By Michael Giles
IT HAS not been a good year for Local Government, not just locally, but across the state and it seems no one, including the Minister for Local Government Adem Somyurek, is prepared to fix it.
At the root of the problem is a lack of accountability and transparency, as highlighted by the allegations of corruption surrounding property development on our doorstep, in the burgeoning cities of Casey and Cardinia.
And there’s an indication that the greedy fingers of developers may also have reached into this area as well.
But who can tell for sure, such is the secrecy which shrouds almost everything councils do these days.
South Gippsland has been one of the councils in the state to sully its reputation most with the Don Hill-led council dismissed in the middle of the year for failing to deal properly with allegations of bullying, poor decision making, vested interest and a toxic culture of hatred and revenge.
It was an absolute disgrace.
The councillors involved will try to spin it differently, saying that senior officers and a witch-hunt by local business and the local media were to blame but cover-ups over the rorting of the councillors’ expense account, bullying and personal planning agendas may never be fully exposed now.
None of those councillors who served in the past regime at South Gippsland should be allowed to return and while it’s regrettable that we have to wait until 2021 to get a new council, the delay has proved necessary to discourage those individuals from standing again… once more for all the wrong reasons.
At Bass Coast, the council has taken some of the credit for attracting funding for the secondary campus at Wonthaggi, the hospital and welcome improvements on Phillip Island.
But it has also overseen several calamitous attempts at public consultation on key issues, made it increasingly difficult to get information and has failed to come to grips with the key issue of unsustainable finances and inadequate infrastructure in the face of rapid growth.
Bass Coast’s rates as a percentage of property values are well below that of neighboring councils, indicating one of the reasons for the revenue shortage, but the reality is, rural rates right across the state are too high, compared with what property owners in the city pay.
The hope is that Minister Somyurek will address this rating injustice when a report on a more equitable rating system is handed down on March 31, 2020, but don’t hold your breath for fundamental rating reform of the kind this state really needs.