Tasmanian Times

Bob Hawkins

Gutwein’s choice loses her cool

Adriana Taylor, centre, with local residents

Huon Valley Guessing Games When is a raid not a raid? On Wednesday, October 24, the public gallery at Huon Valley Council’s monthly ordinary meeting was treated to the spectacle of Commissioner Adriana Taylor shouting loudly at a ratepayer. Taylor was either very angry or, maybe, just pretending to be so.

Ostensibly, her undignified outburst had been provoked by a question from the ratepayer she was shouting at — former councillor Liz Smith. At “public-question time” (PQT), Smith had used the word “raid” when referring to what, indeed, had obviously been a council raid on an evicted ratepayer’s property near Cygnet earlier in the month (October 11).

The word “raid” was at the heart of the Taylor outburst. She obviously felt Smith should not have used it in relation to a council operation. On October 11, two senior council staff, accompanied by two uniformed police, descended on the property of a single mother who had earlier been evicted (and who also happened to be a Greens candidate in the now completed local-government election campaign).

SMITH’S question, which she read out before a public gallery of nearly 30 (including 16 candidates but not including the candidate who was central to Smith’s question), was this:

On October 11, at the Meet the Candidates forum in Dover, one of the candidates, Alexandra Chernov, a single mother from Cygnet, told the meeting that her property had been raided that morning by two council workers and two police officers with a warrant to search, photograph and film throughout her premises for evidence of habitation.

This was clearly a very distressing event and it took place three months after she had provided written evidence to both the general manager and compliance officer that she was living elsewhere.

In addition, the compliance officer . . . who led the raid, had been notified in writing that Alexandra and her daughters had been living in Hobart since July 8, 2018, when her eldest daughter had sustained a traumatic brain injury and was in ICU in the Royal. This was public knowledge, having been reported in the Mercury, and a fund-raising event had been held in Cygnet for Alexandra Chernov and her family.

I have two questions:

1. Was the raid by council officers on the property . . . including the police presence and search warrant, authorised by the general manager and, if so, what was the rationale for such action against a ratepayer who had complied with the instructions from the council and provided proof of her compliance?

2. How many such raids have been carried out by council officers in the company of police officers with search warrants in the Huon Valley municipality since October 2016?

When Smith finished reading her question, Taylor made no bones about what she thought of it: “I find this question quite offensive,” she said sternly: it wasn’t a “raid”, she said, and Smith didn’t know all the facts of the case.

Of course Smith didn’t know “all” the facts of a case that, as Taylor revealed, had stretched over 10 years. Quite properly, in the interests of privacy, council would not have made the “facts” public.

Taylor accused Smith of making statements that were untrue. Then, surprisingly, as her tirade continued, she suggested Smith, because she had been a councillor for many years, should know more about the facts of the Chernov case.

Smith, still at the PQT lectern, said she had investigated the facts of the case as far as she could. (Obviously, she had found Chernov’s story plausible, and worth raising at the October 24 council meeting.)

As Smith tried to speak, Taylor, shouted, “Please do not interrupt me”. The issue, the commissioner said, was not going to be discussed at the council meeting because it was quite inappropriate for discussion. What she chose to ignore was that Smith, as her question indicated, didn’t require a specific issue to be discussed.

All of what Taylor said at the October 24 meeting, but spoken more thoughtfully, might well have been justified. It was the tone, the anger and the harshness, bloody rudeness, of the attitude of this ageing politician that rattled me. It had me thinking about my old dad explaining to me, probably 70 years ago, about the kind of behaviour that got raucous women branded “fish wives”.

When Taylor momentarily seemed to run out of steam, Smith began to say something: “I would just like to say . . .” Back came the commissioner with words like, “You are not entitled to say. Please sit down.”

Smith was probably genuinely shocked by Taylor’s verbal assault. I’m sure I heard her say, “Thank you very much” as she left the PQT lectern and returned to her seat in the public gallery. Smith’s like that. Always polite even in the direst of circumstances.

