‘Council watch’ groups bleat about unaccountability but reject liability solution – www.cairnsnews.org

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By TONY MOBILIFONITIS
WE at Cairns News are pretty well convinced of the argument that councils are corporations and that as such, those who run them, the officers and councillors, are fully and commercially liable for harm of loss caused by their actions.

The reason for this is that councils operate under state Local Government Acts and these Acts themselves describe councils as being corporations registered for GST with Australian Business Numbers (ABNs) and a Dunn & Bradstreet number (DUNS) and are therefore legally required to be audited annually by a Certified Practising Accountant working for Dunn & Bradstreet. Most, if not all councils, are also insured by JLT Public Sector.

One Aussie battler who has put this argument to test is Gary Oraniuk, a former CFMEU union representative from Geelong, appears to have won at least two rounds in ongoing battles against the City of Greater Geelong, which from 2019 had been threatening to impose bike lanes along a commercial strip in Belmont, to the detriment of some 55 local traders, by wiping out roadside parking bays.

These so-called green initiatives, which come under the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), have been happening across the world without the approval of ratepayers or residents of municipalities. They have simply been imposed by way of so-called “community consultation” slight-of-hand processes involving green NGOs and SDG policy imposed from above.

At a meeting in 2019, Oraniuk verbally noticed (see 42min50s) the council’s officers and councillors that they would be held personally and professionally liable for the traders’ losses and the vote on the matter matter was privately deferred for three and a half years until July 26th 2023, when it was brought before the council again.

That is when Oraniuk issued the council with a written notice, reminding them that the council was in fact a corporation without lawful government authority and subject to full commercial liability for all harm, injury and loss perpetrated on anyone. He also noted that such payouts would have to be covered by the council’s insurer.

The council again deferred the vote at the July 26th meeting and a month later the local newspaper reported that the council had scrapped the bike lane contract altogether. We are not aware that the council admitted liability, but nonetheless Oraniuk won by default.

The only other action involved was a petition signed by traders and taken to State Parliament by Andrew Katos MP. Oraniuk said a trader later admitted to him it was the notice, not the petition that swayed the council. Oraniuk says petitions are little more than toilet paper, as they are mere requests with no legal force.

“I left it (waiting for a few weeks) for Daniel Andrews or one of his honchos to barge in and say ‘you’re getting it (the bike lane) whether you like it or not’. It didn’t happen,” said Oraniuk. “I probably would have gone and sued Daniel Andrews.”

However, the council is proceeding with another similar plan called a “green spine”, which has prompted Oraniuk to write another lawful notice. The council has a new CEO after the previous one resigned and he will be noticed in particular as CEOs run the corporate councils.

The process of noticing councils should at least spur the interest or further investigations by local ratepayer groups, but several of them approached by Oraniuk rejected him. Council Watch Victoria Incorporated not only rejected, apparently on “legal advice”, the reality of council corporations being liable, but a representative threatened to sue him for defamation.

The defamation threat stemmed from comments Oraniuk made in one of his Rumble videos titled “Are Your Ratepayer Groups Actually Genuine?” In the video he reiterates his main “campaign” point that councils are incorporated businesses, not governments, the latter point based on two referendums rejecting Constitutional recognition of “local government”.

“But these ratepayer outfits allegedly representing people just refuse to admit that full commercial liability applies to everything that councils do – your local council. Yarra (Ranges council) is a prime example of a renegade council,” he said. However, when Oraniuk called Dean Hurlston, president of Council Watch Inc. and Kelvin Granger, president of Ratepayers Victoria, attempting to get them to listen to his case, both hung up.

Peter Mitchell of Ratepayers Geelong emailed Oraniuk back, insisting that councillors were not liable for anything and that they do and were in effect “the board” of the council. On the latter point Oraniuk agreed, saying they were indeed the board of the council corporation who approved polices, developments, etc.

“The point of this video is the fact that these ratepayer representative outfits are not doing their job, as far as I can see, and I regard them as just gatekeepers maintaining the status quo and they are not holding the local council, in their jurisdiction, to account about anything,” Oraniuk said.

Granger was quoted in an ABC report from May 2022, complaining that councils all around Victoria were becoming less open and transparent, apparently ignoring changes to the 2020 Local Government Act which “emphasised the need for more community consultation and transparency” but with no legislated requirement for public question time.

Granger, of course, wasn’t able to offer any solution except to stamp his foot and tell councils to stop it. We also note that Granger, on his Facebook page, publicly attacks Senator Gerard Rennick as “a fasics (sic) pig” and “a self-intitled (sic) extremist right-wing dickhead”.

Hurlston meanwhile, didn’t take Oraniuk’s online comments well and emailed him threatening legal proceedings for defamation, having sent the critical comments to his lawyers. “This kind of crap is dangerous and simply causes many who believe it more financial and psychological distress. Grow up and get some real legal advice,” Hurlston wrote.

