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    Questions, questions, interjections, and more questions

    Date:

    If you want to ask a question, publicly, of any of our four councils – Wyndham, Hobsons Bay, Maribyrnong and Brimbank – you need to submit it in writing through an online system. The mayor or CEO will then read your question out during the meeting. In most instances, you also need to be physically at the meeting for your questions to be answered. At Hobsons Bay, you need to register your attendance online. Despite the fact that questions are exposed to the censor’s pen and attendance is council-controlled; this process is legitimate under section 60 of the Local Government Act.

    But is it the process the people want? 


    Hobsons Bay – September 2023

    It was a somewhat subdued meeting in Altona this month. After last month’s debacle – when the meeting was moved online last minute to avoid an ‘unpredictable, stressful and potentially volatile’ 100-person protest against the Techno Park evictions – your correspondent was expecting at least a few disgruntled citizens over the lack of access to their closest level of government.

    But no! The 20-odd person gallery was very restrained. Although, one must admit, the public is noticing the growing distance between it and its representatives. About one third of questions submitted to Hobsons Bay council last month were concerned with communications between council and its public.

    ‘Why does council open registrations so close to the meeting when it should be the rights of the residents to register well in advance of the meeting,’ one question asked.

    Mayor Cr Tony Briffa said opening of registrations was timed to coincide with the publication of the meeting’s agenda to stop people from registering several meetings in advance, potentially prohibiting other people from attending. 

    Another asked when petitioners against the Techno Park evictions could ‘expect a response’ from council.

    Cr Briffa said the petition was submitted in June 2023 and ‘consistent with normal council processes’, petitioners would get a response when it had been ‘fully considered’ and presented to council.

    Another member of the public wanted to know why her question – again relating to the Techno Park evictions – had been altered so references to ‘homes’ and ‘residents’ were changed to ‘properties’ and ‘occupants’.

    ‘Officers regularly simplify questions for brevity and comprehension,’ was the response. ‘In this case the question misrepresented the status of the property.’

    Someone wanted to know why their previously submitted question had not been read out, to which Cr Briffa said she would be ‘happy’ to speak to the member of the public personally after the meeting.

    Cr Briffa said council needed the questions submitted to the meeting beforehand to give officers time to research and prepare answers. 

    ‘Honestly, if we were to get them without any notice we wouldn’t be able to provide you with much of a response,’ she said.

    Last month Cr Daria Kellander put forward her motion to introduce regular public forums for the community to ask live and unscripted questions of councillors and officers. There was no seconder. The motion lapsed.


    Brimbank – September 2023

    But over in Brimbank, a disruptive public gallery caused Chairperson and Deputy Mayor, Councillor Ranka Rasic, to put a halt to the September meeting.

    There may have been only about ten people in the public gallery, but the vocal five sitting up the front, some holding ‘Vote No’ placards, sounded like a full house and their interjections caused Cr Rasic to pause the meeting at regular intervals.

    But it was when an update on the January 26 Community Engagement report was tabled that the vocal five became … well … more vocal.

    The report was seeking council’s endorsement to move Brimbank’s Australia Day Citizenship ceremony to three days before or three days after 26 January from 2024. The report’s recommendation came after consultation with Traditional Owner groups, the Bunurong Land Council Aboriginal Corporation and Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung Cultural Heritage Aboriginal Corporation.

    As voices from the gallery rose, Councillor Victoria Borg moved to defer the motion to a later meeting, which Councillor Maria Kerr seconded. But Councillor Virginia Tacho said there would be ‘no real use’ in ‘dragging this issue on’ and council would conduct wider community consultation on how to recognise January 26 at a later date.

    Deferring the recommendation on a citizenship ceremony date was voted down three votes to six. 

    In moving the motion to accept the recommendation to alter the citizenship ceremony date, Councillor Jasmine Nguyen said moving the citizenship ceremony date was a separate issue from any decision on January 26.

    ‘We have consulted with the people who are most impacted by holding the ceremony on this day, and I see no problem with moving the citizenship ceremony to another date.’

    As the vote to alter the citizenship ceremony date was carried seven to three, sporadic voices from the gallery muttered ‘shame’ and ‘would ya change your birthday?’

    Council managed to get through the next three items – a report on its waste recycling and litter strategy and the awarding of two contracts – but by the time it got to a report on what to do about knife violence in Brimbank, disorder in the public gallery caused Cr Rasic to call proceedings to a halt. 

    In July, Council voted to seek a report on how to hold regular public forums for people to ask live, unscripted questions. The report is expected to be presented at the October meeting.

    A report on how to acknowledge January 26 will be prepared and presented to council in 2024 following engagement with the wider community.


    Maribyrnong – September 2023

    Over in Maribyrnong, there was a round of applause from a full public gallery when council voted unanimously to move citizenship ceremonies away from January 26 in its September meeting.  

    In moving the motion, Councillor Michael Clarke said council had been engaged in broad community consultation on changing the date of citizenship ceremonies since 2021.

    ‘The view has been that ideally we do not hold citizenship ceremonies on January 26,’ he said. ‘It’s a small concession that we can make to a community that has really suffered the ignominy of disenfranchisement, dispossession and so many horrors.’

    In seconding the motion, Councillor Bernadette Thomas said January 26 was a ‘day of mourning’.

    ‘It gives the community an opportunity to reflect on all the dispossession and the hurt and trauma that’s been going on for 200 years.’

    Council will be considering the new date for citizenship ceremonies at a later meeting.


    Wyndham – August 2023

    Meanwhile in Werribee, Wyndham Council is redeveloping its public communication strategies.

    Chief Executive Officer Stephen Wall read out eight submitted questions.

    One was asking why the City of Wyndham continued sending out letters to residents, rather than via email.

    ‘Wyndham has approximately 100,000 homes, and if each letter costs $1 to produce and $1 to send, that equates to $200,000. The same letter produced and sent via email costs zero dollars.’

    Mr Wall said Wyndham was ‘looking to increase’ its ‘capacity’ to communicate with residents via email. 

    ‘But as you can imagine, we need to have residents give us an appropriate email address and approve for us to send email to them.’

    He said the Wyndham communication team was currently working on setting up an email system to communicate with the public.  


    A Council is only as good as the people who get involved!

    HOBSONS BAY CITY COUNCIL
    7pm Tuesday 10 October 2023 at the Hobsons Bay Civic Centre.
    The meeting will also be live streamed.

    MARIBYRNONG CITY COUNCIL
    6.30pm Tuesday 17 October at Council Chamber, Braybrook Community Hub, 107–139 Churchill Avenue.

    BRIMBANK CITY COUNCIL
    7pm Tuesday 17 October at Council Chamber, 301 Hampshire Rd, Sunshine West.

    WYNDHAM CITY COUNCIL
    7pm Tuesday 24 October at Council Chamber, Wyndham Civic Centre, 45 Princes Highway


    By Josie Vine
    RMIT senior journalism lecturer
    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: media@thewestsider.com.au marked ATT: Rates, Roads and Rubbish, or call 0411 534 285.

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

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