AN EXASPERATED Leongatha Chamber of Commerce and Industry President, Brenton Williams, has thrown up his hands after the latest Cr Don Hill inspired manoeuvre by the South Gippsland Shire Council.
It’s all to do with the setting up of a new ‘Korumburra Round Table’ style leadership group in the town.
Rejected by a meeting of all nine councillors, on Wednesday, March 28, on a vote of 5:4, the issue was brought back to life again at a Special Urgent Council Meeting last Wednesday, April 11, on the casting vote of the Acting Mayor, Cr Ray Argento, who incidentally, had twice voted against the proposal.
The vote to rescind the previous direction of council was tied 3:3 last Wednesday; Crs Skinner, Kiel and Argento against, and Crs Hill, McEwen and Rich for.
But Cr Argento broke the deadlock from the chair, saying it would give the missing councillors (Brunt, Brown and Edwards) the opportunity to have their say.
Never mind that they had already had their say at the previous meeting when they all voted against wasting further time on the idea.
The trio were attending the Rural Councils of Victoria’s annual Mayors, Councillors and CEO’s forum in Melbourne.
Mr Williams says he thought the group made it clear to Cr Hill, at a sometimes fiery meeting of the chamber last Monday night, April 9, that they didn’t want such a group, nor was it needed in the town.
But Cr Hill, along with his colleagues Cr Andrew McEwen and Cr Jeremy Rich, went ahead and called a Special Urgent Meeting of the council two days later and successfully put the proposal back on the agenda again.
How Cr Hill turned a clear direction, given to him in person by the chamber when he attended their meeting, that they didn’t want a new leadership group, into claiming there was an interest in setting up Leongatha’s version of a round table, Mr Williams is at a loss to explain.
But he knows one thing, the chamber has now withdrawn from the negotiations.
“Where he got that idea from (that we supported it) I don’t know,” said Mr Williams.
“We moved a motion that summed up where we’d like to go with this,” he said.
The motion, moved Shane Jenkins, seconded Brian Hogan, carried unanimously on a show of hands at the Chamber’s meeting on Monday night, April 2 was: “That the Leongatha Chamber of Commerce and Industry could invite community groups to come to quarterly chamber meetings rather than start a whole new committee”.
“We don’t need it. In fact we had a meeting in the town last night attended by seven different groups,” Mr Williams said.
“They can go and set up a group if they like but I don’t know whose going to go along to it. We won’t be.”
Asked if his group would be prepared to accept the two years of paid secretarial support that the Korumburra Round Table reportedly received from the shire, to set up that group (referred to in last week’s Special Urgent Meeting), he said he’d prefer to see the money spent elsewhere.
“We told them that all we want to see is the shire getting on and tidying up the railway yards. If Cr Hill put half the energy into getting that job done as he has into this, we’d have had it done five years ago.
“But look, we’re not going to be buying into it any more. He seems to thrive on stirring people up and we’re just not going to waste any more time on it.
“He can set up his group if he likes but whose going to turn up? I don’t know.”

Look again, say Cr Hill
Here’s the motion that Crs Hill, McEwen and Rich wanted back on the meeting papers for the Thursday, April 26 meeting of council:
“That council: 1. receive a report by 30 May 2018 on how to conduct and convene with local organisations workshops/consultation on the desirability of collaboratively establishing an appropriate leadership structures and process for Leongatha and developing a community plan and vision. 2. Identify any additional resource requirements for implementing such an approach. 3. Receive a report on a policy framework by July 2018 to potentially use such district coordinating bodies across the shire to strengthen community engagement and partnerships and working collaboratively with communities, including potential terms of reference, resource requirement and suggested local districts.”
During debate on the issue at last week’s Special Urgent Meeting, Cr Hill acknowledged some hostility from the chamber to the proposal, but he claimed that this was only because they had listened to the “very emotive and inflammatory remarks” of several of his fellow councillors on the live streaming of the March 28 meeting rather than reading the motion and the preamble.
“Once I realised that they hadn’t read the report I explained in detail what the report was saying and from that point onwards the group started to take the conversation amongst themselves and they were discussing how they could set up that type of group in the town. It was a fantastic conversation to listen to. And they’re already talking about calling a meeting to get all the community groups together. They’ve picked up the ball and they’ve started to discuss it already. So that’s a really positive thing. Council needs to get its act together because if they decide to get started on this now and we don’t talk about this for another three months and then you’ve got the officers’ lead time to get prepared, we will be sitting around for six months while the community is starting to get something done on this. So we need to do this urgently so we can have the resources available, if and when the community decides if and when they want to do this.”

Why Leongatha needs it
By way of explanation, the motion, which will now go up to council again at its Thursday, April 26 council meeting, carries with it the following explanation of why Leongatha needs a properly representative community group:
“Leongatha unlike other towns does not have a community or township plan for their future development. There are a range of strong and effective organisations in the towns, but there is not one coordinating structure that has the authority and is able to address overall development priorities and speak up for the town. Successful towns have the collaborative processes that allow good ideas to emerge, to be distilled and be collaboratively implemented. Council acting alone does not have the capacity or agency. It can be part of the process but not the leader.
There are serious challenges that the town needs to address. These include:
• The lack of a shared vision and community plan for the future of Leongatha
• The high vacancy rates and rents for retail and commercial premises.
• The challenges that the Leongatha MG factory will face with increasing competition and an as yet unknown outcome of the propose Saputo takeover and its likely flow on consequence.
• The lack of appropriate leadership structures and process that have been crucial in the revivals and development of other town in the shire (Mirboo North, Meeniyan, Fish Creek Korumburra).
• Its ongoing decline relative to Wonthaggi and the need for a strategic approach to attract more businesses
• Lack of a positive identity and brand.