Council meetings heating up over bike lanes, housing, and public access to question time



    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? 

    Maribyrnong – October 2023

    It was standing room only at the October Maribyrnong Council meeting, as a decision to put a halt to the development of bike paths along Summerhill and Rosamond Roads was made.

    Council voted to include a two-year trial of ‘pop-up style’ bicycle infrastructure as part of the reconstruction of Summerhill and Rosamond Roads between Barkly street and Raleigh Road at its September meeting.

    But the October meeting started with 52 public questions, almost 40 of which complained about the potential loss of street parking and safety issues.

    A petition was also tabled, with 83 signatures, for council to rescind the ‘non-democratic’ and ‘opaque’ decision.

    In tabling the notice of rescission, Cr Sarah Carter said the principles of community consultation, public transparency, strategic planning, ‘sound’ financial management and service performance had not been adequately considered.

    ‘This motion as it stands is quite frankly reckless, bordering on negligent from due process,’ she said. ‘It has not been consulted on with the thousands of residents and road users, and dozens of small business owners who are set to be impacted by the decision.’
    In speaking against the recission, Cr Bernadette Thomas said bicycle infrastructure would future-proof the work planned for Summerhill and Rosamond Roads.

    ‘It’s really easy to frame this as about this, about car parking versus bike lanes,’ she said. ‘But for me it’s much more than that, it’s about the status quo or how we want our streets and community to look like in the future.’

    ‘It’s about transport equity and health and well-being and getting all those outcomes that are in the council plan. It’s about daring to have a vision for our community.’

    There was a round of applause from the gallery as the notice to rescind the September decision was upheld four votes to three.

    Council later voted four votes to three to continue with the reconstruction of Summerhill Road, including a pedestrian crossing, and the resurfacing of Rosamond Road, while exploring alternative opportunities for bike lanes from Footscray to Maribyrnong.

    In speaking against the motion, Cr Thomas said the plan was treating cyclists as ‘second class citizens’.

    Hobsons Bay – October 2023

    There was a mass exodus as more than 3/4 of the public gallery walked out of Hobsons Bay City Council meeting this month after Mayor Cr Tony Briffa announced council would not be answering questions on the Techno Park Drive evictions because of ‘foreshadowed’ legal ramifications.

    Cr Briffa waited until agenda item 7.2.1, a motion to provide a response to the petition from Techno Park Drive residents tabled in July asking Council to withdraw the eviction notice ‘immediately’, before telling the gallery Techno Park would not be discussed publicly.

    She said Council had received written notice from lawyers advising formal proceedings would be filed against the council on behalf of Techno Park Drive residents the previous day.

    ‘Given the circumstances and the need for everyone involved to be afforded the benefit and proper consideration of legal advice, Council is unable to address or answer any questions related to Techno Park Drive at this meeting, and that includes at the supplementary question time at this meeting,’ she said.

    As Cr Briffa made the announcement a murmur of ‘shame, shame’ ran through the gallery.

    ‘Ya coulda’ told us,’ someone yelled.

    There were more than 30 people in the gallery, with a big contingent of the Techno Park crew. But by the time Techno Park residents left, there were a handful of people left to hear the rest of council’s deliberations.

    As the 20-odd people walked out, one yelled: ‘not good enough, do better’, while another spoke in a barely concealed whisper: ‘Vote ‘em all out’.

    As they left, Cr Briffa reassured the chamber that the petition would be discussed in-camera and the public would be informed of the outcome within 24 hours.

    Your correspondent received a statement from Hobsons Bay Council media team the next day, announcing a ‘Housing Solutions Group’ with local agencies to help ‘vulnerable tenants’ find alternative ‘housing solutions’.

    Techno Park Drive has been an issue since June after Hobsons Bay Council issued eviction notices. Residents have been living on Techno Park Drive since the mid-60s, when the post-WWII refugee and migrant hostel accommodation was redeveloped.

    Hobsons Bay Council media told your correspondent at the time of writing they had ‘not been advised’ of legal proceedings being lodged.

    Brimbank – October 2023

    Well it’s happened again! For the third time since June this year Brimbank City Council kicked out an increasingly unruly public gallery. But this time a councillor left with them.
    Mayor Cr Bruce Lancashire warned the gallery at the meeting’s start: ‘The disruptive behaviour from some members of the public at the previous council meeting was not acceptable,’ he said.

    ‘If this behaviour continues tonight not only will the meeting be adjourned and persons asked to leave but the council will also consider and implement further controls at future meetings to ensure the council meetings take place in a safe environment for all participants.’

    Cr Lancashire had to warn the gallery twice more during the meeting; once when a report was tabled on the consultation process to rename Sydenham Park to a local Traditional Owner name and again during discussion about a Brimbank submission to the National Housing and Homeless Plan.

    But when a report was tabled which detailed how regular public meetings could be introduced for people to ask live and unscripted questions of councillors and officers, the gallery became uncontrollable.

    Cr Maria Kerr originally put forward the proposal in July. The report investigating how it could work rejected the idea.

    ‘In recent times, there has been an increase in anti-social or disruptive behaviour generally with the public realm, as has been experienced specifically at Council meetings across the local government sector, including Brimbank,’ the report said.

    There was some confusion as Cr Kerr and Cr Ranka Rasic each attempted to move separate amendments to the motion.

    As each councillor spoke over each other in their haste to put forward their amendments, the gallery became increasingly agitated, culminating in a chant of ‘Maria Kerr for Mayor’.
    Cr Lancashire made good his threat and directed the gallery to leave and adjourned the meeting.

    Meanwhile Cr Kerr gathered her bag and coat and left. She was not present when the meeting resumed 15 minutes later.

    Cr Rasic’s amendment, to hold quarterly online public meetings, prioritising first-time attendees and people from disadvantaged groups, was carried five votes to four.
    The amended motion will be put to vote at a later council meeting.

    Wyndham – August 2023

    The sale and restoration of Werribee’s heritage Bridge Hotel has taken a step closer with the end of the community engagement period last month.

    Council bought the building in 2016 when it was in a state of disrepair and let it out on a long-term lease. The Bridge Hotel was renovated and is now operating successfully.
    Wyndham councillors voted in favour of the site’s sale in the September meeting and published a notice of intent for potential buyers to respond.

    In putting forward the motion, Councillor Jasmine Hill said the sale would not impact on accessibility of the West End car park, which would remain in council ownership.

    ‘This recommendation is designed to optimise the use of the city’s asset for the benefit of our community,’ she said. ‘The successful restoration of the Bridge Hotel building into a vibrant food and beverage venue is a testament to the positive outcome that can be achieved through strategic investment and partnerships.’

    In speaking against the motion, Councillor Marcel Mahfoud said council should ‘hold on to’ the site to keep some ‘skin in the game’.

    ‘Joining up with the West End car park gives us an opportunity for large scale development and having some say in what happens within that area. Once we’ve sold it we don’t have skin in the game, so to speak.’

    The site on 197 – 199 Watton street is expected to be advertised for sale in December. .

    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.

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

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