Crs Lipshutz/Okotel

That Council resolve not to proceed with item 7i in the Community Action Plan for 2014-15.

Motion carried. Division Called. Voting for: Lipshutz, Okotel, Esakoff, Magee, Lobo. VOTING AGAINST: Delahunty, Pilling, Sounness, Hyams

SOME BACKGROUND: On a previous vote on this issue, Lobo voted for the creation of a tree register. At this meeting there were a few aghast faces when Lobo didn’t immediately put up his hand to vote in favour of the Lipshutz motion. After some concerted stares from across the chamber, he raised his hand. Anyone still believe that ‘decisions’ aren’t pre-arranged behind closed doors?

We also point out that it was Lobo who was featured prominently in his election material alongside Simon Crean. The later comments in the ‘debate’ are referring to this.

LIPSHUTZ: a ‘vexed issue’ which has ‘come back to council over and over again’. It’s been to the Local Laws committee which looked at this ‘extensively’. Claimed there is ‘no right or wrong’ but is a ‘philosophical argument’. Some say that’s it’s ‘very important to have a tree register’ and others say that they should be able to do ‘what I wish on my land’. Reiterated that ‘there is no right or wrong’ but an issue of ‘the right approach’. In his view, if ‘I buy a piece of land’ then ‘I should be able to do with it as I wish’. If he wanted to remove his trees and ‘concrete’ then ‘it’s my prerogative to do so’. When he bought his land over 20 years ago, there were trees and he kept some of them ‘but over the last 20 years or more those trees are gone’ and now he has ‘bigger and better trees’. ‘That’s my right to do that’. ‘Acknowledged’ that ‘not every tree’ is going to be classified as a significant tree, ‘but ultimately it comes down to property rights’ and ‘therefore I am seeking to abandon that part of the community plan’.

COMMENT: Note the last sentence. The motion says nothing about ABANDONING the options for introducing a tree register. In fact, the motion speaks only to 2014/15! Yet, the intent and the overall impact will be that once gone from the community plan, there is no requirement for the Local Laws committee to ever revisit the issue, and hence no need to consider the issue as part of any Local Law Amendment. Further, if by chance the Local Law does come up for some amendments this year, then it will not be touched in all likelihood for another ten years until the sunset clause expires. The Tree Register issue will be dead, forgotten, and effectively killed off. We might also add that for the past 3 to 4 years the Local Laws Committee has been under the obligation to create the ‘framework’ according to the standing resolution. Their task was simply to carry out a council resolution. This they did not do! Nor has there been any report as to why this committee found so many alleged problems with creating the required wording – especially when countless other councils have ready made models to emulate.

OKOTEL: repeated that it’s a ‘vexed’ issue and that it’s been before council ‘many, many times’ and that it has also been looked at by the Local Laws Committee ‘many, many times’. People ‘do have different views’ but the committee has had ‘great difficulty in dealing with’ the issue if there was a ‘law in place’. The committee has ‘looked at different wording’, but they couldn’t ‘come up with anything that people are entirely satisfied with’. Council does have a ‘number of tree protection measures already in place’ and ‘these are adequate to protect our important trees’. On public land there is policy to ‘protect trees in our parks’ and on private land there are ‘laws against moonscaping’ and there are ‘often’ conditions in permits that council has said have trees that are significant. Said that having a new register would be ‘unduly onerous and invasive’ . There would be costs in ‘hiring the consultants’ and they would have to ‘survey the entire municipality’ then ‘maintaining and updating the register’ and ultimately ‘prosecuting the individuals’. All of these ‘costs would be of little benefit’ since only the ‘best of the best trees’ would be on the register. There wouldn’t be a ‘large number of trees’ so ‘going to the extent of having consultants identify the area’ for those few trees and prosecuting those individuals who happen to ‘prune’ their tree is ‘going that step too far’. She was ‘certain’ that when people buy a property with a nice tree they keep that tree. Thought it would be far better to ‘spend that money on planting new trees’. ‘Greening’ the streets by planting new trees is important and planting 400 new street trees is good but ‘we can do better’. Shopping strips ‘require greening’ so more can be planted there. Thought that Council could be ‘spending money in a way that would have far greater benefit’. Agreed with Lipshutz that when people ‘have a garden’ it should be their ‘right to tend their garden’ as they wish. Nobody should expect that if they ‘cut down a branch’ they would be ‘facing a $10,000 fine’ and if they ‘cut down the tree they could be facing a $50,000 fine’.

PILLING: thought it ironic that immediately after an item on powerlines and trees, and council’s emphases on saving trees, they should now be considering this particular item on the tree register. Said that council ‘does a lot of things for the community benefit’ and that saving trees, ‘even on private property has worth for the community’. Said that Okotel was ‘probably right’ in that ‘most owners’ would keep their trees but property developers are different. Other councils protect their trees but in Glen Eira ‘we don’t have very much protection at all’. Wanted this to ‘go forward’ and thought that it ‘eventually’ would either be by this council or the next. Thought that the ‘philosophical argument’ wasn’t as ‘good for the community’.

