Not shirking the issue at the Standalone Rally in Cowes last Sunday, by sitting at the front of the packed Phillip Island Leisure Centre were four of the seven shire councillors, including from right, Cr Andrew Phillips, Cr Clare Le Serve, the Mayor Cr Neil Rankine and Cr Phil Wright. Also pictured is Dr Nola Maxfield, Cr Rankine’s partner.
WHEN more than 1400 people crowd into a community hall with one grievance on their minds you know you’ve got problems.
And the Bass Coast Shire Councillors, sitting at the front of the Phillip Island Leisure Centre for the Stand Alone rally last Sunday, got an absolute earful – infrastructure neglect, Wonthaggi favouritism and a failure to lobby government for a secondary school and hospital.
That was just for starters!
“Welcome to Independence Day,” declared one of the prime movers of the Stand Alone campaign, local real estate agent, Greg Price at the start of the 11am rally.
“Twenty years of amalgamation has not served Phillip Island well and it’s time for a change.”
His comments were met with rousing cheers.
A series of speakers then proceeded to eloquently make the case for a breakaway from the Bass Coast Shire and the rebirth of the Shire of Phillip Island. They included the chair of the newly formed Phillip Island Progress Association Steven Fullarton, the group’s finance chair Peter Wolf, a building auditor and the former Mayor of Mansfield, Don Cummins.
Even Hollywood star Liam Hemsworth was on board, holding up a ‘Phillip Island It’s Time – Stand Alone’ sticker for the Herald-Sun last week and publicising the cause to millions via social networking.
And at the end of it all, there was overwhelming support for a motion, calling on the Bass Coast Shire Council to support an independent municipal review by the State Government.
It was an impressive performance but it didn’t faze the Bass Coast Mayor Cr Neil Rankine who also spoke at the meeting, questioning the figures used to argue the case for de-amalgamation and reporting that there was no political will within the State Government to support de-amalgamation.
“The council has one view and we have another,” said Greg Price this week after attending a follow up meeting with the shire.
“Until we get an umpire in we’re not going to know the real story.
“Bring it on. Let’s have an independent review.
“We believe, based on the size of the island and the revenue it generates, that a smaller municipality is viable and we think we can prove it.”
Mr Price said he was aware of the letter from the Local Government Minister, Tim Bull, which indicated the government didn’t support de-amalgamation but he said that could change.
“We live in a fairly safe seat down here in Bass but some major issues are brewing including de-amalgamation and the Port of Hastings.”
Mr Price said the Phillip Island Progress Association had written to the Minister seeking a deputation, noting that he had agreed to give them one.
“We’ll be taking a comprehensive proposal to him.”
And Mr Price said he would like the shire’s full co-operation in drafting such a proposal.
“They’ve criticised our figures but we’ve never been able to get theirs. Hopefully after what was a fairly constructive meeting today, we’ll be able to get what we need.”
Cr Neil Rankine admitted that the shire council had not communicated well with the people of Phillip Island and also that the Local Government Minister had chastised them over it in the letter he sent to them several weeks ago.
The letter from the Minister about the de-amalgamation review request is a case in point.
Cr Rankine admitted to the Sentinel-Times this week that the council was in possession of the Minister’s letter but did not table it at the meeting or provide details about its contents.
“I did say the State Government wasn’t in favour of amalgamation but I don’t know if he wanted the details in the letter released.”
A key part of the Phillip Island Progress Association’s case for de-amalgamation was based on a presentation of the figures by Peter Wolfe which he said proved the neglect of the island’s infrastructure and its tourism potential by the shire council.
He said the island’s ratepayers provided 47.6 per cent of the rate revenue but only received 15 per cent of the capital works in 2013-14.
Cr Rankine said it wasn’t reasonable to quote one year’s capital works figures when major projects may have been funded in other locations that year which could skew the result.
Mr Wolfe said the Council had also neglected the island’s tourism potential but again, Cr Rankine disagreed.
“Phillip Island, via San Remo, is visited by approximately 3.4 million tourists annually, making it reportedly the second largest tourist destination in Australia. And a growing number of people now call Phillip Island and San Remo home,” Mr Wolfe said.
“Yet an equally growing number of Phillip Island and San Remo residents are becoming very disillusioned with Bass Coast Shire’s treatment of the Island population, its presentation, and its services.
“To put it frankly, many feel we are being ignored. The local facilities look shabby and are inadequate to service such a huge tourist population. The state of the roads in some areas is disgraceful. The majority of the Island is without kerb and channel. Parking spots, even in shopping precincts are virtually non-existent during holiday periods. And to say the drainage in many areas is inadequate would be an understatement.”
He said the island had actually been allocated zero per cent of the shire’s drainage budget in 2013-14, a detail that met with boos from the body of the meeting.
He also said it was a furphy to say rates would rise under a de-amalgamated shire when they had risen 136 per cent since 2002.
He said there were four municipalities in Victoria with smaller populations than Phillip Island but noted that the island’s small area would mean there was sufficient revenue to fund services.
Mr Wolfe also noted the poor response from islanders to the independent satisfaction surveys conducted for the State Government.
There was also a good deal of criticism at the meeting about the favouritism given to Wonthaggi where funding was concerned, especially over the funding of the ‘Bass Coast’ aquatic centre in Wonthaggi.
Earlier, Mr Fullarton had said a review was needed to see if a Shire of Phillip Island was economically viable and to see if the rest of Bass Coast “could survive without us”.
There was an element of ‘them and us’ at the meeting but organisers were at pains to say they weren’t criticising Wonthaggi, but rather the shire council’s priorities.