By Michael Giles
IT MAY change over time, but there’s absolutely no doubt that South Gippsland’s shire councillors responded favourably to the introduction of “live streaming” at last week’s council meeting and special budget session.
For probably the first time in many years, the community was privy to the debate that goes on, or should go on, at budget time when councillors push for changes that they see as being important or where they’ve had representations from constituents or community groups in their wards.
They called for works on dangerous roads to be added into the budget, they asked for road works where tourism business operators had made legitimate requests, called for works in their towns and for other changes to be made.
They were generally responding to the 68 requests made by ratepayers and community groups in their submissions.
Ultimately, the council made virtually no changes to their draft budget, rejecting roadworks on the grounds that they didn’t have sufficiently high priority and rejecting other funding requests for the same reason, or because the lead time for planning (as with the Korumburra revitalisation project) couldn’t be cut short.
But it was good to see councillors get up and argue passionately for their pet projects, indicating that this sort of competitive debate goes on behind closed doors when budget considerations are first opened up and when roadworks priorities are set.
It seems that this is where the real business of council is discussed and there can be no good reason why these meetings aren’t opened up to public scrutiny as well, not only of the decisions made but how they are discussed and by whom.
There should however be a note of caution injected, due to the potential for some councillors to use the platform to grandstand ideas that have little hope of success or to attempt to drive a wedge into the community support enjoyed by their opponents as appeared to be the case last week.
No doubt our council representatives will become less self-conscious about the presence of the live streaming cameras but it is to be hoped that they continue to speak up for their communities.
It will also be obvious which councillors are well prepared, which councillors don’t have much to say and which councillors are just blowing off hot air.
Apparently only 11 people listened to the webcast while it was running but the opportunity is there to access the recording on the shire’s website and draw your own conclusions.
The experience for South Gippsland might be something Bass Coast councillors will also be interested in after it was suggested at their last meeting that live streaming be considered – why not!