Home' The Great Southern Star : March 8th 2016 Contents PAGE 12 - “THE STAR”, Tuesday, March 8, 2016
Post: PO Box 84 Leongatha 3953
Fax: 03 5662 4350
Post: PO Box 84 Leongatha 3953
Fax: 03 5662 4350
OPINIONS Letters to the Editor
Letters to the Editor
them what they stand for.
They will be coming to a street
corner near you soon. Maybe there
will be a debate or forum soon?
Don’t waste this chance; make
them earn our vote. “Member for
McMillan” is no longer a sinecure.
I REFER to the letter, “Pay or Sell”
of Leongatha resident, Ken Irwin,
in the Opinions column, The Star,
Tuesday, February 23.
Mr Irwin rightly questioned the
rates department of South Gippsland
Shire Council regarding his $3200
rate notice for his vacant land of
three and a half acres which ap-
pears to be in a farming zone with
no council services.
He allegedly received the re-
sponse: “We don’t want people like
you holding on to land as others
want to buy” and, “Pay the rate or
Firstly, the officer who gave this
advice needs training in customer
service and secondly, it shows the
arrogant attitude of the shire in its
Mr Irwin is right in saying he
feels that he is being discriminated
against; the current vacant land rate
charged is 200 percent of the general
I have written to Councillor
James Fawcett regarding this un-
fair rate and he politely responded
by saying this was the expected
outcome of the Rating Differential
Strategy by Council in 2014-15.
He further advised that Differ-
ential Rating Strategy is due for re-
view in 2017 and this matter will be
placed before that committee.
The Local Government Char-
ter, Part 1A Local Government Act,
under Section 3C(1), Objectives of
a Council, states, “The primary ob-
jective of a council is to endeavor
to achieve the best outcomes for the
local community having regard to
the long term and cumulative effects
Section 3C (2) states, “In seek-
ing to achieve its primary objective,
a council must have regard to the
following facilitating objectives:
(f) To ensure the equitable impo-
sition of rates and charges; and
(g) To ensure transparency and
accountability in council decision
I also add that I, and possibly
many other ratepayers, in addition
to their vacant land also own a home
within the shire and well contribute
to its rates revenue.
There is obviously a lot of dis-
content and anger among the many
vacant land holders in the shire and
I think a petition to the CEO and
mayor calling for a special meeting
Failing this a group application
to VCAT is necessary.
THERE are two cultures in South
Gippsland Shire. One, the majority
block that is closed, reticent to work
in a real partnership with the com-
munity, and more comfortable mak-
ing decision behind closed doors.
A culture that is apparently not
comfortable with transparency and
accountability. This view which
sees hidden rules, believe council-
lors cannot or should not engage in
normal democratic discourse with
the community through papers and
The other view is that council
should be transparent, more account-
able and should work in partnership
A view, which does not shy
away from respectful robust debate
and dialogue in council and the local
media, which is the sign of a healthy
These councillors believe deci-
sions should be made in open coun-
cil and not behind closed door, un-
less there is a justifiable reason why
The recent debate over confi-
dentiality has been unfairly and dis-
ingenuously characterised in many
Essentially it was the clash of
these two cultures. The issue at stake
was to make all the finance and plan-
ning committees deliberations confi-
dential, including budget discus-
sions, so that no councillor can talk
about anything that has happened
(genuinely confidential or not) under
the penalty of an $18,000 fine.
The majority block subscribe to
making meetings confidential; the
minority view to openness, transpar-
ency and accountability.
On ‘faith’ we are all meant to
trust advice that there are presum-
ably as yet unknown issues of con-
There was no evidence put
before councillors or council and
my request to the CEO for the risk
governance report alluded to by the
CEO at the meeting was rejected.
One may fairly ask does it exist?
Why are we moving backwards in
terms of openness and transparency?
Why didn’t councillors see the CEO
reported governance risk report?
Why wasn’t there a discussion
of the matter to brief councillors
on the substance of these concerns?
Why has council never had recourse
to such approach in 20 years? This
is not common practice and to date
only a few councils have been iden-
tified that have similar restrictions
Why was it that twice on the
council day legal advice forced the
officers to make amendments to the
recommendation? What is there to
hide? What is wrong with genuine
debate? Surely this is the role of
The announcement on Friday
that the Ombudsman Debra Glass is
undertaking a review of transparen-
cy in local government is pertinent.
The Ombudsman noted in her press
release, “Secrecy in government can
create conditions in which the prop-
er conduct and poor administration
can flourish. It also fuels suspicion
of wrongdoing and erodes commu-
There was no criticism of coun-
cil staff by any councillor. There was
no unruly behaviour or debate on
either side. There was no incorrect
evidence put forward.
