Scared of a bunch of kids?

Why do mayor Robert Armstrong and most of his Huon Valley Team (HVT) mates appear to be frightened of being seen in public with a bunch of bright Huonville High School students?

— Is it because they don’t want to be asked, in public, awkward questions about global warming, sea-level rise, climate change . . . ?

— Is it because they don’t want the council’s Greens team (boosted 100% by the election last month of Rosalie Woodruff) to win any more kudos than the vote it got at the election indicated it already has?

— Is it because they don’t want the public to see that some of the valley’s brightest students are playing with dangerous ideas, such as that global warming, sea-level rise, rapid ice-sheet melting and a lot of other untoward climate-change effects are threatening life as we know it?

— Is it that they don’t want to miss out on a chance to remind the students of the great opportunities that lie ahead of them to partake in the destruction of the valley’s forests; the erosion of irreplaceable watersheds; and the un-monitored pollution of its waterways through logging and fisheries.

— Or is it that they simply want to warn them that nothing matters in this life but “the economy, stupid!”, and that they should grow up as quickly as possible and rid their minds of such silly radical ideas?

Your guess is as good as mine. It is certainly very mysterious that mayor Robert Armstrong and his HVT caucus are so doggedly determined to deny public oxygen to these talented youngsters’ views.

Twice, at successive meetings (October and November), HVT team members have turned down a motion that these Grade 8 students should be allowed a 10-minute presentation of their global warming report (“The Climate is changing, why don’t you?”) at an open council meeting. (The report is the result of a state-wide survey undertaken by the school’s eighth graders over three years.)

The general public got an insight into the work of these enterprising students (under the supervision of teacher David Brown) when their report was presented at the school in August to federal and state MPs. The Huon Valley News, on September 2, splashed a long account of the event and the student’s findings over its front and inside pages.

Greens senator Christine Milne was so impressed said she would take a copy of the report with her to the Copenhagen climate conference in December; and state Labor MP Daniel Hulme said he would give a copy of it to premier David Bartlett, state minister Lisa Singh and federal environment minister Penny Wong.

Huon Valley Greens councillor Liz Smith, who has the council education portfolio, spoke to teacher Brown about the report and they decided it would be a good idea to allow the authors a chance to practise their public-performance skills by getting them invited to present it to the council’s monthly meeting in November.

She lodged a motion on notice along these lines at the October meeting, only to be thwarted by the HVT, which, after pouring forth a string of reasons why it wasn’t a good idea (including that the students might be overawed by the presence of councillors and spectators in the public gallery), amended the motion with what appears to have been wording that negated the objective of the original motion.

Smith’s motion read: “That council invite the students of class 8 Gold at Huonville High School to make a 10-minute presentation at the council meeting on November 11, 2009, on the findings reported in ‘The Climate is changing, why don’t you’ report released in August this year.”

The successful amendment to Smith’s motion read: “That council invite the students . . . for a two-hour meeting to discuss a range of issues including a presentation on the findings reported in ‘The climate is changing, why don’t you?’ . . .”

It was clear from the debate that the two-hour meeting would take the form of a private lunch for the students and that the occasion would enable make the students aware of career opportunities. (Councillor Laurie Dillon, deputy mayor and about to retire from council, seemed to think both the motion and the amendment were a waste of council time and voted against both.)

(At the November meeting, general manager Glenn Doyle explained that amendments must not negate motions. Apparently, at the October meeting, turning a motion calling for a public presentation into an amendment calling for a private presentation was not, in chairman Armstrong’s judgment, a negation of the motion’s intent.)

Come the November 11 council meeting, Smith (who had again consulted with teacher Brown and ascertained that the students were still keen to have a chance to make a public, rather than private, presentation) moved a motion similar to her October motion, this time suggesting the presentation should be made at the December meeting.

Smith, observing that she was pleased to see, from a council’s media release, that the mayor had waxed enthusiastic about the students’ report, still felt it would be a good idea to allow them a chance to practise their public-performance skills before their elders. What better way to help skill them for civic responsibility, she seemed to be suggesting.

Although one HVT councillor conceded at this month’s meeting that the students would, in fact, not be overawed by making a public presentation, a similar chorus of resistance to Smith’s motion went up, but with one exception. Newly elected deputy mayor Bruce Heron felt there was no reason to object to the motion and ended up voting for it along with Smith and newly elected Greens councillor Rosalie Woodruff. Of course, with only one of the five HVT members present breaking ranks with the mayor, Smith’s motion, like her October offering, was doomed.

One reason put up at this month’s meeting was that, because the December 9 meeting coincided with the council’s AGM, a 10-minute presentation by the students would make a long night even longer.

Not valid in my book: councillors get treated to dinner before council meetings and to booze after them. I can’t find in council reports how much that costs a council that has had to admit this year to losing up to a cool $4 million of ratepayers’ cash reserves. Perhaps if councillors skipped the free grub and grog on December 9 (they plan their Christmas party for November 26, so that should be enough dining and wining from the public purse for this year), they would be able to spend a little more time in the service of their electors and, at the same time, give a chance to a handful of valley youngsters to hone their civic skills.

Some hope!

Bob Hawkins is a Huon Valley ratepayer and an advocate for transparency in all democratic institutions. He is not a member of any political organisation.

NOTE:  At the November meeting, councillor Mike Wilson — in an attack on councillor Smith for having the temerity to suggest that the council’s management was in a weakened state — described this Tasmanian Times reporter as a close friend of the Greens councillor. He is correct.