Rewrites history on info centre

THAT’S the beauty of making election candidates speak in public.
Even at an innocuous-looking event, like a ‘meet the candidates’ night at Wonthaggi’s Mitchell House last Friday night, a candidate can trip over his or her own feet without even trying.
And that’s exactly what Cr Neil Rankine did, not once but twice, towards the end of the forum attended by all nine Bunurong candidates and about 40 members of the community.
Not only did he vow and declare, in a lively exchange with finance professional Les Larke, also a candidate for Bunurong, that the Bass Coast Shire Council never said it was closing the Wonthaggi Visitor Information Centre, but also moments later he blamed Phillip Island’s “negative” Standalone campaign as the main reason why the $15 million Cowes Revitalisation Project has not been funded by the Commonwealth Government.
Needless to say, the statements have not been well received in the community.
Here, for the record, this is how the Bass Coast Bass Coast Shire Council announced “changes” to visitor services in an official media release on Thursday, February 18, 2016: “Bass Coast Shire Council will close its Wonthaggi Visitor Information Centre (VIC) on 30 June 2016 following a recent service review.”
Citing poor visitor response and high costs, the media release also quoted the Mayor Cr Crugnale saying the situation “makes it difficult to justify continuing the service”.
It’s up to voters to characterise Cr Rankine’s take on that announcement.
In the last question of the night, a local resident quizzed the sitting councillor about why the council had decided to close the information centre in Wonthaggi.
“We’re not closing it. We were never closing it,” Cr Rankine said.
“Groups are clambering over themselves to take over the running of it,” he said.
“But we’ve lost information centre accreditation haven’t we?” queried Les Larke.
“Yes, they’ve changed from a yellow ‘i’ to a white ‘i’ but it’s still there,” Cr Rankine responded.
“Have we lost government funding?” Mr Larke said.
“Not substantially,” Cr Rankine replied, to guffaws from some in the audience.
“We were never going to close it,” he said.
Bass Coast Ratepayers and Residents Association President, Kevin Griffin, took issue with the response.
“Had people not subsequently come forward, including the Rotary Club and the business association, the visitor information centre would have been put in mothballs,” Mr Griffin said.
“It’s a bit rich to be now saying that it was always an invitation to community groups to get involved.”
Immediate past president of the Wonthaggi Rotary Club, Heather Earle agrees.
“We were called up to the Bass Coast Shire on the day and handed a copy of the media release. It’s the first we knew about it.
“We were told they were going to close it and that’s why we did what we did. We worked with the community to stop them from closing the centre down.
“It was only when we found in the conditions of the Federal grant that they couldn’t do it that they started to change their approach.
“They knew what they were going to do before they announced it because they’d already printed 5000 new maps without the yellow ‘i’ on it for an accredited centre.”

Standalone to blame, he said
And to round out the night, Cr Rankine said that one of the main things he would like to see, if re-elected, was “a reduction in negativity”.
“The Standalone Campaign has led to enormous negativity which I believe is responsible for us not getting the $5 million for the Cowes Revitalisation Project.”
He alleged that Standalone’s attitude to the centre had prompted the Member for Flinders, Greg Hunt, not to support the project when funding was being allocated.
Here’s the statement from the shire:
“Council was notified today (Friday, October 7) that its application for $5.5 million towards the Cowes Revitalisation Project under Round Three of the Federal Government’s National Stronger Regions Fund (NSRF) was unsuccessful,” said Bass Coast CEO, Paul Buckley.
“Four hundred and seventy nine applications were received for the funding round with $126.5 million allocated to 67 projects across Australia. Only 15 were funded in Victoria with one in Gippsland.
“Council will seek feedback from NSRF on its application. Any future application for Federal funding towards the project will need to be considered following the election by the new council.
“Due to the election caretaker provisions, Council cannot comment any further on the application until after the Council Election.”
Chairman of the Phillip Island Progress Association (formerly Standalone), Stephen Fullarton, a candidate for the Island ward, said the claims were ridiculous and reflected poorly on the person making them.
All candidates made personal statements on the night and questions from the floor covered public consultation on planning matters, lack of recognition by the shire for the LGBTI community, use of consultants as opposed to local experts, and a home for the Robert Smith Social Realism Art Collection.