Local government is meant to be the most accessible level of government in our political system. But recently in the west, Hobsons Bay Council chose to evade the public and conduct their meeting online, and Brimbank Council cancelled a meeting completely due to a seeming lack of interest from Councillors.

    So what the f#$% is going on? Let’s start with Brimbank. 

    Brimbank City Council – August 2023

    It all started on August 15. We sat there, 10 members of the public, one security guard and your correspondent, waiting until 7.30pm. We had been there since the expected 7pm kick off.

    Under the local government act, if the majority of councillors don’t turn up within half-an-hour, the meeting cannot go ahead. In front of us was Mayor Bruce Lancashire, and Councillors Sam David, Maria Kerr, Jasmine Nguyen and Jae Papalia. Cr Virginia Tacho was on approved leave, but no reason was given for the absence of Councillors Victoria Borg, Sarah Branton, Thuy Dang, Thomas O’Reilly and Ranka Rasic.

    The public gallery was getting tetchy, chatter was interspersed with wry scoffs and guffaws. Mayor Bruce Lancashire apologised at least three times while he waited for one – just one – councillor to arrive and make up the six needed to form a quorum. 

    After the required half-hour, the Mayor again apologised and the meeting disbanded.

    ‘We will reconvene next week and will follow the same agenda – exactly the same agenda as tonight’s agenda,’ he said.

    As we filed out of Chambers, people made their parting quips:

    ‘You have no legal standing,’ one said. ‘You’re all working for a corrupt organisation. The punishment for treason is 20 years, you know!’

    Another: ‘You can’t get rid of us’.

    None of this is accessible on Council’s Youtube channel.

    I bet you’re wondering what was so unnerving that more than half the Council didn’t turn up. Well a week later, on August 22, we found out.

    This time there was a quorum – just. Cr Rasik made up the sixth, crucial member online. 

    But Crs Borg and O’Reilly submitted apologies, Cr Tachos still on approved leave, and Crs Branton and Dang had submitted applications for Leaves of Absence.

    There were more security guards than members of the public in the August 22 gallery. But many of the six faces were familiar from the last two meetings. As Governance and Risk Manager Mark Brady read out the 19 submitted public questions, two young men and an older woman sitting in the front row held up protest posters on A4 pieces of paper, each one objecting to Council involvement in issues such as The Voice referendum and LBGTQIA+ issues. 

    When it came time to put forward a motion to accept a 97-signature petition objecting to Council’s proposed LBGTQIA+ Action Plan, Crs Rasik and Papalia were lone hands against the vote. 

    In voting to receive the petition, Crs Kerr and David spoke over each other in their haste to move the motion. 

    ‘It is my opinion that the role of local councils is to maintain infrastructure, maintain community services, collect waste and not to involve itself in federal issues,’ she said. ‘I do not believe council is the right level of government to involve itself in state, federal or social issues, subjects like religion and sexuality should not be included in local council matters.’

    There were 19 questions submitted to Brimbank this month, six asking why council was not more involved in condemning political activity at a notorious local gym and four questioning the money spent by Council on Voice information. 

    The LGBTQIA+ Action Plan and proposal for public forums are currently being developed and will be presented for Council consideration later this year.

    Hobsons Bay – August 2023

    Hobsons Bay council meeting was held alfresco this month, without council officers, and without councillors. In fact, the only people at the Hobsons Bay Council meeting were the public gallery – only the public gallery was on the chamber steps.

    Your correspondent was in her car, ready to drive the 20 minutes from Footscray to Altona, when she received a text from Hobsons Bay media, telling her: meeting cancelled; all debate and decisions online. 

    After some prompting, Hobsons Bay Media followed up with a statement, attributable to Mayor Cr Tony Briffa: ‘Going ahead with an in-person meeting at the Civic Centre risked exposing the community, councillors and Council staff to an unpredictable, stressful and potentially volatile environment,’ the statement said.

    It was a little confusing given that Cr Daria Kellander was planning to propose a regular public forum at Hobsons Bay City Council for the community to ask live and unscripted questions of the Mayor, Councillors and Chief Executive Officer – not unlike what Brimbank voted to investigate last month.

