Michael-Giles_monoBy Michael Giles

THE Bass Coast Shire Council is “currently undertaking some important work to better understand and plan how we engage with local communities effectively to inform our decision making”.
The ‘Better engagement, better outcomes’ project, no doubt being undertaken by a highly paid consultant, includes a community briefing session on the subject at the Kilcunda Community Hall tonight.
But the bureaucrats won’t have to look far past their own process in releasing the Long Term Financial Plan and new rating strategy for a text book on what not to do.
Here’s a few points worth considering:
• Monthly council meetings are held at 5pm on the third Wednesday of each month – what normal person can attend a meeting at 5pm on a weekday? That’s the first thing you’d change.
• Predictably only two people turned up at 5pm on March 18 when the shire released the plans. What needs to happen with these policy documents is for the shire to go out and actually present to the affected groups, such as the Bass Coast VFF, Wonthaggi BA and others, not just wait for people to show up at a council meeting.
• Despite the fact that the shire allowed only 11 clear working days for community groups (which usually meet once a month) and individuals to respond, they received 31 submissions. Well done community!
• Key groups like the Bass Coast VFF Group barely had time to get their submissions in and weren’t invited to the submissions hearing. The politically sensitive Phillip Island Progress Association wasn’t contacted directly and was late getting its submission in, due to preparations for Easter on the holiday island.
• After all that, the shire has substantially changed the long term plan without telling the submitters or the community at large. They consulted with them on a draft and will decide on a different document. What they should have done was either put the new plan out for comment and extend the consultation period or take the draft to the council meeting and let the elected representatives decide. It’s the height of arrogance to think the changes have solved the problem. It could easily have created more.
Is it any wonder then that the community is almost totally disengaged from a shire that views its participation as a problem rather than part of the solution.
If the shire is battling to get its budget out on time, due to changes in scheduling by the State Government, then for goodness sake tell the community so.
Shire bureaucrats should always be asking themselves when considering policy settings: “Is it good for the community”.
The other thing they might consider asking themselves is: “Would it pass the pub test?”
Chances are most of what the shire has been doing in the past 10 years would not pass that test.