A VITROLIC rant by outspoken Anderson ward councillor, Gareth Barlow, marred the final meeting for the present Bass Coast administration last Wednesday night, prompting departing Mayor, Cr Veronica Dowman, to issue an apology for her colleague’s behaviour. It wasn’t so much his attack on the local media, which came at the end of a 17-minute address, that caused a stir as the way he delivered it, with veins on the neck popping, eyes bulging, phlegm flying and voice raised. Following on from each of his colleagues, who had been given the opportunity by Cr Dowman to make some passing comments on their time in council, Cr Barlow took 14 minutes to lavish praise on individual shire staff members and his fellow councillors before launching into his tirade. While some at the sparsely-attended final session squirmed in their seats, he mentioned many shire officials by name, including all of the directors and the CEO Allan Bawden in particular, whom he said did “a fantastic job” and was largely under-appreciated.
“Allan, in his future career, will probably juggle chainsaws or something because he has the unbelievable ability to keep 27 moving objects in the air at once and none of them hit the ground,” he said.
He listed the positive attributes of each councillor, including his sometime nemesis Phil Wright, and claimed, among other things, that the staff from the parks and roads team weren’t paid enough. But it was all just a precursor to an attack on the local media, whom he claimed had treated the council and himself in particular shabbily over the past seven years.
“If I took all I’ve read from The Sentinel-Times and The Advertiser on board over the last seven years, I’d think that most of our staff woke up in the morning and thought of ways to screw their neighbour,” Cr Barlow said. “And they might think they do…..That leads me on to our local media. “Some local media are reasonably accurate, but I’ve been on the receiving end of outright lies and innuendo,” he said.
In a recent interview, Cr Barlow referred to erroneous claims made by a former council colleague, in a previous regime, relating to land development on Phillip Island.
“What’s triggered my ire recently is our two primary papers – The Advertiser and Sentinel-Times – deciding on the basis of a hunch that a group calling itself the Bass Coast Ratepayers Group was some kind of union front. And they’ve run stories saying that.”
He went on to defend the group and also to lambast the local papers further for their “appalling” attitude to the news in general which he said was biased, incomplete and in accurate. Cr Barlow finished his address with other disparaging remarks and, being the last person to speak, his comments determined that the meeting and the council’s four year term would end on a sour note rather than focusing attention on its considerable achievements.
Cr Dowman last week apologised to “anyone who may have been offended by the comments”. “After four years together as a council, I am disappointed that our term ended on this note,” she said in a written statement handed to the Sentinel-Times. Several councillors were left dumbfounded by the remarks and members of the gallery, including Thompson ward candidate Maurice Schinkel, walked out of the room while Cr Barlow spoke. Cr Barlow’s Churchill ward opponent in this weekend’s local government election, Cr Phil Wright, asked the Mayor whether media representatives in the room would be given a chance to reply, but the question was left hanging and the meeting abruptly closed. The following day, Cr Dowman said she chose not to prolong the discussion by allowing the gallery to comment. “The speaker had finished and, there being no other business, I closed the meeting,” she said. “The reference was a brief comment made at the end of a wide-ranging speech which ended immediately after the comment was made.” Cr Dowman said it was a case of “one councillor expressing his own opinions”, and that the comments “cannot be taken to represent the views of the council”. Cr Dowman said she had cautioned councillors against using the opportunity for electioneering purposes and was just as surprised as anyone else when Cr Barlow launched his verbal attack.