(ALL of the unexpected exchanges above should have been available on council’s website when the audio recording of the October 24 ordinary meeting went up on Monday afternoon (October 29). But they’re not. It seems General Manager Emilio Reale has decided — by resorting to powers granted him in the Local Government Act 1993 — that some things said at council meetings are not for the ears of those who don’t attend council meetings, preferring to listen later.

The audio of Smith’s question and the exchange that followed have been removed entirely from the audio posted on council’s website. I note here that previous council audio recordings have also been “edited” at the discretion of HVC management. It’s a tactic that demonstrates yet another way in which official history is re-ordered, or, should we say, is left unspoken. It’s one way that shit is electronically swept under the carpet.l

However, Smith’s question (edited) does appear in the draft minutes of the October 24 meeting that are now on the council website. The following words have been deleted in the abbreviated minutes’ version of her question:

This was clearly a very distressing event and it took place three months after she had provided written evidence to both the general manager and compliance officer that she was living elsewhere.

In addition, the compliance officer . . . who led the raid, had been notified in writing that Alexandra and her daughters had been living in Hobart since July 8 2018, when her eldest daughter had sustained a traumatic brain injury and was in ICU in the Royal. This was public knowledge, having been reported in the Mercury, and a fund-raising event had been held in Cygnet for Alexandra Chernov and her family.

Then Smith’s two questions are listed in full, followed by an answer (comprising a mangling of tenses and punctuation and sans the passion of the moment). Council’s answer to Smith’s question in the draft minutes reads:

Commissioner Taylor stated that she finds this question offensive. It was certainly not a raid. In addition to that neither you [presumably Smith] nor the people who were at that meeting [presumably the raid] know all the facts and so I think your [sic] making statements which are quite untrue to some degree.

Commissioner Taylor stated that she is not saying it was not said, she is saying that Dr Smith does not know all the facts of this case. Commissioner Taylor said she suspects that Dr Smith should know more of the facts of this because this has been an ongoing situation for some ten years and Dr Smith had been on Council for a number of years. This was not a raid and Commissioner Taylor objects to Dr Smith calling it such a thing and you and the rest of the public do not know all the facts nor are we going to discuss them and disclose them in a public meeting and it is quite an inappropriate question to say how many such raids are conducted.

GM Reale’s explanation for the editing of council’s audio version of the October 24 meeting, supplied to a fellow ratepayer, is that the “audio recording has been edited to remove the section that involved a live compliance case that should not be discussed at an open public meeting to protect the subject parties and prevent any biases being formed to the detriment of either party. The preamble to all questions has been removed as they need not record the narrative surrounding the questions which are posed. It is appropriate to distil the question posed and to record in the minutes only those questions and the answers”.)

THE IRONY of the omission of Smith’s question and the ensuing outburst from Taylor from the audio, as well as the adjustments to the minutes, is that council has failed to recognise what Smith, the questioner, was asking. Council had only to answer ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ to her first question, and “Eleventy-seven, whatever” to the second.

Smith, I interpret, was asking for no further information, so absolutely nothing about any specific “compliance” case needs to have been revealed.

ALL of the foregoing represents a far cry from the normally friendly, sometimes even constructive, commissioner-run HVC question-time exchanges — except for one small aspect: over the past year or so, just now and then, Taylor has tended to be dismissive of Smith’s questions, sometimes suggesting, in words to the effect, that, “as an ex-councillor, you ought to know that”. The observation was there again in her minutes response to Smith question. Taylor seems to know so little about how the pre-sacking council had operated probably all the way back to its founding in 1993. Rarely did a councillor on the wrong side of the fence get anything out of HVC, even when they knew what they were asking about.

Taylor — mayor of Glenorchy from 2005-11, and a Legislative Council member (2010 until she lost her seat in 2016) — seems to fail to recognise that Smith’s questions are frequently posed not simply to obtain information for herself but to acquire information that can be passed on about issues of interest to the wider community. Despite persistent and massive public apathy towards local government matters, Smith has optimistically soldiered on trying to keep the valley council transparent. Surely, I would think, she has subconsciously sensed that she has been casting pearls . . .

