There is a saying that summarises the frustrations of being a councillor: Apathy is the enemy of Democracy. In most situations the community is silent.
The Stand Alone movement has certainly rattled that cage and inspired all islanders to discuss the future of local council – a wonderful and remarkable achievement in a short amount of time.
Having been a councillor in the old Shire of Phillip Island (SOPI) and Bass Coast Shire Council (BCSC), much has been observed over the 25 year period.
The biggest problem is the silence of ratepayers.
Local government does not exist in the Australian Constitution and the decision on the future of the island is the responsibility of the State Government.
Our local member Mr Smith made some interesting statements recently.
Mr Kennett instigated the amalgamations in 1994 and it is no surprise that Mr Smith clarified that the current State Government does not want to expand 79 municipal districts.
He also stated that the opposition is in agreement.
He argues that it is a local issue and voters should choose their councillors more wisely.
There are existing ways to get outcomes. The indigestible fact for some islanders is that the majority of voters are now holiday home owners who value the island for its wildlife and beaches.
This creates a problem for those who would like to retain decision-making in the hands of the long term residents but who are now in the minority at council elections.
The Stand Alone discussion has recently moved to the survival of the rest of the shire without the island.
This is very clever.
What does each area in the shire contribute to the growth of the BCSC economy? The missing element of BCSC is a clear vision for the shire and the island.
This is being addressed by the recruitment of the new CEO to bring about a cultural change.
There is a difference between change and breaking up the shire.
BCSC with the regional approach is the most logical structure.
It is based on Wonthaggi at the centre that can absorb non-amenity development.
This allows the growth of Inverloch and the island to be concentrated on world class environmental values.
This ensures preservation of the natural assets, results in higher tourist dollar, a sustainable economy for the region and a better quality of life for residents.
If the island was excised, there would be little chance of retaining our current township boundaries, unless the State Government declares the island as special and unique.
This was tried by the Liberal Party in 1970, led by Dick Hamer and Alan Hunt (father of Greg).
A Phillip Island Bill was tabled on 21/10/70 to restrain growth on the island and allow the government to purchase land for recreation, wildlife and open space for the better use of the island by all Victorians.
Local landowners fought hard, avoided a vote on the Bill and retained the right to subdivide their farms into residential. At the moment, there is approximately 15 years of residential blocks available on the island, but these will be built on quickly as Melbourne grows and grows and the demand for holiday houses increases.
The current council plan is for growth off the island at San Remo, Dalyston, Wonthaggi, Grantville and Corinella.
Stand Alone may deliver improved health, waste, educational and a better presentation of Cowes but the trade-off for more subdivisions on the island is unacceptable for Melbournians.
It would be a brave State Government with a one seat majority to commit to the island as a separate entity with the inevitable land development.
The botched and embarrassing saga in the attempt at boundary shifting at Cadogan is etched in their recent memories.
Two years of consultation for the Cowes Active Centre Plan is about to begin. This follows the recent adoption of the vision for island roads.
Phillip Island Nature Parks has begun work on the south and north coast area plans.
The Rural Land Use Strategy to decide on the best use of the 75 per cent farming land on the island will be completed in 2015.
We all agree the island is valuable, but how do we see the future – development or recreation?
However people see it, the time for discussion is upon us. All ideas are welcome.
Cr Phil Wright, Smiths Beach.