The Blue Mountains council claims it has done everything in its power to respond to allegations of asbestos management breaches, while it awaits the government’s verdict over whether it will be suspended.
The council’s case for survival is contained in a lengthy submission to Local Government Minister Gabrielle Upton, who last week issued the council with a seven-day deadline to respond to the allegations or face a three-month suspension.
The council urged the minister against suspending the elected body, claiming it “has acted in a timely, cooperative, open and appropriate manner” in responding to asbestos issues.
Speaking ahead of an extraordinary council meeting on Tuesday night, Mayor Mark Greenhill said he was “confident” Ms Upton would accept the council’s position.
“To suspend us, the minister would have to be of the view we were not acting on the information that was coming to us. Clearly that is not right.”
Cr Greenhill said the elected council first became aware of the council’s asbestos issues in May, and in the months since had been working with SafeWork NSW and the Environmental Protection Authority to resolve the issues.
The council was issued with several improvement notices by SafeWork NSW in November, after its inspectors discovered asbestos at a number of council-owned properties, including at pre-schools in Wentworth Falls and Katoomba.
SafeWork NSW is also investigating whether workers were exposed to asbestos-contaminated material at a council-depot site in Lawson between November 2016 and November 2017.
“At no point has the elected body shirked its responsibility. SafeWork NSW have expressed contentment with our work. We’ve met every single deadline they’ve set,” Cr Greenhill said.
Ms Upton’s intervention last week came two days after her cabinet colleague, Minister for Better Regulation Matt Kean, ordered Safe Work NSW to investigate asbestos management practices at the council.
Liberal councillor and former mayor Daniel Myles said the council was being punished for its outspoken views on Badgerys Creek airport and overdevelopment in the mountains.
“If we are removed from office it will absolutely be about more than asbestos,” he said.
“The people of the Blue Mountains gave this council a mandate to govern. That mandate is as significant as any other level of government and it should not be withdrawn, especially before the full facts are known and the inquires are completed.”
The government’s intervention also followed several weeks of media coverage by influential Sydney radio commentator, Ray Hadley, who raised the issue directly with Ms Upton during an interview on his morning show in November.
“I’ve been calling on you for a week to take some action. This council, minister, needs to be sacked,” Mr Hadley said on air on November 20.
In her suspension notice to the council on December 13, Ms Upton cited media coverage, and its reflection of community concern, among the reasons for her intervention.
Addressing this issue in its submission, prepared by general manager Rosemary Dillon, the council said inaccurate media coverage had led to “a detrimental impact on procedural fairness for the council in addressing concerns of the NSW government”.
The submission took aim at Hadley’s commentary, claiming he made “a number of unsubstantiated claims about the organisation, the elected body, the mayor and many council staff”.
The council is expected to adopt the submission at Tuesday’s council meeting before providing it to Minister Upton by the Wednesday deadline.
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