South Gippsland has 16 per cent
confidential rate some 31 per cent
above the state average. With the ap-
proved blanket confidentiality these
percentage of confidential issues
will rise dramatically. No evidence
was put forward that justifies the use
of such blanket confidentiality.
For something to be confidential
under the act there has to be some-
thing prejudicial in term of con-
tracts, personnel matters, industrial
matters, or proposed developments
of legal advice.
The logic of the new Local Gov-
ernment Act and two ombudsman
inquiries strongly argues against
such an approach.
Why are we using such draco-
nian approach when section 77 and
89.2 of the local government act
allow for confidentiality for ‘com-
mercial in confidence’, for personal
matters and for matters that could
bring council in to disrepute? The
CEO acknowledges this in the de-
bate under questioning from me at
What is the impact of the blan-
ket confidentiality? Any advice giv-
en by officers contrary to what has
been put in the draft budget cannot
be revealed. Something discussed,
however irrelevant or relevant can
not be discussed.
Any proposal advanced and not
accepted by councillors cannot be
discussed in open council or the
community again. It is a serious
gag on local democracy. Why now,
as we discuss the final budget, has
this action been taken? What is or is
not been hidden?
The choice this year is clear,
one the traditional behind closed
doors low engagement approach
with the community of the majority
block or one driven by good prin-
ciples of open democratic dialogue
, transparency and openness. The
choice ultimately is yours.
Councillor Strzelecki Ward,
South Gippsland Shire Council.
on the increase
WHY does South Gippsland Shire
Council continue to treat ratepayers
like mushrooms ?
I read from the minutes of the
meeting on February 24 that some
two months later council passed a
motion to keep discussions from
December regarding the draft bud-
get hidden from the ratepayers.
The motion that was passed was
made under section 89(2)(h). For
this to have any justification it is
to be believed that prejudice could
happen to council or an individual
yet no mention in the motion of
who would have prejudice against
I asked a councillor this ques-
tion and the response was “sorry
can’t answer that”.
So my question to the mayor
and the CEO of South Gippsland
Shire, please explain to the rate-
payers who would have prejudice
against them in order to hide behind
this section of the act?
I also note with the recent news
release from the Victorian Ombuds-
man that they are “Investigating
transparency of local government
decision making”. Yet our council
decides to hide more from the rate-
I will be writing a submission
to the Ombudsman and I also urge
other readers to do the same. This
council seems to treat the ratepay-
ers with utter contempt, given the
way it fights tooth and nail to keep
debate behind closed doors more
and more and more.
WHEN reasonable people start say-
ing “There’s something wrong with
this system” and the people in pow-
er in that system say “Everything’s
fine: nothing to see here!”, I get a
How many times have we seen
the accusations of whistle-blowers
summarily dismissed by powerful
organisations and institutions, only
for it to be revealed later they were,
in fact, accurate?
So what’s happening at South
Gippsland Shire Council at the mo-
ment? It seems the flow of infor-
mation and the ability to have open
debate on the up-coming budget are
being restricted without apparent
The fact councillors feel the
need to use letters to the editor in
order to make their positions public
is an indication of their frustration
at the process in council. For the
mayor and CEO to then come out
to defend the status quo is further
evidence of a problem.
Perhaps it’s coincidental but
just last week the Victorian Om-
budsman announced an investiga-
tion into the transparency of local
The Ombudsman noted “Secrecy
in government can create conditions
in which improper conduct and poor
administration can flourish. It also
fuels suspicions of wrongdoing and
erodes community trust”.
The power-brokers at South
Gippsland Shire Council would do
well to take note and ensure their pro-
cedures and practices are beyond re-
proach, and the organisation they run
is truly democratic and inclusive.
It’s certainly not looking that way
at the moment.
“It gives me the chance to cel-
ebrate previous generations of
women who have fought so I have
the right to choose to be a stay at
home mum, a career woman, or a
mixture of the two.”
What does International Women’s Day mean to you?
“It reminds me to be glad for the
changes that have been brought
about for women internationally.”
“It is a day where I can celebrate be-
ing a young woman. I can prove to
the boys that I am just as good at do-
ing what they do.”
“It is a fantastic day. Women’s rights
across the world are certainly impor-
tant and every woman deserves a fair
go. Some women live in horrendous
circumstances and it is important we
raise more awareness about that.”
BASS Coast Shire Council last week decided to consider
abiding by the State Government’s rate cap of a 2.5 per cent
rate rise and will debate the issue at this month’s council
Council was originally planning to increase rates by 4.7 per cent next
financial year but that would have required demonstrating to the Essential
Services Commission (ESC) that the community supported paying higher
rates, but that was never going to happen.
