A VOTER in Strzelecki ward, Clive Hope of Meeniyan, has accused one of the candidates in the electorate of unfairly trying to tarnish the names of his opponents by using a big local issue against them.
The accused candidate is Andrew McEwen.
The hot issue is Coal Seam Gas.
And the targets of Cr McEwen’s allegedly misleading behaviour are the sitting councillors; Lorraine Brunt, Mohya Davies, Jim Fawcett, Nigel Hutchinson-Brooks and Bob Newton.
At a ‘meet the candidates’ Q&A session in Korumburra last Wednesday night, Mr Hope queried why Cr McEwen was trying to mislead the community about the attitude of his council colleagues to unconventional gas mining.
“You said that the majority voting block on council, and you named them in your newsletter, voted down a motion calling on the State Government to exempt this area from Coal Seam Gas exploration and fracking, instead attacking you for your position.
“It leaves people to think the council actually supported fracking which couldn’t have been further from the truth.”
He said Cr McEwen was trying to say that only Crs Hill, Kennedy and himself were truly opposed to CSG.
Mr Hope said for fairness the newsletter should also have said that it was the strong policy of the whole council to be opposed to fracking and Coal Seam Gas mining in South Gippsland; that all councillors had previously voted that way.
Cr McEwen said it wasn’t his responsibility to point out that the council had already supported a motion against Coal Seam Gas mining.
He said the more recent motion, calling for exemption under the Mining Act, as achieved in the Margaret River area of Western Australia, would have provided a higher level of protection for this area from fracking.
And he denied there was any attempt made to mislead voters.
Other candidates also gave their opinions, all of them opposed to on-shore gas mining in the area.
No ‘$32 million’ office
Another contentious issue, raised at the candidates’ forum, was the issue of the alleged $32 million shire office project for Leongatha.
A local resident, Heather Gregg, queried the status of the project, noting that there was nothing wrong with reviewing the future of a 50-year old shire office building.
Another candidate at the forum, Jim Forbes, said there had been no resolution of council to support the development of new offices.
“It was purely an investigation about the Leongatha rail land, if it came available, would council be interested in buying it for a new municipal precinct. But that’s no longer a live option. Victrack wants to keep the land,” he said.
“In my view, if there was to be a new building, I’d like to see the depot staff and indoor staff put together. I believe it would lead to better outcomes for the community,” he said.
Other candidates also made comments, including Cr McEwen, who claimed there was an allocation in the budget towards the project with a target building date of 2022, 2023 and 2024.
Cr Lorraine Brunt has since accused Cr McEwen of attempting to mislead the voters on this issue as well, saying that in another newsletter Cr McEwen had claimed the council had approved the project in 2015.
“It hasn’t been approved. Nothing has been decided and it’s misleading to say that it has,” Cr Brunt said.
Execs should live here
Another contentious issue at the forum was raised by Clyde Patterson of Korumburra, who questioned the value to the area of shire executives that didn’t live locally.
“In the same way that every $1 generated by tourism means $6 for the local economy, does every dollar spent on executives that leaves the shire actually cost us $6 in income?
One of the candidates, David Wanless said he had no problem with a competent CEO being paid the going rate, provided he achieved an exacting set of Key Performance Indicators.
But he also said there was no doubt that shire executives who lived locally took more interest in the area and that it should be encouraged during recruitment.
The night which attracted all 10 candidates for Strzelecki and approximately 30 other local people, gave candidates a chance to state their case for election.
Other issues raised on the night included disharmony on council, candidates abusing the preference voting system by running dummy candidates, the need for a complete review of shire services, need for transparent council processes, pro-business/local jobs environment, and concern about the proposed quarry landfill.