In a move that should raise concern for all who value reasonable freedom of expression, Island Ward Councillor Michael Whelan this month successfully started the process to introduce a so-called Unreasonable Customer Conduct Policy at Bass Coast.
Having observed council behaviour over some years, and having watched the debate around Michael’s motion, I have little doubt that some at council will seek to misuse the policy in effort to stymie robust but legitimate questioning and criticism of council.
During the debate councillors, including Michael, acknowledged that of our 35,000 ratepayers and residents, there is merely a handful of ‘difficult’ customers.
Arguing for the introduction of this new policy, some councillors presented statements without context, as well as hearsay.
Bizarrely, some of those supporting Michael’s motion acknowledged that there are already processes in place to deal with such customers.
Full credit must go to Councillor Bruce Kent, as he was the only councillor to stand by those acknowledgements and to oppose the motion (Crs Larke, Rooks, and Tessari were absent).
And, despite that the ink is barely dry on their newly updated Community Engagement Policy, there was no mention of engaging with the community in the development of this policy. It appears that the community will be excluded.
Instead, during his closing comments, Michael berated community members [who] would hold concerns, telling them that they’ve got something in their own conscience to look to.
Using wildly exaggerated language he also said that the ‘echo chamber’ (objectors) always finds that this is going to be the end of civilisation as we know it.
Such unprofessional language is clearly unbecoming a sitting councillor, let alone the Deputy Mayor.
Rather than charging forth to introduce this policy, it would be better for our community if the very highly remunerated management team at council were instead to focus on using common sense and the already available processes to manage difficult customers.
If you are concerned about the potential adverse impacts that this proposed policy presents to reasonable freedom of expression, I encourage you to write briefly to all councillors to make them aware of your concerns.
Kevin Griffin, Wonthaggi.