As a long-serving HVC councillor — 2002 to 2016, when she and all other councillors were sacked because Gutwein’s board of inquiry had judged HVC to be dysfunctional — Smith, who knows well the rules council operates by, never wastes time on silly questions. They are always relevant and soundly based. She delivers her inquiries in a determined, yet ever-respectful manner.

So surely it has not been Smith’s polite probings into council’s affairs that has so visibly irritated Taylor, to the extent that she felt she couldn’t preside over her final HVC meeting without saying something, with added zest (that’s perhaps too kind a word), about a political contemporary (they’re both in their mid-70s) who gets under her skin.

If that’s really the case, Taylor might have said it in a tone (perhaps better reflected in the written minutes) more befitting a so-called trouble-shooter diplomat parachuted in by an old parliamentary acquaintance to bring order back to a dislocated council.

THROUGHOUT the commissioner’s brief outburst — apart from one or two muffled grumblings — the public gallery, predictably, remained silent. We’re an excessively, respectful lot down here in the Huon, a community ideally suited to the post-heckling, maintain-your-apathy, era that has been inflicted on us by our spin-happy establishments at all levels of government.

Why didn’t any one of us stand up, or at least put a hand up, to Commissioner Adrian Taylor to say we didn’t appreciate that kind of rudeness being showing to an elder citizen, a person who, throughout her long association with the valley, has served its citizens with dedication and caring, especially for those not so able to defend their own positions in face of a doggedly authoritarian council that has persistently displayed — even when pretending to consult — a strong reluctance to co-operate with the public? It’s probably because we don’t have the guts to make a fuss in public. It’s the way we have become these days.

IF YOU look back at Smith’s question, you will see she was not angling for specific information about the Chernov case. Her concern was simply to discover (i) if the council’s raid had the approval of General Manager Emilio Reale, and (ii) whether other similar raids had been carried out since LG Minister Peter Gutwein’s suspension of democracy became operative in October 2016.

Bob Hawkins is a longtime journalist who has been covering Huon Valley Council affairs since 2008, through Tasmanian Times and any other media outlet willing to publish his freely offered dogma. Ex-councillor Liz Smith and Hawkins, because they share similar ideals, have been close friends since 2008.

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16 Comments

16 Comments

  1. William Boeder

    November 3, 2018 at 2:31 pm

    A number of excellent comments by sharply incisive commenters, along with those from yourself, Swanny.

    Bob Hawkins the evergreen presenter of the facts. The former Armstrong era was riddled with impropriety and undisclosed blunders, especially the $4 million of Huon Valley funds that were propelled into oblivion .. allegedly by this same bullyboy masquerading as the Mayor of the Huon Valley Council.

    It’s interesting how persons of inferior capacity can eject themselves from local government, then land in the lush green pastures of Tasmania’s Legislative Assembly. One must take special note of the type of person welcomed into Tasmania’s government environs, and ask “has his appointment been a benefit to Tasmania?”

    In my opinion, Mr Armstrong’s history of antagonism and hostility hurled against persons of far high character and bona fides seems to be the precursor of what the Tasmanian people can expect from persons bearing a history devoid of conspicuous merit.

    The background of Andrea Taylor, and her being positioned into appointments that favour the hubris and guile of Peter Gutwein, does her no favour, nor her role as a nodder when attending reviews and in-house inquiries such as re-birthing Tasmania’s Public Trustees as being something other than it truly is, which in times past has seen this same enthusiastic person nodding in favour of the above predatory Government Business Enterprise (GBE) to disguise itself as having an integrity of which it is wholly bereft.

    This GBE bastion of false agenda is known, by the better informed in our State, to daringly exercise its strong bias and its many draconian statutes to deliver no favour to the unfortunates referred by its mother-ship of equal bias known as Tasmania’s Guardianship Administrative Board.

    Beware of the state government’s sweet-singing media releases.

    http://www.premier.tas.gov.au/releases/public_trustee_fees_to_be_significantly_reduced_for_low-income_clients

  2. RodM

    November 2, 2018 at 8:16 am

    Taylor was, of course, a political appointment.

