By Gav Ross
FRUSTRATED by the Bass Coast Shire Council’s current approach to community engagement and his fellow councillors’ “naive” response to reports on the agenda, Churchill ward councillor Phil Wright unleashed a tirade at last Wednesday’s council meeting. Echoing statements he made at last month’s council meeting about the shire needing a ‘grass roots’ approach engaging with the community, Cr Wright said councillors need to stop putting their hands up to recommendations from council officers and start delivering “good outcomes”. “It’s time to put our foot down,” he implored. “We don’t know what we’re doing.” The other councillors retaliated, however, by banding together and defending themselves against their colleagues’ remarks, which appeared to stun a few. Cr Wright briefly criticised the Rural Land Use Strategy currently on exhibition, which Cr Neil Rankine was quick to defend. “We are getting some very good feedback from people and those who are coming in are being provided with a good range of officers and councillors to speak to,” Cr Rankine said. “I think we are moving in the right direction.” Cr Brad Drew said he believed some of what Cr Wright had to say had merit, but that all new councillors have been “working diligently”. Referring to a Council Engagement Policy – the document that set Cr Wright off on his rant – Cr Drew said councillors need to move forward and stick to its objectives. Cr Kimberley Brown said she was “a bit confused” by Cr Wright’s outburst. “We are doing so much work and being community focused and engaged,” she said. “This (Community Engagement Policy) is a step in the right direction.” In response, Cr Wright again condemned any money being paid to outsourced consultants. “We never hear anything back,” he said. “Old ideas get shoved on the bottom shelf and never implemented. “The only way we know is to grab consultants and its wrong, wrong, wrong.” As Wednesday’s meeting moved on tempers seemed to simmer, Cr Wright again spoke out against a report detailing a proposed Rural Engagement Group for members of the farming community to join. The group will give participants the chance to discuss long term use of rural land. “Three farmers and eight bureaucrats – they are going to come up with some great stuff, aren’t they?” he said, sarcastically. “I can’t see what innovation will come out of this.” Cr Wright said he believed the doors should be opened to the wider community to join such a group. Cr Andrew Phillips said there were flaws in Cr Wright’s arguments and that many of the supposed bureaucrats – including a Landcare and Victorian Farmers Federation representative – would provide expertise. Cr Wright voted against both the adoption of the Community Engagement Policy and Rural Engagement Group terms of reference.