THE battle for a seat on the Bass Coast Shire Council is heating up, with council candidates fielding questions from a crowd of 150 agitated Phillip Islanders in Cowes on Friday, September 23.
Or as Cr Phil Wright called them, “grumpy old men”.
The Q&A event was adjudicated by Jason Cameron of the Phillip Island Progress Group at the Phillip Island Golf Club.
The public could submit questions to the candidates, but law and order soon flew out the window, with both candidates and audience members growing agitated with the format of the evening.
At one point an audience member quipped, “The microphone isn’t working, much like the last council”.
A sense of disorder quickly descended upon the meeting, setting the tone for the two hour long session, with jeers emanating from the audience and councillors quick to lose their temper.
Current councillor Phil Wright, who arrived 10 minutes after the session had commenced, was targeted by the audience, and at one point simply refused to answer a question.
“If they don’t want to listen to me, I won’t answer.”
Dozens of questions were formally submitted to the candidates for question time.
Questions pertaining to the new municipality wards, council transparency, voting procedure, the rate cap, and the highly debated Phillip Island Aquatic Centre were directed towards candidates for the Western Port and Island wards.
All Island and Western Port candidates were in attendance at the meeting, except for Bruce Kent, who as an active police officer was on duty and could only attend for a few minutes at the beginning of the meeting.
When addressing concerns regarding the community’s lack of satisfaction with the current council, Cr Wright was quick to point the finger at the Phillip Island community.
“It’s in the community satisfaction where we’re failing. We’re sitting here in a meeting run by the Progress Phillip Island group, so of course you’re going to think that this council is doing badly,” Cr Wright said.
“Doesn’t matter what we do, you guys are determined to separate, so you’ll think that we’re doing badly.
“The people in the community who appreciate us are the 18 to 35 years old group, and the ones who don’t are sitting here in this room, the grumpy old men of Phillip Island.”
Some candidates used the Q&A session to consider the public’s stance on hot topics, while others used the session as an electioneering platform.
The youngest candidate for the upcoming election, Mikhaela Barlow, said the community consultation is imperative for harmony within the community.
“The community needs to be more involved in council decision making process,” Miss Barlow said.
Candidate for the Western Port Ward, Ashley Lamers, spoke calmly about his choice to run for council, and his dedication to entrench himself within his ward if elected.
“I’m dedicated to visiting all the communities in my ward each month if elected, to listen to the people and to hear firsthand what they want, and how they’re feeling about issues.”
All candidates on the panel were unanimous in their stance against any Hastings container port, but were divided over questions regarding the current CEO Paul Buckley’s wage and position within the shire.
“Does the CEO work for the council, or does the council work for the CEO?” an audience member asked.
Current councillors were quick to defend Mr Buckley, whilst candidate for the Island Ward, Maurice Schinkel, said the CEO’s wage is out of kilter with the rest of the state.
“I think the CEO is grossly overpaid, in comparison to other, larger, municipalities around the state,” Mr Schinkel said.
The protection of town boundaries was a hotly discussed topic, with many candidates touching on the issue.
“Melbourne is growing quickly, and we’ve got to accommodate for future growth in our shire. The people will come,” Cr Bradley Drew said.
“If we want to hold the town boundaries tight, we’ve got to be smart,” Cr Wright said.
Current councillor Kimberly Brown took to the microphone to defend her recently reported poor attendance at council meetings.
“My attendance has been above 90 per cent during my four years in council,” Cr Brown said.
“I apologise if you feel I’ve let you down in the past six months.”
‘Grumpy old men’ take on Cr Wright in chaotic Q&A