During recent community workshops, council met with people to
discuss how to change services to meet the lower rate rise and less income
that would result in.
At the same time, council consulted with the community about which
level of rates it was happy with.
The ESC needed to see community support for a rate rise higher than
the cap but this requirement of the State Government’s is effectively a waste
of time, as unless council has a particular project it needs to pay more for
and the community wants so much that it is willing to pay more for – the
answer is a foregone conclusion.
The interest now lies in how council will make the rate cap work. Will
services be reduced? Will staff salaries be cut?
It’s easy for the community to target staff salaries. Yes, there are cases in
which salaries are higher than comparable jobs in the private sector locally,
but the reality is that unless local government salaries change across the
state, council will simply lose good staff to other councils or attract the old
monkeys willing to work for peanuts.
Reviewing services could be a feasible approach but the community
needs to be clear about which services it wishes to retain.
Perhaps rate capping will force council to focus on the three Rs -
roads, rubbish and rates – to the detriment of broader social issues such
as accommodating refugees that could well be better addressed by a state
department with a bigger picture focus.
But ultimately council – in fact, all councils – stand to save the most
by no longer being impacted by cost shifting – that is being given extra
responsibilities by State and Federal governments without resources –
monetary and otherwise - to match.
Responsibility for roadside weeds and extra reporting duties are just
some examples of how council’s cop an extra whack and have to find the
funds to do the job, often turning to ratepayers to do so.
We can reduce our rates by calling for political candidates that
understand the value of work councils do and by recognising they need
extra funds to do extra jobs.
Otherwise ratepayers - who already pay taxes – will be asked to foot
the bill yet again.
Look beyond rates backflip
REGARDING the article in the
sports section of The Star, March 1
by Stuart Biggins (“Super clinic turn-
MDU Football Netball Club sec-
retary Andy Horvath comments on
Leongatha Football Netball Club in
regard to junior sides and senior re-
cruiting, complaining that Leongatha
field two teams in each age group in
Does he expect Leongatha to turn
40 to 50 boys away who want to train
and play in the town in which they
Has he not checked on the num-
ber of boys over many years who
have gone out and played at the four
nearby Alberton League teams?
If MDU Football Netball Club, as
stated, is a magnificent organisation
second to none, I’m sure you will at-
tract players to your club.
As for the rough end of the pine-
apple with senior players wishing
to play at Leongatha, I would have
thought football club officials would
encourage their players to strive for
the highest level of their ability, be it
major league or AFL.
It would be interesting to know
how many Leongatha players have
gone to MDU and other Alberton
League teams, players who have re-
turned to their original clubs better
for the experience in the Gippsland
League, along with former Leongatha
players who have taken up senior
coaching in the Alberton League.
Leongatha has been very active
in sending spare junior players to the
Alberton League when available, a
system some Alberton League teams
have not always agreed to.
Now let’s get on with the game.
My comments are personal and
are not linked to Leongatha Football
Netball Club or committee.
ON Wednesday, February 24 at the
South Gippsland Shire Council,
meeting the majority bloc of council-
lors Jim Fawcett, Nigel Hutchinson-
Brooks, Lorraine Brunt and Mohya
Davies spent quite some time inform-
ing the gallery they do not vote as a
There is no voting bloc, they each
said in turn. When they came to vote
on whether the draft budget should be
confidential they voted as a bloc.
It is disheartening to see gover-
nance at the local government level
sink to such lows. How anyone can
justify preventing councillors with
different points of view being able to
debate the issues is beyond me.
The real question I would like the
answer to is what information those
five councillors are wanting kept
from the public and why they are so
worried about an open debate on such
an important matter of the budget.
It seems to me those five council-
lors need to take a long hard look at
themselves. They seem to have lost
the ability to make decisions that
represent the best outcomes for the
Think then vote
AS the federal election looms I sug-
gest people check which electorate
they are in, work out what is impor-
tant, get the details of the candidates
and ask them what they actually stand
Choice of a parliamentarian to
advocate for this region in Canberra
might seem an abstract decision but
they fundamentally influence the fu-
ture of education, health, infrastruc-
ture and many other aspects of our
McMillan is a far flung elector-
ate that includes Wonthaggi, Tidal
River, Baw Baw Village and Paken-
ham. There are plenty of opportuni-
ties to quiz pollies via social media or
in person at the moment.
Candidates are putting in the hard
work, travelling vast distances to lis-
ten to us. Do our families a favour
and tell them about our issues and ask
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