Division of Local Government ‘Buck Pass’ on Public Interest Matter

Editor’s Note:  The following article and copies of letters are contributed to Valley Watchdog and are presented here in the public interest.  An Editor’s note follows at the end of this material.

STATE LOCAL GOVERNMENT IGNORES PLEAS FROM HANGAR OWNERS

In what only can be described as a complete shirking of its responsibility the NSW Local Government Department has ignored legitimate pleas from concerned Evans Head Memorial Aerodrome hangar lessees to investigate actions of The Richmond Valley Council.

In a landmark decision on 21st March 2013 in the NSW Supreme Court Richmond Valley Council  lost its case to have Caveats removed on the two hangar lessees, and was ordered to pay all costs.

While RVC’s general manager John Walker in The Northern Star 22nd March claimed it was a significant victory for the Council this was indeed NOT the case, and could be seen as the Council putting “spin” on what will in effect cost ratepayers a considerable amount of legal costs.

However, what was very surprising was that when the hangar lessees were challenged with Supreme Court action (which they won hands down) a plea was made to the Local Government Minister Don Page to investigate that matter (see correspondence which follows).

The reply was that it was a matter between the legal lessees and the Richmond Valley Council in The Supreme Court (see correspondence which follows).

What is staggering is the Division of Local Government ignored the fact that Richmond Valley Council was ‘playing’ with a public asset in The Evans Head Memorial Aerodrome, and also using ratepayer funds to force a Supreme Court action which would ultimately be paid for by ratepayers.

His Honour, Justice Gzell, basically was “gobsmacked” that a small matter such as this (in the bigger scheme of things) was before him, and made orders in favour of the Plaintiffs (or hangar owners/lessees).

Back in 1992 the Federal Transport Minister handed over airports to local councils claiming that they would be in the best position to manage them.  [Editor note: councils signed Transfer Deeds over the aerodromes which dealt with a range of matters including the fair treatment of those using airfields for aviation purposes]

While some councils have taken up the initiative to create employment and promote aviation activity at their airports, for many years the Richmond River Shire Council (amalgamated to form Richmond Valley Council in 2000) did not, and actively tried to cut up the aerodrome for inappropriate housing development.

This was done in breach of the legal and binding Federal Transfer Deeds which has been compromised on many occasions in the Richmond Vally Council’s case.

Despite pleas by the local community to have the matter investigated Federally it has basically fallen on deaf ears.

And also it seems from the documents shown below which is a plea from the hangar lessees, and the shirking of it’s responsibility, the NSW Division of Local Government has made some very serious lapses of judgement which IS THE DEPARTMENT’S RESPONSIBILITY.

So when the Federal Minister in 1992 claimed local government bodies would be better placed to manage aerodromes he was wrong. Subsequent ministers including current Anthony Albanese have sat on their hands.

The NSW Division of Local Government is doing the very same thing.

Both need to be investigated via an independent Commission of Inquiry or the like both Federally and by The State.

Letter to Minister Page

Sent by email:  office@page.minister.nsw.gov.au             15 February 2013

The Minister for Local Government,

Mr Don Page.

Hello Don,

I was wondering when you are free if you could contact me as a matter of urgency involving leases at Evans Head Memorial Aerodrome and Richmond Valley Council, which I believe you should be advised about.

Briefly what has occurred is the RVC is involved in selling part of the Evans Head Memorial Aerodrome which it holds in public trust to RSL Lifecare for a retirement village complex, and also a residential airpark proposal.

I am in a position of holding a lease on the land for an aircraft hangar, which has been in existence since the early 1990s. Another separate hangar is leased by another person on the aerodrome as well which will expire under current legal  arrangements in 2028.

The situation has arisen that to protect our interests with these pending sales we have taken out caveats on the hangar sites, in anticipation of protecting our lease arrangements which have to date still not been registered with the NSW Land Titles Office, which the RVC is legally obliged to do.

Until a few weeks ago we were well down the track in resolving this. However last week we received notice that an application had been lodged with The Supreme Court to lift these caveats.

Previously the General Manager John Walker indicated (threatened) to take us to the Supreme Court to have the Caveats lifted, and after meetings and correspondence, we were well down this track to have the leases registered, which would have led to an immediate lifting of the Caveats.

General Manager Walker suggested that our Caveats to protect our legal interest and entity were as he said “holding up the signing of a Heritage Agreement to allow the retirement village and the airpark to go ahead”. As I said we were close to resolving this amicably until Richmond Valley Council put us in a situation where we have to defend our legal and watertight leaseholder case with the Supreme Court. Affidavits from us have been prepared and should have been served today.

What my concerns are is that this action by RVC is rather questionable, and is being done by the RVC at considerable expense to not only [us] but to the ratepayers, when there is no need for this to have happened in the first place.

In fact I will go so far as to allege that it is a breach of power and trust, considering the negotiations with RVCs solicitor Hannigans have been well and truly above board in efforts to have, as I have said, the matter resolved.

At this point in time I am perplexed at RVC’s actions, and would ask that you take these matters I have raised seriously.

I believe it could warrant an investigation by your Department.

As I have said we have no intention of deliberately attempting to thwart development at the Evans Head Memorial Aerodrome, but just to secure our leases which should have been registered well over two decades ago.

Please do not hesitate to call me if you would like to discuss the matter further so that it can be resolved quickly.

Another thing which I should raise is that ongoing and unnecessary “out of the blue” Court action could seriously jeopardise the acquisition of a former RAAF F-111 to be the centrepiece of an aviation museum we have planned here. There are strict deadlines to have work for it to be housed before its scheduled arrival here in August. If this does not happen because of this legal action there is a huge risk we will lose it.

I know your colleague the Member for Clarence Chris Gulaptis is right behind this and has put a lot of time and effort in making this project a reality, as well as the Federal Member for Page Janelle Saffin.

Please do not hesitate to call me on this matter on [number not published]

Please also feel free to contact our legal advisor Andrew McInnes on number [not published] or [number not published] if you need to know any finer details of our dilemma.

Kindest Regards,

Halden Boyd

Ph:[number not published]

 And the response from the Division of Local Government

Response to Boyd's letter from the Division of Local Government in March

Response to Boyd’s letter from the Division of Local Government in March

Editor’s Note:  For years there’s been a giant buck pass by all three tiers of government with regard to aviation infrastructure around Australia.

The problem was made worse in early 2004 when the then Minister for Transport, John Anderson, approved a ‘loosening’ of control over 240 ALOP aerodromes around Australia in a letter sent out to local government.

In material made available to VWD in John Anderson’s handwriting,  Anderson asked for his department to consult with major aviation bodies around Australia to see how they viewed the change to policy but this didn’t happen.

VWD contacted the named aviation bodies and they have assured us that they were never consulted by Anderson’s Department.  Anderson went ahead and signed off on the policy change which was sent out by one of his minions:

Generic letter to local government about changed policy with regard to the Transfer Deeds

Generic letter to local government about changed policy with regard to the Transfer Deeds

Interestingly the change to policy was not made available to the general public and didn’t come to parliament even though it involved millions and millions of dollars worth of aviation infrastructure.

We’re not even sure that it went to Cabinet as we have asked the question but have been refused an answer by the current government.

Legal advice obtained by VWD demonstrates by precedent that the policy change is trumped by the Transfer Deed.  In other words the policy change brought about by Anderson isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.  The Transfer Deeds stand and should be enforced by Minister Albanese.  But Albanese and his department pass the buck hiding behind the Anderson letter.

In the meantime a great deal of aviation infrastructure has been lost around Australia.

 

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