that council listens, engages with their concerns and regards for their local knowledge and input,” Mr Jones said.

Mr Jones said council’s press release last December and then an invitation-only community information session to decide what to do with the remnants of the Bum Tree once it was cut down didn’t constitute community consultation.

Mrs Sudmalis said she has contacted Mr Jones about his concerns.

“Howard has never been shy before going to the source to ask questions,” she said.

“We have stood together on many environmental issues, supporting each other.

“I asked why he hadn’t raised these issues with me and his reply was, ‘I heard what you said on the radio’.

“I asked if he had heard the entire transcript, which he admitted he had not.

“He said he heard what I had said and it was exactly what Mayor Gash had said.

“He should have come back to me and asked for the full story.”

She dismissed Mr Jones’s claims there was a separation of power issue between herself and the Shoalhaven Mayor.

“Of course there isn’t, there are no problems at all,” Mrs Sudmalis said.

“There is not one single email I have not responded to or one single question I have not answered. I may not have given the answer people wanted to hear but that’s democracy.”

Mrs Sudmalis said the group’s concerns regarding the black spot funding had been directed to the wrong minister and should have actually gone to the Minister for Environment Greg Hunt and that she would be taking the group’s concerns to him.

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