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‘Local Hero’ returns Australia Day Award citing Mayor’s “lack of respect” and “rudeness” at meeting

Feb 21, 2022

Well respected Bilpin local, Penny McKinlay, who was handed the prestigious Local Hero Award on Australia Day by Liberal Mayor Patrick Conolly, has this morning returned it to him, citing what she calls the Mayor’s, “complete lack of respect”.


Happier days…Mayor Conolly presents the Local Hero Award to Penny McKinlay (4th from left)


Mrs McKinlay, who is also President of the very successful Bilpin Region Advancement Group, sent the award back with a letter to the Mayor following her ‘disgust’ at the way she says the Mayor ran Thursday’s Extraordinary Council meeting.


That meeting – we will have a full blow-by-blow account on it later today – was called by the Mayor to address a rescission motion lodged by independents, Greens, Labor, and Shooters and Fishers about the contentious Rural Boundary Clearing Code for some expert feedback and investigations into geospatial mapping.


The motion was scheduled for this week’s Tuesday Council meeting but the Mayor brought it forward to an Extraordinary Meeting on Thursday, most likely because on Tuesday he would not have had the numbers, with Liberal Cllr Paul Veigel planning to be absent.


On Thursday the 4 Liberal councillors, plus supporters Cllr Les Sheather and Cllr Eddie Dogramaci, rammed the Code through with the Mayor’s casting vote – which gives him 2 votes.


At the Thursday meeting, 4 members of the public spoke, one with extensive knowledge around koalas and their threatened habitats – the Code could potentially allow clearance of koala and other fauna habitat – plus three seasoned RFS members who spoke against adopting the Code.


Despite that expert feedback the Mayor said, “we have learnt nothing new here” and once again used his casting vote to ensure Council continues to opt-in to the Code.


One of the speakers was Mrs McKinlay’s husband Stuart who made the point he was speaking as a private citizen but who nevertheless has decades under his belt with the RFS where he is currently a Senior Deputy Captain in the Bilpin brigade.


Mr Mckinlay’s brother Ross also spoke. He too is a seasoned RFS volunteer with 20 years service, and during the past 9 years he’s worked on the Grose Wollemi Fire Strategy which involves well thought through containment lines being built around Bilpin in a multi-million dollar spend by the RFS now underway. He said, “the RBCC needs to be thought through much more”.


And Bill Shields who has spent 30 years as a Captain and 16 years as a Group Captain in the RFS, and is now a member of the well respected Independent Bushfire Group, said, “we believe the terrain in Bilpin is not suitable for the Code”.


In her letter to the Mayor, Mrs McKinlay said, “The complete lack of respect shown by yourself and half of the councillors towards the four speakers was nothing short of appalling.”


“The rudeness you displayed towards your fellow councillors who did engage with the speakers was breathtaking in its arrogance.”


“Then to state ‘we have learnt nothing new here’ after hearing the facts from the speakers, and proceed with the vote just highlights the obvious question of who stands to gain from this Code proceeding.


“Self interest and party politics would appear to be running Hawkesbury Council and it’s so incredibly disappointing for me to come to that conclusion.”


“Three out of the four councillors who attended my home to present me the Award , congratulating me on my volunteer RFS work, didn’t have the common manners or basic decency to even listen to the RFS facts presented to the meeting. This smacks of so much hypocrisy that I cannot have this Award in my home,” said Mrs McKinlay.


Mayor Conolly sought to make the issue a political one in comments to the Post this morning about the return of the Award, saying, “the awarding of an Australia Day honour from Hawkesbury City Council is never intended to be tied with the recipient’s political views and it should be remembered that the award is not from me, but awarded by Council on behalf of the entire community”.

“The inability of some people involved in the debate to acknowledge that people can legitimately and authentically hold an alternative view to their own, is a big part of the reason that the debate was so intense and at times, unpleasant,” he said.


“My advocacy for the Code was based on my belief that it will allow landholders to better protect their properties, and because I value the rights of individual landholders to make these decisions.


“I understand and respect that Penny and some others have an alternative view to mine, and I don’t begrudge them for that or seek to question their motivations.”


“This decision was about balancing the rights of farmers to take the actions they deem necessary to protect their properties, with the concerns of conservationists worried about biodiversity and the environmental damage that hazard reduction involves.


“It wasn’t an easy decision, we had advice from local RFS volunteers both in favour and against opting in, and ultimately I think we got the balance right.”


Although the RBCC has now been opted-into by the Council it still needs to be signed off by the State government, so any potential land clearing cannot begin right away.


A report from Council staff said as much as 15,800 hectares – 39,000 acres – could potentially be cleared in the Hawkesbury under the Code, which is 5.7% of our region’s land area.


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