Editorial: Response to Council’s Facebook post

Filed in Recent News by March 24, 2023

WHILE I have agreed to every interview request from 2NM and have been willing to be held to account, Council has not agreed to be interviewed about the massive losses at the airport or the liquor licence. Instead, Council will only publish on their own Facebook Page where they can control the narrative. Of note, it is not issued by a “person”, instead an anon by Council. Mayor Collison or general manager Greg McDonald can issue it under their name, but haven’t.

And I’m happy to wade through their latest spin:

“When you attack Council you’re attacking the great staff that work tirelessly”.

No, you are allowed to be critical of Council, and I’ve seen no attacks on the hardworking staff members employed by Council. The only criticism I’ve seen of staff, is the General Manager, who is a public figure and therefore able to be criticised for decisions.

“We have a lot of services that don’t make money; swimming pools, roads, parks and gardens, aged care and yes even airports.”

The whole reason for the airport project was to make a profit. The airport was making a loss of $300,000 per year and the Council’s proposal was to cover costs and generate a profit to go back into things like swimming pools, roads, parks and gardens. This project was not meant to lose money. When did it become acceptable that it makes a loss and the business plan proposed by Council fail? 

“Short of closing the airport….there will continue to be a subsidy.”

Well then at which point will we not have to subsidise it? Because continuing to subsidise it was not what ratepayers were sold. For how long do we expect to subsidise and for what amount, where is the new business plan?

“We’d love to have the double whammy of making a profit too so that we don’t have to subsidise it…”

That’s nice that you’d “love to” have a profit, but let’s put emotions aside shall we and look at the facts…you promised it would be profitable and instead it is massively behind projections. Where is the accountability? When will that promised profit be delivered? Give a date and figure, not baseless emotive statements. Those statements won’t count for anything when ratepayers must open their pockets to pay for your mistakes.  

“1000 per week in the tenth year of operation.”

No. At a meeting at the Scone AreoClub in September 2019, a room full of people heard the Mayor (Bedggood) and staff explain it would be 1000 per week from opening. In fact, they said there would be a huge influx of people because of the opening, that would then level off to 1000 per week. Incredible how the figures keep changing now.

“Have you ever been to a function centre that didn’t have a liquor licence?”

Would you know? Because not all function centres are licensees. You can serve alcohol at function centres, by having a licensee provide the alcohol in your venue. This is blatant spin to confuse being able to have alcohol at a function centre and becoming a liquor licensee. There is a huge difference. Upper Hunter Shire Council not having its very own liquor licence, won’t prevent alcohol being served at the function centre.

“As you can see by the number of licences there is a wide variety…”

There are a huge number of licences, so why didn’t Council get the appropriate one? Why get one from 10am-12am Monday to Saturday, and 10am-10pm on Sundays, with a bottle shop, if you never intend to use it to the full scope, why have it? Why does Council need its own licence, when there are so many other licensees in town who can do it? Isn’t Council supposed to be all about the community and putting money back into those groups and businesses, not going into their own business ventures and taking money and opportunity away from those groups?

“There is also a no drive through (or fly through) bottle shop.”

Note the operative words here…no drive through…bottle shop. Nowhere have I seen anyone claim it will be a drive through. The words on the licence Council obtained is: “an approval to sell packaged alcohol.” That means they can run a bottle shop. Does it specify “drive through” no. Is there any DA for a “drive through” no. But can they run a bottle shop on this licence? Yes! And if you have no intention of running a bottle shop, why get it?

“…fears that the General Manager is running around getting liquor licences without approval…”

Greg McDonald, the general manager, did get a licence, without the “approval” of Council. There was no agenda item, discussion, or decision made by Council on getting a liquor licence. As Council advised me, Greg McDonald deemed it to be an “operational matter” that did not need to come before the Council for “approval”. Perhaps this statement is meant to mean he didn’t get a liquor licence, without approval by Liquor and Gaming? Well, in which case of course not. But he did do it without the “approval” of Council and ratepayers.

“Council has been discussing this as part of the development of the airport since the inception of the Warbirds concept.”

Again, note the operative word “this” in the above sentence. Because they go from talking about the liquor licence to talking about the function centre. So, let’s get the “this” and “that” straight. Council has been discussing the function centre since the inception of the Warbirds concept. But Council has never discussed, or approved, getting its own liquor licence.

“….clearly stated there would be a function centre and café as part of the development.”

Yes, it did. Nobody is debating there should not be a function centre and café. We all knew that was part of the development. Stop trying to deflect. People are smarter than that.

“…advertise its intention…”

They may have placed a small ad somewhere, but I’m yet to hear from anyone who saw the ad, so it wasn’t very effective advertising. But I’m sure the box was ticked somewhere. Certainly, as a Councillor I was never told we were applying for a liquor licence, much less had the ad run past me.

“…also publicly reported by scone dot com regarding the proposed plans for the Hunter Warbirds back in proposed plans for the Hunter Warbirds back in May 2020 advising that the facility would consist of two function rooms.”

Yes, we reported there would be a function centre. No, we did not report in May 2020 that Council would become a liquor licensee as part of the deal. Again, deflecting and deliberately muddying the substantive issue. Nobody is upset to learn the airport has a function centre. Focus, it’s Council becoming a liquor licensee! 

“…and as part of this a liquor licence is beneficial.”

And where did that slip in? Greg McDonald may have decided it was beneficial for Council to get a liquor licence, but it never came before Council. It would be beneficial to have alcohol served at the venue and have licensees do it. But at what stage was Council becoming a liquor licensee voted on at Council and when were ratepayers able to be heard on it at a Council meeting? They weren’t. Council and the ratepayers should have decided if it was “beneficial” or a “risk” for Council to become a liquor licensee, not the general manager.

“…a small group of people repeatedly being critical…”

If you think it is a small group, then you are either deliberately trying to marginalize the issue, or you haven’t walked down the street in any of our towns! A huge number of residents are critical of Council for a broad range of issues. And I agree with them.

Moreover, I will never sign a ridiculous open letter swearing allegiance to the Mayor and General Manager, my allegiance is to the ratepayers! They are my 7000 bosses, not Maurice Collison or Greg McDonald. And I note I have received more referrals to the Office of Local Government for speaking out, because Greg McDonald “feels” it is a “personal attack” on him and Maurice Collison. My criticism is of both people in their official public figure capacity of Mayor and General Manager. At no point have I ever criticised what they do in their personal life. And if you think the constant stream of referrals and amount of ratepayer money you are spending to silence me will work, I can assure you it won’t. I will keep speaking out to the ratepayers, the people who elected me, about what you are up to! I work for them, not you!

Moreover, how many people worked on that rubbish response and for how long? For the record, mine took an hour and didn’t cost ratepayers a cent, including running it past one of the country’s top defamation lawyers, who gave it an immediate green light and had a bloody good laugh. Could people in that building PLEASE go and fix the bloody Merriwa-Willow Tree Road and focus on what needs to be done not their hurt pride from being outted!

Kind Regards,

Cr Elizabeth Flaherty

All of the above are my perspectives, opinions and beliefs as a Councillor on the Upper Hunter Shire Council, are my own, which may not (in fact probably don’t) reflect Council’s position, but which as an elected representative I am supported in law to freely express.

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