    It’s a pity that there will always be questions as to why she did not “drain the swamp” and whether this was due to specific instructions.

    On other matters she has generally done a reasonable job, and maybe her outburst in response to a reasonable question from Liz Smith should be forgiven.

    I’m looking forward to the Bec era!

  3. Rob Halton

    November 1, 2018 at 12:34 pm

    Swannie, just wondering how does the new Mayor, Bec Enders, described in the Mercury as “a new broom for the Huon” fits in with the schemes of things to come for the newer council!

    I actually thought that local Huonville resident Mick Newell would have made the grade, pretty close, ah what but he will be a Councillor worth having and he is not short of having a conversation or too!

    Was Ms Enders the Captians choice, Commisssioner Taylors favorite for overall reform!

    Sounds as if Kingborough did Ok with young Dean Winter now as the top dog.

    Hobart, not so sure as we now have a Mayor who seduced the locals on the basis of opposing the Cable car, funny thing is I too oppose the Cable car but I remain cautious if Reynolds can run a relatively stable council as it might be up to Burnett as our dignified Deputy who knows the game well to keep the opposing forces from tearing at each others throats and creating public anger!

    Reynolds loves to throw her weight around and will do anything to take over everything in her sights. I dont think there will be much peace within our council but we will have to wait and see!

    • Geoffrey Swan

      November 3, 2018 at 9:52 am

      Greetings Robin … firstly with my view that I am NOT enjoying the new TT format at all.

      Bec is the best option by far for the Valley. I’ve no idea where Adriana stood on all this .. and frankly I don’t care. Her era is now behind us with very little achieved IMV, apart from making everything look roses.

      As for Newell … he would have been a disastrous Mayoral option, IMV. Too many “foot in mouth” risks for one thing with it best to keep his low level banter on radio. Being a Councillor and/or Mayor is serious business, and not befitting to the goon-like comments for which he has become known.

      So onwards and upwards, fingers and toes crossed. Thanks for your interest in all things Huon Valley, Robin.

  4. bob hawkins

    November 1, 2018 at 6:46 am

    A priority for the Huon’s new council is to conduct a seriously probing review of “delegated authority” — responsibilities that the elected part of the council pass to management which can then do much as it wants with its only responsibility being to inform the elected council, after the fact, what it has been up to.

    Successively lazy, and I believe irresponsible, elected councils have handed huge amounts of delegated authority to past managements. For example, the GM early this century did not have to seek the elected council’s approval to invest sums totalling more that $4m in speculative new and untested foreign financial products. As I remember it, not one Councillor, including the then mayor Robert Armstrong, admitted later to knowing anything about those investments until it became clear (around the end of 2008) that they had largely vanished into thin air.

    Our new councillors must shoulder more responsibility from now on, and more importantly, be seriously pro-active in keeping an eye on what management is up to.

    My instinct tells me that our new mayor, Bec Enders, has the experience, knowledge and determination to watch management like a hawk. I look forward to observing the probing relentlessness that I expect of her.

  5. Ross Lincolne

    October 31, 2018 at 7:25 pm

    I would have liked to have heard answers to Liz Smith’s questions.

    It was amazing to see the Commissioner really fly off the handle. Since the questions went unanswered, I hope they are treated as “questions on notice” and answered at the next council meeting.

    • Shane Johnson

      November 1, 2018 at 12:58 pm

      If this case was too sensitive to be discussed, an answer in general terms about process should have been forthcoming.

      This was a missed opportunity to inform the community about how compliance is handled and how police can become involved.

      Let’s hope the new Council does not shy away from difficult questions from its community.

  6. Geoffrey Swan

    October 31, 2018 at 9:36 am

    I absolutely agree with you, Robin Halton. And as for the Tasman/Sorell story – what a shocker!

    And in today’s Huon News, local Huon Valley resident Annie Venables, who was also at this same meeting, writes:

    “There are many people living under the radar in illegal dwellings in the Huon Valley. As it becomes more and more expensive to rent, buy or build, increasing numbers of people will be forced to go outside the law just to put an affordable roof over their head.

