Well it was a weird month in our local council meetings folks. Tears at Hobsons Bay, people voting with their feet at Wyndham, standing ovations at Brimbank and unusually sedate at Maribyrnong. 

    Brimbank City Council – July 18, 2023

    There was a standing ovation in the Brimbank public gallery last month when Councillor Maria Kerr tabled the motion for council to hold regular public forums for people to ask live, unscripted questions.

    Citizens of all local governments in our area – Hobsons Bay, Maribyrnong, Wyndham and Brimbank – are currently required to submit questions through council websites, meaning councils can script public discussion. 

    ‘Residents are frustrated, they feel disconnected from council and just want honest answers,’ she said. ‘Residents just want to be heard, they want transparency and respect. Scripted answers don’t wash with the community anymore.’

    Applause and echoes of ‘hear, hear’ from the gallery.

    In seconding the motion, Councillor Virginia Tachos said she was elected by her community ‘to serve her community’ and ‘not hide behind scripts’ or ‘system generated responses’.

    Earlier, a question was submitted to council asserting a lack of consultation over council’s LGBTQIA+ action plan. The question included a claim that a 40-signature community petition against the plan had been obtained.

    In the 15-odd person public gallery – plus the four widely-dispersed security guards – a hard-copy petition on a blue clipboard lay quietly under a chair, where it remained untouched until it left with its owner at the meeting’s conclusion.

    Public forums may be both face-to-face or online. Council will receive a report on how to introduce public forums.

    Wyndham City Council – June 27, 2023

    When Mayor Susan McIntyre asked which councillors were voting against the annual Wyndham budget, all hands in the public gallery raised. Some of the 20-odd members of the public gallery were so enthusiastically against the budget, they raised both hands, and a couple even raised their feet.

    But it wasn’t these hands (or feet) that mattered. The hands that mattered belonged to the nine councillors who had just voted the budget in.

    Councillors Josh Gilligan and Heather Marcus were lone voices in the cathedral-like chamber.

    In putting forward a motion to develop an alternative budget, Cr Gilligan said the City’s $224 million debt could be halved by shelving three projects.

    ‘We are embarking on the biggest debt-spend-a-thon in Wyndham City Council’s history,’ he said. ‘We are the makers of our own misfortunes, and it is about choices, and the choices that we make will define not just this year, but for the many years after.’ 

    Cr McIntyre had to ask the gallery to ‘refrain’ from whooping and applauding while councillors spoke. 

    The alternative budget was voted down nine-to-11 before the agenda budget was put forward.

    In speaking for the budget, Councillor Jennie Barrera said it was important for council to deliver the ‘core services’ the community ‘relies upon’.

    ‘It’s important council continues to invest in the services and the community assets that we need for a growing Wyndham community,’ she said. ‘The budget we’ve got before us tonight strikes a good balance for our residents and for the vision for our Wyndham community.’

    Cr Barrera said borrowing would ‘only be taken up’ as a ‘last funding source’.

    You could tell the vote was going to be sensitive when a security guard slipped in round the back and took a quiet seat among us in the gallery.

    When the budget was voted in nine-to-11 cries of ‘shame, shame’ could be heard from the gallery.

    One person caught your correspondent’s eye and shook her head. ‘You can’t spend what you don’t have,’ she whispered.

    The draft budget received more than 100 community submissions.

    Wyndham rates will increase to the State Government cap of 3.5 percent.

    Cr Gilligan did not respond to requests for further information on the proposed alternative budget or the three potentially shelved projects.

    To view the budget, please go to: Maribyrnong City Council – June 20, 2023

    Hobsons Bay City Council – July 11, 2023

    It was an emotional Hobsons Bay meeting in July with two councillors bursting into tears as a petition against the mass eviction of Techno Park Drive residents was tabled.

    Outside, the car park was packed, and about 50 rugged-up protesters waved signs and chanted their message for council: ‘Once a home, always a home. Save Techno Park.’

    ‘The message is clear,’ one speaker told the crowd. ‘This is a community asset to the whole neighbourhood.’

    The crowd rewarded the speaker with cheers, applause and whoops of support. 

    ‘If we stay strong and stick together, they can’t win.’

    Williamstown’s Techno Park Drive was originally developed as post-WWII housing for refugees and migrants before being sold in the 80s and rezoned as an industrial area.

    The Mobil petro-chemical storage facility then moved in directly adjacent to the lodgings and is considered as a site of “state significance”. 

    But Techno Park Drive properties continued to be rented and sold privately as residential premises. 

    Hobsons Bay has served 88 Techno Park Drive households with eviction notices to leave the industrial-zone site within six months.

    Councillor Daria Kellander had to pause as she choked back tears when moving to receive the 153-signature hard copy petition, and 600-odd, still-growing online petition:

    ‘These residents are already doing it tough,’ she said. ‘I feel powerless in changing the outcome for these residents, but I’m not going to accept this is OK, because it’s not OK.’ 

    In speaking to the motion, Councillor Matt Tyler almost broke down. 

    ‘It’s the most dreadful situation,’ he said. ‘We must continue to ask every question we can ask in regard to zoning and do our very best on this, and I’m really, really sorry.

    Council will seek further information on the status of Techno Park Drive to be discussed at a future council meeting. 

    To view the petition, see: 

    Maribyrnong – July 18, 2023 

    One lone person attended the Maribyrnong Council meeting this month (oh, your correspondent was there too, so that makes two people in the public gallery).

    Following the prestigious Footscray Art Prize, Footscray Community Arts will be receiving an on-going funding allocation, as will the successful Show Your Westside exhibition last month.

    In moving the proposal, Councilor Bernadette Thomas said the Show Your Westside exhibition was ‘packed’

     ‘Being at those two events reinforced to me just how important art is to not just our artistic community but to the broader Maribyrnong community as well.’

    Council asked officers to seek an appropriate funding program to be considered at a later meeting.

    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: marked ATT: Rates, Roads and Rubbish, or  call 0411 534 285.

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

    Hobsons Bay City Council 7pm Tuesday 8 August 2023 at the Hobsons Bay Civic Centre. The meeting will also be live streamed.

    Maribyrnong City Council 6.30pm Tuesday 15 August at Council Chamber, Braybrook Community Hub, 107–139 Churchill Avenue.

    Brimbank City Council 7pm Tuesday 15 August at Council Chamber, 301 Hampshire Rd,  Sunshine West.

    Wyndham City Council 7pm Tuesday 22 August 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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