Comments reported in last week’s Sentinel-Times (‘Island votes bought with shire’s money?’, page 1) attributed to Bass Coast Mayor Cr Neil Rankine and, to a lesser extent, Cr Clare Le Serve suggesting to readers that councillors were unaware that a review of Bass Coast Shire’s service provision, infrastructure and investment on Phillip Island would be undertaken, until they read it in the press, are misleading.
Cr Rankine is reported to have claimed that Minister Bull made a decision “without consulting us,” and that it was “unfortunate the minister did not let council know before the media and community did”.
We are reliably informed that Minister Bull contacted Bass Coast CEO Paul Buckley six days before the press release announcing the review was issued; and that the CEO briefed councillors on the decision, on Wednesday, September 24, including the request from Minister Bull for council to fund one third of the cost of the review.
Members of the Phillip Island Progress Association were informed of the decision for the first time via a press release at 5pm on September 29.
Cr Rankine is reported to have estimated cost of the review to ratepayers “could be around $150,000”.
That estimate is wrong.
The report, to be presented to the October 15 meeting, at which council will decide whether to agree to the minister’s request for one third funding of the review, states cost to ratepayers should be between $25,000 and $35,000.
The State Government will bear the majority of the review cost which is not expected to exceed $100,000.
Phillip Island ratepayers pay 43 per cent of the total Bass Coast Shire rate revenue, so will bear almost half of this cost, should council agree to the Minister’s request, leaving mainland ratepayers to bear between $13,000 and $18,000.
Cr Clare Le Serve is reported to have described the review announcement as a political manoeuvre which leaves council in a compromised position.
How so, we ask?
The Phillip Island Progress Association, supported by 8000 signatories, presented a petition to the State Parliament in May requesting the conduct of an independent review of the Bass Coast Shire Council, to determine the feasibility (or otherwise) of Phillip Island de-amalgamating from the Bass Coast Shire.
Eight thousand people exercised their democratic right to request a review, and a rally in June attended by 1200 people was held in support of this.
With an election looming, the two candidates known at the time to be standing in November were asked to support Phillip Island’s request.
Cr Le Serve, who attended the rally and whose candidature announcement as an Independent coincided with the weekend on which it was held stated the following day: “I support the conduct of an independent municipal review, as requested by Phillip Island’s Stand Alone movement. Sunday’s community rally on Phillip Island was an example of people coming together, in order to be listened to and heard.
“I absolutely believe in the democratic process of supporting the request for the conduct of a municipal review.”
Cr Le Serve and five of her fellow councillors subsequently voted for the conduct of the services review requested, on the basis of listening to the voice of 8000 people.
The other candidate, Liberal Brian Paynter committed to work to achieve a review, and stated that he would work hard to get the state government to agree to a review.
He did so! His work was acknowledged by the Minister in the press release issued.
Cr Le Serve was reported in the Sentinel-Times article to have stated that the minister’s review announcement “is a political manoeuvre, which leaves council in a compromised position” and said that she will be absent from the debate and vote at next week’s meeting to ensure council business is not sullied by state politics?”
We ask, what has changed?
PIPA was not privy to the review details before the council was, which seems to be the major bone of contention of the two councillors.
PIPA did not learn a review had been granted until six days after the council was told.
If council did not know that a press release had been issued, informing PIPA and the community, they must have been expecting one, having already been informed that a review had been granted.
The fact that Brian Paynter was acknowledged by the Minister is in line with all press releases released by both sides of politics when announcements are made, whether we as voters like this practise or not.
Mr Paynter has featured in at least six press releases, sometimes with photos, alongside Ken Smith, on various announcements for the electorate by the Coalition government since April this year; and not a murmur has been raised about this until now.
Has council business been sullied by state politics, as Cr Le Serve suggests?
Councillors have debated at length at recent meetings the issues in the Bass electorate that they want to see addressed during the current election campaign.
Council has regularly written to the state government, advocating on behalf of ratepayers on issues such as coal seam gas, the desalination plant, and Port of Hastings.
What is so different now about an issue of importance to Phillip Island voters?
Is it not the role of those who seek to represent us at parliamentary level to listen to the voice of constituents, and for constituents in turn to know the views and responses on issues of concern to them, of candidates seeking their vote?
The criticism from Cr Le Serve that: “If PIPA can pull that much political power maybe they could stop the expansion of the Port of Hastings from going ahead” also requires a response.
PIPA used the democratic processes open to it and worked very hard to gain the voice of government, through the same means available to every other individual or group in Victoria with major concerns, to gain the result it did.
We believe a review into the Bass Coast Shire is long overdue, and will we be of benefit not just to Phillip Island, but to residents across the entire shire.
Stephen Fullarton (President, Phillip Island Progress Association), Cowes.