DELAHUNTY: ‘accepted’ that there are ‘philosophical arguments both for’ and against but thought that the application of these philosophical arguments was ‘mind boggling to me’ and there’s the inconsistency of the application of such arguments ‘from one item to the next’. Quoted Okotel from the last item when she said – “The loss of trees is a great shame for Glen Eira’. ‘Guessed’ it was about ‘where they were planted’ so all boils down to the ‘individual property rights kind of argument’. But then councillors who argue that they can do anything they want on their land will ‘then go on to quote all the provisions we have around the planning scheme’ and that this ‘protects trees’. Then asked ‘whether that should be changed as well?’ ‘You can’t have this inconsistent application’ about trees on private land. Either trees are important and ‘community asset’ no matter ‘where they are’ they should be protected or ‘you don’t’ think they are important. Said that ‘this lauding of planting more street trees’ is equally ‘mind boggling’ in the ‘inconsistent application of this as well’. It’s community money used to plant but the same councillor ‘who moved a motion to get those same street trees removed’ so this is a ‘bad use of money’. Plenty of arguments around for protection of existing trees – ‘population growth’. Why protect them right now ‘no matter where they are planted’ because ‘they are a community asset’.

Lipshutz might have done the ‘right thing’ by planting ‘new beautiful trees’ at his place but that ‘doesn’t give them any protection from the next owner’. Yet he ‘sees them now as adding back to the community’. ‘It doesn’t mean that they will be there forever’. Said that councillors need to ‘think about our values’ on this. Admitted that she is a ‘screaming leftie’ and because of this believes in ‘the community’s values over the individual’s values’ and she’s a member of the Labar party ‘because their values match mine’. Their values ‘state’ that ‘community’s have rights, organisations have rights’ ‘over an individual’. Said that some people might be ‘shocked’ to think that they ‘voted’ for some of these councillors who ‘purport to uphold these values’ and on their election promotions blurbs had ‘labor giants’ photographed with them. ‘Simon Crean was an absolute giant of the Labor party’.

PILLING: interrupted with a ‘point of order’. Delahunty asked ‘what is the point of order’. Pilling answered that he thought it ‘was off topic’.

DELAHUNTY: ‘on the basis of relevance’ she thought that ‘values’ were relevant to every decision council makes.

MAGEE: said he ‘understood’ the point of order and where ‘Delahunty is going’ but asked her to ‘please come back to Item 9.11’.

DELAHUNTY: repeated that council values are implicit in every decision and that it ‘should come as no surprise to the community’ especially since those ‘values are heralded on our election material’. Thus, trees are a ‘community asset’ wherever they’re found; community ‘has rights over the individual’. This is what she ‘believes’ and that’s why she ‘belongs to a party that also believes that’.

Went on to say that the issue was in the ‘much heralded’ community plan – the ‘overarching government document’. ‘Therefore a tree protection list must be forwarded’. Said it was ‘absolutely outrageous that we would'( interrupted by Magee at this point about the need for an extension of time. Delahunty said ‘I am done’.

SOUNNESS: ‘having respect’ for the environment is a ‘matter of principle’ and council spoke very ‘convincingly on Section 18c’ about racial discrimination and they took a ‘principled decision there’. If the environment isn’t protected then ‘some things degrade’. ‘Feared’ that ‘Glen Eira may go down the path of the Sahara desert’.

MAGEE – asked Sounness ‘are we talking about Item 9.11?’ The ‘tree register’.

SOUNNESS: Said he sees trees that are in the backs of properties and he enjoys seeing them and he’d like others who see such trees to be ‘comforted and supported’ and ‘encouraged to retain those trees’. Unless Council has a register then there ‘will be some’ who dismiss the importance of trees as ‘insignificant’ and ‘everyone stops caring about such things’. Whilst flowering gums and other shrubs might be attractive, they ‘don’t have the grace of some of the older’ trees. Wants to protect those trees and those properties who have such trees to be supported for ‘their retention’. This is above the individual’s rights for the ‘greater community benefit’.

LOBO: said ‘I am not supposed to talk on this, but I will’. Answered Delahunty by saying ‘I am here to represent the residents not a political party’. (Esakoff saying ‘hear, hear’ at this!) Lobo said that political parties can be either right or wrong and that they aren’t always right and if wrong ‘I do tell even the biggest person that you are wrong in the Labor party’.

