By Michael Giles

‘FREDDY’ down the pub will tell you that ‘where there’s smoke there’s fire’.
So when the South Gippsland Mayor, Cr Ray Argento, put out a statement last Thursday that an independent investigation into allegations of bullying, within the council, found that no formal complaints were received and no bullying allegations were substantiated; many would still conclude that something must be going on.
And unfortunately for the ratepayers, the testy relationships between the councillors at South Gippsland appear to go well beyond the usual argy-bargy of local politics.
There’s little doubt that it’s holding back our potential as a community and according to at least one councillor, there’s no obvious sign of improvement.
The overriding response from the community to politicians of all persuasions; at Federal, State and Local level, who allow themselves to get distracted by personal ambition, navel gazing and petty politics is: “For god sake just get on with it.”
And that’s at least Cr Jeremy Rich’s view as well.
He hurried up to me after last Wednesday’s council meeting and said it’s time to move on… and he’s right.
Despite the fact that the majority of last week’s council meeting was taken up by councillors debating their response to what was largely a procedural matter – the tabling of Cr Don Hill’s conduct panel exoneration by VCAT – Cr Rich wanted the press to focus on the positive things the councillors are doing.
“I spent two days last week at the SEATS (South East Australian Transport Strategy Inc) conference in Sale where they have supported a number of very important roads projects for South Gippsland (he listed the $50m Black Spur Realignment, $300,000 Coal Creek bends improvement and $500,000 for works on the Bass Highway between Anderson and Leongatha). Why don’t you publicise that?”
It would certainly help if council put SEATS on its flimsy agenda for discussion and action.
The truth of it is though that in order to move on, the behavioural problems, perceived or otherwise, must be dealt with properly.
Gone are the days, for example, when you can raise your voice in the workplace. And even “robust conversation” between men and women can be seen as bullying behaviour by some.
These are heady, serious issues for a council to come to terms with, mindful that allegations of bullying behaviour were among the main reasons the Geelong City Council was dismissed.
So, even if some councillors don’t believe it’s warranted, a session of workplace training, focusing on appropriate behaviour, appears still to be needed at South Gippsland and then the council can hopefully rule a line off and get on with it.
Goodness knows there’s a lot to be done and if the council can begin to drive efficiencies and boost its advocacy, projects such as the redevelopment of the Mirboo North Pool and the revitalisation of Korumburra’s CBD can be brought forward.