    The contradiction between Council words and Council actions was so baffling that your correspondent decided to pop out to Altona anyway, just to see what could have caused this boycott on public participation in a meeting that – paradoxically – was going to discuss facilitating better public participation in debate and decisions. 

    There appeared to be more cop cars than other vehicles in the car park. About 150 people were milling around the chamber in the dark. Some had brought their pet dogs, kids were climbing the sprawling tree on chamber lawns, and the Green Left Association had turned up handing out its newsletter.

    The crowd had gathered on Logan Reserve, in protest against the Techno Park evictions, and had marched to Council chambers chanting, holding banners which read ‘Once a Home Always a Home – Save Techno Park’.

    The atmosphere was verging on festive as Pete Seeger’s toe-tapping ditty Solidarity Forever wafted across the early spring breeze – although a sensitive soul may have interpreted the environment as ‘unpredictable’ and ‘potentially volatile’ when the next song shuffled was Rage Against the Machine’s Killing in the Name.

    It didn’t seem to matter no councillors were there to hear the protestors. 

    Meanwhile, in the virtual world, the meeting continued. But when Cr Kellander put forward her motion to debate the proposal to introduce a regular public forum for the community to ask live and unscripted questions of the Mayor, Councillors and Chief Executive Officer, there was no seconder. The motion lapsed.

    There were 15 questions related to the Techno Park eviction submitted to council, which Mayor Briffa read out. As there was no public gallery, none of the submitters could watch Council’s replies which were basically lifted from a media statement previously issued on August 7.

    Wyndham – July 25, 2023

    The Wyndham council meeting smelled of bushfire last month. But it wasn’t an unseasonal natural disaster that pervaded the chamber. It was a smoking ceremony, held to mark council’s adoption of its Reconciliation Action Plan.

    Council describes the Plan as a ‘framework’ to realise its ‘vision for reconciliation’ with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. 

    The Plan has been out for public consultation since February this year, and is Council’s second Reconciliation document since 2017.

    Key changes in the 2023 Plan include increasing opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and businesses; references to the Wunggurrwil Dhurrung Centre and Koling wada-ngal and the organisation of NAIDOC Week events for the community and council each year.

    Wyndham’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community has grown to 0.9 percent of total population since the 2006 census.

    Maribyrnong – August 2023

    Well it’s on again. After months of negotiation and consultation, Moon Dog Brewery got the go-ahead from Maribyrnong Council to develop the old Franco Cozzo showroom into a multi-level bar and entertainment joint.

    Council blocked Moon Dog’s plan for a rooftop bar on top of a three-storey brewery back in June because of concerns over parking and noise.

    But after Mayor Cr Sarah Carter and officers met with Moon Dog last month, Maribyrnong Council announced its ‘greenlight’ for the development on Facebook last month.

    Moon Dog co-founder, Karl van Buuren said ‘We have been working really constructively with the council on the amenity of the area to provide a positive impact for the community.’

    Changes to original plans include upgrades to the footpath and fencing adjacent to Shelley Street, and an agreement to reduce numbers of patrons after 10pm once the venue is operating.

    The next step is for VCAT to approve the amended proposal, and from there building permit applications.

    We all lead busy lives and don’t get time to attend council meetings or wade through council agendas and minutes. Yet local governments impact our lives more directly than any other and their decisions warrant public scrutiny. Rates, Roads and Rubbish aims to do that for you giving you a fly-on-the-wall account of council discussions and decisions.

    If you have a particular concern with your council contact: marked ATT: Rates, Roads and Rubbish, or call 0411 534 285.

    A Council is only as good as the people who get involved!
    7pm Tuesday 12 September 2023 at the Hobsons Bay Civic Centre. The meeting will also be live streamed.
    6.30pm Tuesday 12 September at Council Chamber, Braybrook Community Hub, 107–139 Churchill Avenue.
    7pm Tuesday 19 September at Council Chamber, 301 Hampshire Rd,
    Sunshine West.
    7pm Tuesday 26 September at Council Chamber,
    Wyndham Civic Centre,
    45 Princes Highway

    Josie Vine
    Josie Vine
    A column by Josie Vine, RMIT senior journalism lecturer.

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