ESAKOFF: ‘well said Councillor Lobo’. Said that councillors are there to represent the community and ‘not any political party’ and the community values ‘what they own’. Hopefully they ‘will value any significant trees they may have on their property’. ‘If you’ve bought a property that has a lovely tree you will cherish that tree’ and it will be removed if it becomes ‘old’ or ‘dangerous’ but she ‘couldn’t see that happening’. For developers and moonscaping ‘there are laws in place’. Doesn’t agree with many of the comments already made and that councillors are there ‘for the community and people do have rights’. ‘The community should not be able to over-ride’ the individual’s wishes ‘in their own home’. If the tree is in the front then people could see it, but if the tree is ‘in the backyard who is going to see it apart from perhaps a neighbour?’ and ‘not the community’. Thus ‘the owner of that property should have every right to do what they like’. She has always ‘been on the side of personal rights’ and she doesn’t want people to be told ‘what they can and can’t have’ in terms of trees in their gardens. That’s their ‘domain’ and it’s ‘called private open space – private’. ‘To be personal and to accuse people of inconsistency I think is a disgrace’. Said that people can argue for protecting street trees and planting more trees, but on people’s own property they should decide. Went on to ‘red tape and the costs’ is ‘another layer that the community is over’. Said that the ‘community’ doesn’t ‘want any more red tape’ or costs in choosing ‘what to do with their own private space’.

HYAMS: said he understands that ‘this is a philosophical discussion’ about the ‘rights of the individual which are very important’ and the ‘rights of the community’ to enjoy the ‘amenity’. Thought that Pilling, Sounness and Delahunty have ‘missed the main point’ in that the motion is about ‘asking the community if they want a significant tree register’. If the motion is voted in then it becomes part of the Local Law and that ‘goes out to quite a comprehensive community consultation’. Said that those who support the motion are arguing that ‘we support’ the community ‘so much that we don’t want to know what they think about this’. He does ‘want to know’ what people think and he won’t support one if the community says it doesn’t want one. Stated that ‘trees to contribute to the community’ and even from backyards ‘if they are tall enough’. There are ‘thousands of houses’ that have got Heritage listing. So if council thinks that it’s important to preserve ‘neighbourhood amenity’ with the heritage listings, and councilors at every meeting ‘limit’ what people can do through imposing ‘greater setbacks’ on their applications, then this is ‘all about contributing to the neighbourhood amenity’. A tree register ‘isn’t terribly different to that’. Admitted to be ’embarrassed’ because the issue keeps returning. Said that a ‘great’ amount of work had been done by the Local Laws committee. Stated that the planning scheme maybe does ‘take care of some areas’ it ‘doesn’t take care of all’ the possibilities. So, ‘let’s hear what the community has to say about this and then make our decision’.

MAGEE: supports the motion because when he moved into his house in 1988 it was ‘ornamental trees and fruit trees’. He pulled them out and ‘put in native trees’. Now he’s got an ‘oasis of native birds’. He also planted an ‘inappropriate tree’ which ‘grew very, very quickly’ and had to be taken out because of impact on neighbours. He’s planted every tree and if in a ‘couple of years time’ he wants to change his garden then should be able to. ‘This isn’t about cutting down trees but giving people their individual rights to decide’ on their own property. Said he would hate to see a ‘situation’ where a tree was ‘causing me harm’ but his neighbours ‘opposed that’ and ‘council supported them rather than me’.

LIPSHUTZ: although he rarely agrees with Lobo, he does on this occasion in that ‘we’re all here to represent the community and not political parties’ and ‘Cr Delahunty represents the Labor Party’.

DELAHUNTY: ‘point of order Mr Mayor. That’s not what I said’.

MAGEE: confirmed this wasn’t ‘what she said’.

LIPSHUTZ: withdrew comment. Said that on Heritage ‘how many times has it come back to council because we don’t necessarily agree with the Heritage advisor?’ This is like ‘someone coming along and saying that tree is significant’. Then someone will appeal that decision and then it will be ‘red tape and a bureaucratic issue’. Whether something is a significant tree ‘is in the eyes of the beholder’. As an analogy said that clients going to court are told ‘to settle because it is in your control’. When the judge decides ‘you’re gambling’ as to the decision. ‘This is exactly the same thing here’. People ‘gamble on somebody saying this is not a significant tree’. Stated that those claiming that a tree is significant won’t be the owner of the tree but a neighbour. ‘It’s a matter of property rights’. Agreed that ‘trees do add a great deal to the community’. Hyams has spoken about asking the community but that’s a ‘very cute argument because we all know that when you’ consult with people that ‘the vast majority’ ‘don’t give their view’ and it’s only those people ‘who have a strong view about the issue’. those who give their view are the voters and it’s those people who ‘will in fact say yes or no’. Going to community consultation means that ‘you will get’ the views of ‘activists and who have strong views’ and the ‘vast silent majority don’t care’. And ‘they don’t care’ because they are ‘satisfied’ about the ‘way council operates’.