The proposed constitution – a recipe for disaster and abuse of power!

Opinion

bobreidSun, 05/01/2020 - 7:48pm

The proposed NACCAI constitution that was put on the website on Friday 3 January by Secretary Maria Pickles is not a recommendation of the Constitution Sub-committee.

It is a recipe for disaster.

It includes large lot rural landholdings on the western side of the Pacific Highway, it gives the Executive Committee unfettered power to sack sub-committees as it wishes, and it gives meeting chairpersons the authority to decide who can and who can’t vote for motions.

It is a constitution that makes the Association ripe for abuse of power, and I for one won’t be voting for it, and I strongly recommend that members do not support it.  

More on this later.

But firstly, where did this proposed constitution come from, and who developed it?

After realising that the existing (1992) constitution was out of date, the October 2019 NACRA ordinary general meeting formed a sub-committee to develop a new constitution.  Myself, ex-president Doug Kohlhoff, and current Treasurer Lyn McKee volunteered or were nominated as members of the sub-committee, and I was nominated by NACRA President Jim Parnell as chairperson.

The sub-committee met many times, undertook lots of research, and ultimately recommended the draft constitution that was put to the members at the meeting on 7 December. Referring to this draft as the November constitution, it was intended to bring our urban and non-urban people together under one umbrella, it provided for non-urban land owners to be members, it gave all members equal voting rights, and importantly it included voting clauses to handle situations in which there was a major difference of opinion between urban and non-urban members to prevent one group from over-riding the interests of the other. These voting clauses were based on the Australian Constitution provisions for referendums.

President Jim Parnell approved this November constitution.

Unfortunately, the November constitution was a few votes short of being passed by the required 75% majority – feedback later revealed that the voting process was the main reason - some members were confused about what they were voting for so they voted no, and people who were not members voted when they shouldn’t have. In addition, some people thought that Carrington and the non-urban area should not be included.

Following this, the sub-committee got back to work, consulted with as many people as possible, made a few tweaks and changes, and recommended a revised constitution (the December constitution) to the Executive Committee.

To consider this December constitution, the Executive Committee held a meeting at which I, and MidCoast Councillor Len Roberts, attended. Councillor Roberts had been invited to attend by the Secretary and he made a number of suggestions, which the meeting decided to adopt.

After reviewing Councillor Roberts’ suggestions, the constitution sub-committee recommended the December constitution with a few minor amendments to the Executive Committee for approval. The constitution sub-committee did not think that Councillor Roberts’ suggestions were appropriate for the Association, and did not include them in the amendments.

On 30 December the Executive Committee decided that it wanted to include Councillor Roberts suggestions, and modified the December constitution. This version which I refer to as the proposed constitution is what has been put on the website for feedback. It is not supported by the constitution sub-committee.

Why is the area in the proposed constitution too large?

The area covered by the existing 1992 constitution is just the North Arm Cove village area. The constitution sub-committee was happy to extend this area to include the surrounding non-urban landholdings so that the owners of these properties could become members. We felt that this was fair since many non-urban landowners had already joined the Association, even though they shouldn’t have been allowed to, and they are keen to be involved in our community.

But including the whole of the North Arm Cove statistical area, which the Executive Committee  wants to do, we thought was a step too far! This area includes large lot rural land that extends some 8km to the west of the Pacific Highway and some 10km north of the village.

To my knowledge, the landowners in this area have never expressed interest in joining our Association. Such landowners would have different objectives to our existing members. There would be no benefit to the North Arm Cove community in permitting them to become members.

How can the proposed constitution lead to the committee abusing its power?

There are two ways in which this could happen.

Firstly, under clause 24 on sub-committees, the Executive Committee wants the right to sack sub-committees as it wishes, without any involvement of members or discussion at a general meeting. It wants to include the following clause “the committee may, by instrument in writing, revoke wholly or in part any delegation under this clause”.

Such a clause is in the existing 1992 constitution, and the existing Executive used this clause to sack the Aquaculture Sub-committee last September. The Executive did this on spurious grounds, in secret, and without any consultation with the convenor of the Aquaculture Sub-committee. It was done in a most discourteous manner - the convenor was informed by being handed a letter from the Secretary advising her the sub-committee had been sacked. The manner in which this was done was an abject abuse of power.

The proposed clause 24 allows the Executive to sack any sub-committee it doesn’t like without notice, and without any consultation. For example, it could sack the Fame Cove Sub-committee without any notice and without first discussing this at a general meeting.

The Association is run by its members, for its members, and decisions on sub-committees have historically been made by members at general meetings. For this reason the constitution sub-committee included a provision in its recommended constitutions that delegations to sub-committees “shall be subject to a vote of members at an ordinary general meeting” and they could “only be revoked or varied by a vote of members at an ordinary general meeting”.

The second way in which an abuse of power could happen is under the clause 36 on voting in the proposed constitution which states in sub-clause 5 “should an issue affect a small number of members the chair may segregate an issue to be discussed and may determine how voting where necessary is conducted”.

This sub-clause permits the chair to decide who can and who can’t vote on an issue – it takes away the right of all members to vote on an issue. It could easily lead to an abuse of power and enable a chair to stack a vote to suit their agenda. This sub-clause is not democratic and for this reason alone members should vote against the proposed constitution.

To summarise my concerns

I really feel that the proposed constitution could cause divisions within our community, the area that it covers is far too large and some of its clauses could lead to abuse of power, as has already happened with our existing Executive Committee.

Because of the changes made by the Executive Committee I will not be voting for it, and I strongly recommend that all members do not support it.

Some final words

In a letter to the Cove News that was published in the November 2019 edition, four of the existing six members of the Executive Committee announced that for various reasons they would not be seeking re-election (for their positions). These elections are held as part of the Annual General Meeting, which is scheduled to be held on 8 February immediately after the Special Meeting to consider the proposed constitution.

Since the Executive Committee has chosen to ignore the recommendations of the constitution sub-committee, I feel it is inappropriate for the existing Executive Committee’s proposed constitution to be considered at the February meeting, and the Special Meeting should be postponed and the proposed constitution left to the incoming Executive Committee to finalise and take forward.