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Corruption (Writ Small!)

There is a fine line between 'helping out a mate', and corruption as defined by the law, and as most would understand it. Without an Independent Commission Against Corruption (as in NSW) in this country, and thankfully, in the absence of many overt examples of the genre, it is easy to become complacent, and simply disbelieve the stories that circulate from time to time.

One persistent story that has circulated here concerns the manner in which pressure has been applied on our building services people to overlook infringements in regard to certain specific housing rules that are always under pressure in districts where holiday housing predominates.

Behind this is the demand for accommodation during holiday periods. There are many homes in this district where one way or another, secondary rentable accommodation has been acquired through the use of double garages, or sleep-outs. Most of these units are useless for rental purposes unless the owners are able to install kitchen and bathroon facilities. But in the main, only one development contribution (up to $20,000) has been paid on the property, and annual rates are based on single occupancy.

Our building control people have heard all the excuses in the World in regard to the manner in which these facilities have been illegally installed, either through DIY activities, or mates in the trade who have been prevailed on to break the law.

Often, neighbours or others who have followed the rules and paid the dues are at the forefront of dobbing in those who flout the law. Probably one of the most frequent appeals that has come to the attention of the Judicial Committee in the past are related to attempts to retain improvements in the face of orders to remove. Excuses include aged parents, handicapped children, ignorance of the law, "it was there when we bought the housel" - but never because the applicant wishes to rent the premises. These are but a few of the regular excuses offered when inspections reveal all.

There are some people who are determined, who even obtain permits on some pretext, or on the basis that the necessary applications will be made, and fees paid. These are often people who are indifferent to any application of the rules, who care little about compliance, and who are prepared to prevail upon political contacts when caught out, and placed under compliance pressure by staff who are simply doing their job.

There have been recent and persistent reports that this situation has arisen more than once during the currency of the present Mayor and Council, and where prosecution is imminent, instructions have been issued to regulatory staff to desist and withdraw on the basis that the alleged offender is "a good bloke", and that pursuing prosecution would be "unfair" and/or an over zealous act on the part of the regulation enforcement staff.

I am not about to name names, but make it clear that evidence seems to point to such practices having crept into the manner in which our Council conducts its business. It is of course a festering sore than never goes away - it is often done with best intent to 'help out', but it is never overlooked, and one way or another it slips into public awareness, and the whispering begins, whether or not consideration is involved.

It is one of the hardest examples of petty corruption to follow though, and nail those responsible. But it is incredibly important that those who have indulged in these practices are aware that a close watch is being kept. Be warned - any interference by politicians with prosecution of any regulatory breaches - whether building, (or protected trees, for example!) is totally unacceptable behaviour, no matter how high the perpetrator stands on the Council ladder. 

It is as well that such warnings are brought to the attention of our elected members right at the outset of a new term, and that staff are encouraged to resist and/or report such occurances without fear, or favour. This is probably the only way that such practices may be nipped in the bud.


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