Council again fails to complete fig meeting

AN extraordinary Newcastle City Council meeting on Laman Street was adjourned, for a fourth time, last night after Newcastle councillors were unable to table a lawful motion.

Amazingly, the meeting will continue on November 29, more than four weeks after it was first opened.

Four failed attempts to meet to consider Premier Barry O’Farrell’s offer to help settle the civic dispute have included two meetings without a quorum, a walkout of councillors, spiteful insults between council colleagues and interjections from the public gallery.

By voting to adjourn the meeting, the council has effectively left the immediate fate of the fig trees in the hands of the NSW Land and Environment Court.

If the court extends an injunction beyond November 25, when a three-month moratorium is lifted, the council can legally vote to stop the chop and seek an additional assessment.

To read the Herald's opinion on the matter, click here.

Cr Michael Osborne, who moved the procedural motion that the meeting be adjourned, says he will push for the abandoned independent assessment process, which was deemed unlawful in September, to be reinstated.

Councillors voted seven to four to adjourn the meeting.

Immediately after the vote, Cr Brad Luke voiced his concern that leaving the meeting open would simply prolong the ongoing saga.

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A council spokeswoman later said the adjourned meeting would not affect that council administration’s ability to remove the trees.

The council has agreed to halt removal until the court makes a decision about an interim injunction.

If the injunction is lifted before November 25, the administration will push ahead with the removal.

Councillors were presented with confidential legal advice before last night’s meeting that said three proposed motions on the fig trees were unlawful.

The first, moved by Cr Bob Cook and rejected seven votes to six last week, was to undertake an expert assessment before a NSW Land and Environment Court injunction was due to expire.

Cr Michael Osborne had proposed asking the state government to intervene in the matter.

Labor councillors backed a motion to close Laman Street to traffic, erect warning signs, review the council’s tree policy and to ask Premier Barry O’Farrell to arrange an expert assessment of the trees.

Senior Counsel John Griffiths said he considered all three unlawful.

‘‘When viewed as a matter of substance and not form, each of these motions purports in different ways to rescind or at least alter the terms of the 19 July resolution [to remove and replace the trees as soon as practical],’’ Mr Griffiths wrote.

‘‘My opinion is not altered by the fact that an undertaking is currently in place in the NSW Land and Environment Court not to remove the trees.’’

Mr Griffiths also dismissed legal advice, quoted by lord mayor John Tate at last week’s meeting, from Save Our Figs barrister Mark Robinson SC.

He said Mr Robinson ‘‘does not adequately address the terms’’ of a section of the local government act that says a three-month moratorium on rescission motions ‘‘cannot be evaded by substituting a motion differently worded, but in principle the same’’.

A group of about 30 anti-fig protesters, from groups named ‘‘Who Gives a Fig?’’ and ‘‘Save Our Funds’’ conducted a protest outside City Hall last night.

A Save Our Figs protest at the same time drew about 60 people.

Jessie Nash, from the Who Gives a Fig group, said about 300 people were supporters on Facebook.

Both groups were careful to avoid confrontation among the competing protests.

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