Cairns News has emailed Hurlston asking the reasons for his rejection of what we see as reasonable, fact-based assertions by Oraniuk about the corporate nature of so-called “local government”, and why his group could not at least put the assertion to the test, given the plague of unaccountability among councils.

In a prompt reply (kudos for that) Hurlston then showed his real colours. “Thanks for your email. I have read in detail the background of your organisation. I will not discuss Gary Oraniuk with you as I would be wasting my time. Please do not contact us again, we only deal with reputable news media.”

So, one would have to ask to what lengths Council Watch would go to ingratiate themselves with the mainstream media. Across the board in Australia, media portrays councils as totally legitimate “local government” ostensibly run by elected councillors and the political parties that many of them represent, and which sees community organisations like My Place as an existential threat.

The media has also been running articles warning the innocent population of sinister, right-wing groups like MyPlace seeking to get their people elected to councils.

Hurlston’s biggest concern of late is apparently is Melbourne Lord Mayor Sally Capp parking her limo illegally on a footpath outside the town hall. Yes, it’s misconduct noted by all, and Hurlston’s deep concern won him a single, short paragraph in the Herald-Sun saying Capp should pay the cost of her limo trips out of her allowance.

Hurlston beats the drum, like many others, for councils to stick to roads, rubbish and footpaths, but without offering any real solutions except perpetual whining on his Facebook page and endless unproductive exchanges.

Alan MacGregor, a spokesman for another group called We Are Watching You Local Councils Australia, also took offence when Oraniuk explained to him the reality of councils being corporations and businesses.

While both agreed that councils don’t have proper standing under Australian law, MacGregor seemed fixated on his demand for his “2024 Hero Challenge” to find someone who can “prove the authority of a local council as per the 1901 Constitution, show us where it allows a council to charge you for a parking ticket, where it allows the council to charge you rates levies and issue fines, and to show which of the eight constitutional changes made since 1901 allows the UN involvement in Australia” and other such constitutional matters.

Oraniuk offered his own challenge for the council watchers to look at his videos and see if they fitted “the Hero” bill, namely the video on rates and payment issues, how to make a claim against a local council based on the claim process coming from the insurer of all councils in addition to other council videos on his Rumble page.

“What I did holding my Geelong council to their commercial liability, affects every corporate council in Australia, as I have outed them. Not a bad effort, I think,” Oraniuk wrote in an email. But MacGregor was not impressed when Oraniuk suggested he might be muddying the waters with his approach.

“Read my post properly before you say one more word you moron,” MacGregor shot back. “If you feel so compelled, share it to those people that think they can be That hero, stop preaching to the choir go and troll someone else. I stand under article 61 (of Magna Carta) moron… wake up and read properly.”

MacGregor thenlet loose again (grammar corrected): “And furthermore what’s your qualification mate, who are you? You seem to know what you’re talking about and you cannot see a solution right in front of you. Confront your local council, ask them to be the hero and explain those five things to you. As you know, they cannot and by doing so they admit their part in a crime.

“Why do you think we are calling for the hero that can try answer the unanswerable? Why do you think that is you, moron? Ever heard of reverse psychology? What have you done? A few videos? Moron, I have done 10 times the vids you have, woken up a lot more people than you ever will and I will continue to do so.

“Look at my pages, the videos on any Washroom Studio page… get a handle on yourself moron and understand who the real enemy is before gobbing off to the real difference makers.” And that repeated use of the “you moron” invective sadly ended any future useful relationship between Oraniuk and We Are Watching You Local Councils Australia.

So MacGregor’s “gotcha” tactic will apparently blow up the great Australian local government scam by forcing every councillor and officer in the country to admit they are criminals? We would suggest he would need some good luck with that little operation.

Oraniuk has more than just the bike lane case to prove his point. A friend of his made a claim against the Great Geelong Council over illegal drainage and was paid out by council’s insurer who sent a representative to the final negotiation. “Stan had spent 47 grand and 11 years fighting the council …. I coached him as to how to go about making that claim. Around $20k’s worth, and maybe another to come, because the matter has not been resolved, so the council has not acted in good faith, and another claim will likely stand,” he said, because the drainage problem has still not been fixed.

But not even that was enough to convince the feisty warrior MacGregor that there might be some value in Oraniuk’s commercial law approach that he picked up from the work of US law activist and judge Anna Von Reitz.

Oraniuk’s battle meanwhile, is far from over. He says Geelong is rapidly moving towards the 15-minute city model with high-rise developments being pushed everywhere across the city. In the meantime he urges people being pushed around by councils to tackle them on the issues of “no contract, no jurisdiction”, liability of officers and councillors and withdrawal of consent – even to the point of suburbs seceding from regional councils and contracting their own service providers.

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