Motion for an independent investigation into Tent City - 27 January 2021
My motion for an immediate independent investigation to be undertaken by the city to examine the root causes of the Pioneer Park Tent City incident was sent to a committee to be convened whenever. This is the Mayor’s response to the systematic failures of the Council’s own procedures and governance that resulted in the incident.
The Mayor did not want it aired in the chamber on his last Council meeting. He has often shown good will to others in the chamber on many issues. But this evening he showed me that if surnames were a currency; a Vujcic was worth less, not because of my ethnic origins but because I stood up and asked for a fair go in the representation of the ratepayers and residents of this City.
So this evening I humbly report to you the words that may have empowered other elected members to support you the ratepayers and residents Fremantle in calling for an investigation.
Reasons why it was reasonable to ask for an investigation on your behalf.
“I left for the Christmas and New Year break confident that the most vulnerable in our City were in good hands.
St Patricks and the Red Cross together with a few smaller not-for-profit groups provided a full food, meals, and hygiene service during the break.
After Boxing Day, I had received calls from constituents giving feedback on a camp at Pioneer Park and asking questions around the issue of approvals.
On the 30th of December 2020, I sent an email to the CEO asking who approved the event at Pioneer Park. The response was that the City did not give approval.
I was surprised that the City gave no approvals, so I followed up with an email on the 1 January asking for an investigation.
I was worried that the event now known as Tent City was a much bigger issue for the City to handle.
The situation was serious enough to call an urgent meeting of elected members and on the 7th of January I asked for an urgent meeting of the Council.
In response to my request, an informal elected members meeting was convened on the 11th of January to discuss Tent City.
At the meeting, I asked “how did we get here?” to establish who authorised the event. However, there was no appetite in the meeting to unpack the question of approval. There followed what I understood verbals approvals given by the Mayor and Councillor Pemberton for a Boxing Day event.
At an informal elected member meeting held on the 18th January, there was assurance given that the CEO was working with all major stakeholders to resolve the accommodation issues and that this would take another 2 weeks to resolve. The word “compassion” was the key guideline in finding solutions.
On the 22 January the WA Government stepped in and took control of the park when Lands Minister Ben Wyatt signed a revocation order under the Land Administration Act to remove the City of Fremantle as the management body for the park.
The WA Government in a statement said, “In light of the City of Fremantle’s failure to withdraw their consent to the occupancy of Pioneer Park in a reasonable timeframe, the State Government has taken the necessary action to protect the community,”
The state government certainly had the view that consent was given by the City.
For the state government to publicly say that we failed and that they had to step in to protect the community it a poor outcome for this Council.
How did we get here?
Our Events Application Pack 2019/2020 goes to great lengths to explain the compliance requirements of holding an event.
There is no record, to my knowledge, that any paperwork was filled in by Freo Street Kitchen.
Why was this mandatory compliance not actioned?
Our Risk Management Policy states:
“The City has low to no tolerance for exposing the City to: financial risk, but may extend this tolerance for specific projects; risks associated with economic development; risks inhibiting the promotion and fostering of the City’s cultural vibrancy.
The City has no tolerance for risks to community and staff safety and for deliberate breaches of laws, regulations, and professional standards”.
Why was this policy not actioned?
The City’s Code of Conduct, Section 5 states:
An elected member or committee member must not –
(a) in his or her position, confer improperly on or secure improperly for himself or herself, or any other person or body, an advantage or disadvantage
(b) in his or her position, seek to improperly influence other elected members, committee members or employees in the performance of their duties or function for the purpose of gaining advantage or disadvantage for himself or herself or for any other person or body
“(c) when using or authorising the use of others of the resources of the local government, misuse or permit their misuse by any other person or body nor
(d) improperly use resources of the local government for electioneering purposes”.
Why was this Code of Conduct not actioned?
The systematic failures of governance in this incident are catastrophic and in any other company a full investigation would have resulted immediately to determine the root cause, not to punish in the first instance, but to ensure that this does not happen again.
Blaming the state government for a lack of social housing in this instance is not helpful nor a mature approach to continuous improvement.
There are individual crimes connected to Tent City which highlights why naïve organisers, supportive elected members and volunteers should not be setting up camps for vulnerable people especially during an election.
The Homeless issue is a complex one that requires trained and experienced service providers. The ratepayers and residents and our business community are hugely generous and tolerant, and this was evident even during period of violence and anti-social behaviour that spilt into the City.
For the record.
There is no blame apportioned to Jesse Noakes nor the Freo Street Kitchen organisers. Jesse is an activist who believes in his cause and is prepared to lobby on behalf of the vulnerable in our society. Our democracy is all the better for the challenge. However, I do not support breaking the law because the ends do not justify the means.
In respect to Tent City, had our senior leadership and gatekeepers exercised good governance through compliance, Jesse may well have chosen a different strategy which may have produced better results”.
Councillor Marija Vujcic