By Michael Giles
A wedge issue is a political or social issue, often of a controversial or divisive nature, which splits apart a demographic or population group. … A wedge issue, when introduced, is intended to bring about such things as: A debate, often vitriolic, within the opposing party, giving the public a perception of disarray.
So says the font of all knowledge, Wikipedia.
And Cr Hill’s insistence that Leongatha needs a new, more-broadly representative group to take it forward is classic ‘wedge’ politics.
It has already produced ‘a perception of disarray’ with the Leongatha Chamber of Commerce, now Leongatha Business Association, saying such a group wasn’t needed and Cr Hill claiming other groups in the town want it.
It has already produced vitriolic debate in council with Cr Meg Edwards being heavily criticised for her passionate defence of the Leongatha community.
And it will be interesting to see if Cr Hill tries to assume the high moral ground now after the spectacular failure of his top-down approach to telling Leongatha what it needs by saying he tried but the town wouldn’t help itself.
The fact is though, Leongatha could do with some help right now and if the council was prepared to go about it the right way, not Cr Hill’s way, we could get some positive results.
Why is that important? Because it can lead to jobs.
We could start by establishing what the problems are and most of them are already well documented.
Number one is the redevelopment of Bair Street, providing more parking and a better amenity so that traders and businesses would have more chance to flourish. And the recent offer by the owners of vacant shops in the street to host the community hub/library is one that’s worth considering.
Contrary to the opinions on the shire’s OurSay site (at the risk of feeding the wedge politics further) this is work that only the council can undertake. It will then be up to the businesses and traders to take it from there, possibly repurposing Leongatha’s role.
Then there’s the redevelopment of the railway yards, again only work that the council can do, and unfortunate too that the process here wasn’t handled well in the final stages.
Buried deep in the council’s background notes, as the reason for trying to establish a new representative group is the statement: “The only town in South Gippsland without a Community Directions Statement/Plan at this time is Leongatha”.
If the council thinks that’s a problem, use the Community Strengthening Team to contact key groups directly, explain why they need their help and get on with it.
A project group, possibly with an ongoing advisory role, could be formed out of that process.
As one of the best community-connected councillors, Cr Maxine Kiel, said recently, the many good people in the community who keep our sports and activity groups running have meeting fatigue and need good reason to take time away from pressing club needs.
The council shouldn’t give up on Leongatha because of Cr Hill’s exercise in wedge politics.