By Michael Giles
THEY’RE not happy on Phillip Island.
They’re not happy with the shire council for what they say is decades of neglect.
And with no tip, no pool, few services and no improvement to infrastructure; they have a strong case.
They’re also unhappy about the shire’s poor governance and the lack of an effective development strategy and, as a result, they’re girding their loins for an electoral battle-royal come October next year.
Standing alone also remains a live but probably forlorn hope.
They’re also not happy with the State Government.
And they’ve got every right to be.
Even on those weekends when there isn’t a major event on the island, the one-lane bridge and one-lane Phillip Island Tourist Road is clogged with traffic from early on Friday afternoon and again on Sunday evening.
And for an area which hosts the Number 2 most popular tourist attraction in Australia, the Phillip Island Penguin Parade, it gets surprisingly little support for roadworks, visitor amenities such as toilets and beach access, health facilities and general beautification improvements.
That’s partly a shire advocacy problem of course.
Many parts of this showpiece island are an eyesore and an embarrassment.
As pointed out by Phillip Island Nature Parks CEO Matthew Jackson last week, the population of the island goes up from 9000 to 60,000 at holiday times and it gets 3.8 million visitors annually, a record 607,888 of them going to the penguin parade last year.
There’d be a whole lot more if they didn’t have to cap visitor numbers to 4000 each night over the summer because of the antiquated facilities.
A proposed $58 million redevelopment of the penguin parade visitors’ centre would solve that capacity issue and numbers would escalate.
Without doubt, the State Government should simply agree to fund that project now, not wait until the May Budget.
But they should also come up with an improvement plan for the whole island. Hopefully the Phillip Island Tourism Strategy Review will lead to that.
In the absence of government support, however, the cost of accommodating all those visitors and holiday makers will fall back on the people of the whole Bass Coast Shire; the business operators in Wonthaggi, the residents of Inverloch and the ratepayers of the shire’s Western Port towns.
Certainly, successive shire administrations are partly to blame for allowing scarce discretionary funds to be eaten up by excessive executive salaries and a too-large bureaucracy. They couldn’t even make grant applications because they didn’t have the matching funds required.
More cuts to operating costs will have to be made.
But there must be an approved strategy for attracting the necessary dollars from the government, one that is communicated to the local community for its support.
The risk is that it will be left to the local shire to fund and depending on what happens under the new shire electoral structure announced this week, a power shift could see the oxygen sucked out of the rest of the shire for Phillip Island’s benefit.
The way the new structure is shaping up there’ll be three councillors for the island, three for Wonthaggi/Inverloch and three for the rest of the shire stretching from Smiths Beach to Lang Lang and Loch but these seats could easily be dominated by representatives from eastern parts of the island and San Remo creating a new anti-Wonthaggi, anti-Inverloch power block.
It’s time to take an interest in shire politics and also in getting the State Government to do some of its own heavy lifting on the island.