    We need to find a better way of dealing with this problem. Our council, some claim, have 60 householders they want to evict.

    I wonder how much money is in the enforcement budget, and whether that money would be better spent helping people become compliant rather than in punishing them?

    There is an opportunity for the new council to find a better way forward.”

    • Paul Gibson

      October 31, 2018 at 8:57 pm

      Nicely said, Annie. I have been suggesting a temporary permit system to give these residents security, and I agree that helping achieve compliance is the path.

  7. Helen Murnane

    October 31, 2018 at 7:08 am

    It’s a shame you had to throw in that sexist comment Bob, which undermines the impact of an otherwise strongly presented argument.

    • bob hawkins

      October 31, 2018 at 11:45 am

      Hi Helen. Guilty as charged. Bit hard for an old bloke to always be politically correct in a crazy Western culture that is evolving so rapidly. Tell me please, for future reference, how should I have worded it?

  8. Duncan Mills

    October 30, 2018 at 6:47 pm

    Aside from Commissioner Taylor’s hubris …

    Much of the misplaced, legal and otherwise, has to do with lack of approved housing in the Huon.

    Let’s hope the new council will work creatively with the community and state government to provide appropriate housing.

  9. Rob Halton

    October 30, 2018 at 12:00 pm

    Just the way I feel too, which for both Glenorchy and Huon Valley Councils was a golden opportunity lost by Minister Gutwein who failed to incorporate these two councils into amalgamation mode with neighboring councils.

    All of this fiddling about by avoiding the real issue to have less of inward operating entities as smaller country councils should be over in this day and age remains as a disgrace to all manner of modern administration of local government.

    A similar event happened recently when there was a “refusal” by inward seeking interests within the Tasman Council to amalgamate with Sorell.

    It could be my imagination but there should have been clear signals giving our Local Government Minister the best opportunity to amalgamate Hobart and Glenorchy together, similarly Huon Valley should be well on the way to incorporate with Kingborough.

    Oh dear what a mess that will continue by allowing these little empires to do their own thing virtually in isolation from each other and yet could foul up again internally!

    Tasmania is such a small inward thinking place but with so much progress around us these days, the Hodgman government remains as the weak link in local government administration.

    Any one can do as they like and when they like it eventually comes apart again unless there are SERIOUS talks about amalgamation but it needs both a Premier and a local Government Minister who can see the light.

    Bob, sorry to hear about Liz Smith as I always regarded her as one of HCV’s top Councillors, I would doubt if she deserved the serve by the sound of it by Adriana Taylor.

    Unfortunately Commander Taylor was given the wrong brief in the first place by Peter Gutwein and here is the result, more frustration which is almost impossible to correct under the current circumstances.

    Disgracefully amazing isnt it!

  10. Tom Nilsson

    October 30, 2018 at 11:33 am

    What a fascist.

  11. Geoffrey Swan

    October 30, 2018 at 8:47 am

    I too, was at this same HVC meeting when Commissioner Taylor flew off the handle at former Councilor Liz Smith. It was a shocking display of intimidation and anger, one to be scorned should anyone dare exhibit such behaviour in a public meeting, let alone a Commissioner.

    In fact it was the last HVC meeting for the outgoing Commissioner, who just quietly has pocketed around $400,000 for her two year troubles of driving from Lachlan to Huonville each day. Her outburst was a disgrace.

    IMV, Adriana has faithfully performed her duties as instructed by Gutwein, namely to pour oil on troubled waters, and to not attract any more media attention to the HVC, but in so doing she has failed the Huon Valley community in properly investigating the rot and the reasons for the dysfunction.

  12. Studler van Surck

    October 30, 2018 at 8:32 am

    If we have to suffer the disrespectful brain-snaps of Adriana in order to welcome back the beautifully modulated voice of reason of Bob Hawkins reporting on the HVC, then I think that is a small price to pay. We look forward to following his reporting on just how harmoniously and transparently the newly elected Council will operate.

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