PUT simply, Cr Don Hill is trying to manipulate the result of the South Gippsland Shire Council election.
And a ‘how to vote’ card, authorised by him and distributed to voters last week, proves it.
That’s the view of one of his opponents in the election for the Tarwin Valley ward, Meg Edwards, and she’s not on her own.
Other candidates in the ward, including Graham Heath, who was offered the opportunity to be part of the ticket for a payment of $250 but declined, and Cr Nigel Hutchinson-Brooks, say there’s no doubt Cr Hill is trying to skew the result for his own benefit.
This is no ordinary how to vote card they are talking about, where one candidate provides his or her own recommendations to voters.
The card sent to voters in the ward last week includes the preferences of six of the 13 candidates, listed side-by-side allegedly to save costs, but each of them has a similar theme.
They all give their first preference to Cr Hill and all list Meg Edwards 11th, Nigel Hutchinson-Brooks 12th and James Fawcett 13th.
A maths teacher at the Drouin Secondary College, Cr Hill nonetheless claims the order nominated by the candidates on their ‘how to vote’ cards is purely random, that they are not working together as a group or that he laid down the preference order himself, in exchange for organising the advice to voters.
“Every candidate decided their own order,” he told the Sentinel-Times this week.
“They’ve put the sitting councillors last because they think they were doing a bad job. They’ve been supporting the stance taken by Cr McEwen and myself.”
He ignored the question about how the same candidate came to be listed as 11th, 12th and 13th on each of the cards.
“All candidates are talking to each other about preferences. There’s nothing wrong with that but we haven’t met as a group.
“There was a general understanding not to do deals with those people in order to get themselves elected but it’s not an organised thing.”
Graham Heath has a different recollection.
“I had a phone call from Don asking me if I wanted to be a part of it, for a cost of $250, but I declined,” said Mr Heath.
“It was on the condition that Don got number two and that I put Meg, Nigel and Jim 11th, 12th and 13th but I thought that was disgraceful.
“I’m independent. I wasn’t going to be part of it. I think he’s pulled the wool over their eyes.”
Meg Edwards claims it has been clearly orchestrated by Cr Hill and that the candidates who’ve preferenced him second are either his “dummy candidates” or he’s made dummies out of them by getting them to agree to be on the card.
“For them all to have randomly decided to preference Don second and me, Nigel and Jim; 11th, 12th and 13th in exactly that order is virtually a mathematical impossibility. It’s a ludicrous idea,” said Ms Edwards this week.
“None of them know me so how would they all decide to put me 11th. I only met Kim White for the first time the other day, after they’d already decided their preferences.
“I asked him about his views, and apart from saying he was against the $32 million shire offices, which is an absolute furphy anyway, he couldn’t say what his values are.
“Some of them are definite stooges for Cr Hill, or he’s made dummies out of them by getting them to agree to go on the card.”
Ms Edwards said an article in The Age last week, which highlighted a dramatic rise in the number of candidates in municipalities across the state, claimed many of them were dummy* candidates.
*A dummy candidate is someone who stands for election with no intention of winning, but directs their preferences to another candidate. It’s a way of trying to manipulate the vote in an election to get an unintended outcome.
The newspaper says one of the candidates in the Wyndham Council, where there are 95 candidates this year, up from 46 in 2012, a millionaire property developer “has at least eight candidates preferencing him in a bid to ensure his re-election”.
“The article says it’s rife in the western suburbs but it’s happening right around the state, including here in South Gippsland, and people need to be aware of it,” said Ms Edwards.
Cr Hill, in turn, made claims this week that Ms Edwards is a Cr James Fawcett “stooge”, continuing the vitriol between the two which has marred much of the present regime’s term of office.
He even went so as far as to claim that Cr Fawcett had agreed to $30,000 worth of funding to a Fish Creek organisation Ms Edwards is associated with, in exchange for her support at election time.
Cr Fawcett has rejected claim as scurrilous.
“The grant was for the resurrection of the Commonwealth Games fish sculpture, which I understand will put out on the rail trail somewhere. But that was an initiative of the budget, which Cr Hill himself moved and Andrew seconded,” Cr Fawcett said.
“Meg Edwards is the chair of the Fish Creek Community Development Group, I believe, but I don’t know her personally.”
Cr Nigel Hutchinson-Brooks says what Cr Hill is doing is an abuse of the voting system.
“The government went part of the way, not allowing preference indications in the vote packs but it’s still open to abuse.
“I personally favour a Brownlow style of voting, 3, 2, 1 votes for you choice of candidates and no preferences.”