Updated: Jun 11, 2022
✦ Port Macquarie-Hastings Council’s proposal to revoke policy on climate change has been labelled by the NSW Minister for the Environment as ‘shirking their responsibilities’.
The issue was raised in Parliament by Member for Port Macquarie Leslie Williams on May 12 after a community forum, attended by residents and regional leaders, highlighted significant concern over council’s proposal to rescind its Climate Change Response Policy.
At the forum, the Medical Staff Council - Port Macquarie Base Hospital submitted an open letter acknowledging climate change is a ‘health emergency’. Signed by 130 local medical professionals, the letter supports the broader concerns of the Australian Medical Association (AMA).
Mrs Williams said the community is looking for grassroots leadership on the issue.
Council’s policy proposal follows a council decision in February to revoke its Climate Emergency Declaration, making it the first in NSW to retract its support. In April, council also adopted its Community Strategic Plan (CSP) replacing all references to ‘climate change’ with the words ‘sustainable resource management’.
Mrs Williams said it is disappointing the views of the local community, and those of more than 1800 residents who participated in consultation on the CSP, are not being heard.
She slammed the “blatant misrepresentation” of the NSW Government’s climate change policies during a debate at council’s April meeting.
Mrs Williams said mayor Peta Pinson’s statement that the “two tiers of Government above us have not scripted what climate change action looks like”, was simply incorrect.
She made it clear that the NSW Government is leading the nation when it comes to action on climate change as demonstrated in its Net Zero Plan, Stage 1 2020-2030.
“The community is well past debating whether or not climate change exists, they are well past debating who is responsible,” Mrs Williams said.
“I suggest what they are seeking is leadership as provided by both the Commonwealth and State governments and by Local Government NSW so that we can achieve a ‘connected, sustainable, accessible community and environment that is protected now and into the future’ as highlighted by council in their own documentation.”
Minister for the Environment, James Griffin MP, addressed the Parliament describing council’s actions on climate change as “shocking” and “terrible”.
The community was given time to provide feedback on council’s policy proposal until May 6.
Following Mrs Williams’ statements in Parliament, Cr Pinson responded further by tabling a mayoral minute at council’s May meeting
In her statement, Cr Pinson wanted it noted that ‘there is no directive through legislation that explicitly specifies what impacts a council must mitigate in regard to climate change’, nor was there any requirement for council to have a Climate Change Response Policy.
The mayor called for a deferral of a decision on the rescission of council’s Climate Change Response Policy until after its Micromex Community Satisfaction Survey in July/August.
The mayor recommended the community be asked in the survey if they would prefer that council invest its funds on fixing potholes and maintaining local infrastructure; spend it on climate change initiatives; or allocate funding to both.
The recommendation was dissected by Crs Lisa Intemann and Rachel Sheppard who proposed, among many amendments, to note “that a Climate Response Policy bolsters local government advocacy of funding from both state and federal government climate change funding opportunities, by demonstrating alignment with the funding objectives, including the delivery of road, water and sewer infrastructure that considers the impacts of climate change.”
They also urged the council to consider including community feedback gathered from all consultation activities over three-year CSP engagement process; the community engagement report on the original public exhibition response to the draft Climate Change Response Plan (2021); and other sources that evidence local attitudes toward climate change and climate action in the local context.
After robust debate, the mayor’s recommendations were adopted.
Council’s CEO will present a report on the survey results at council’s September meeting in conjunction with a report on the rescission, or otherwise, of the Climate Change Response Policy.
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