FRANK Hirst was typically frank.

The facilitator of the Strzelecki Ward candidates’ forum, Colin Pidd, asked the hard question of sacked former councillor Andrew McEwen.

And if what Principal Strategic Planner at the Bass Coast Shire, Austin Cram, a resident of Jeetho, put to the seven candidates is true, Korumburra is set to become the growth capital of South Gippsland.

It was all on the line at the Strzelecki candidates’ forum, by Zoom, on Wednesday night this week, and you had to acknowledge, that all seven passed the test with flying colours.

It’s crucial too, with voters’ packs set to arrive in the mail this week.

Up to 80 people tuned into the online event, and while it was hard to listen intently for two hours, there were plenty of highlights and information in what the candidates said in their statements and in answers to questions.

Former councillor Andrew McEwen wasn’t stumped when facilitator Colin Pidd, acknowledged the elephant in the room, and asked him what happened in council, before the dismissal in 2019.

Mr McEwen didn’t specifically address what happened, but he did say he got on council to reform it after reports of entrenched practices but he wanted to look forward now. He said he wanted to be part of a council of which the community could be proud and one that did what it takes to improve community satisfaction levels.

Frank Hirst chimed in: “Andrew is not going to say this, I was on council for 10 weeks, but by the time I got on to council I found the council to be made up of good, competent people that I could work with. Towards the end, there was considerable scrambling to keep it going, but it was quite functional and could have kept going.”

David Amor said that in his experience, one of the problems for the previous council was the involvement of some ex-councillors behind the elected representatives, and he warned voters to be wary of the same thing happening this time.

Nathan Hersey

Good to have the opportunity to engage with the voters. Aged 34, lives in Loch village. Married to Lucy, gifted artist, with a 2-year-old Hugo. Up until 4am this morning dropping off flyers. I’m a big fan of democracy, and had a lot to do with democracy at all government levels. Everyone has a chance to have their say. This is a unique place to live, I love it. Owned property here since 2014, moved into Loch in 2017. We live here because we chose to live here. The world is run by people who turn up. Lots of people turn up to volunteer. I’m nominating to be a representative. I don’t have an agenda. I understand the importance of stopping and listening to people. I feel I have a lot to offer, and I look forward to contributing on a professional level.

Q. What do you want to learn about?

A. Want to get to know more about the community, what knits it together. I know about its history, but I would like to be more involved and learn in that way.

Frank Hirst

Thanks for putting this on. Been in the shire for 41 years, hopefully qualify as a local. Bought a rundown farm at Ranceby, and got it looking the way I like, to the point where I am now harvesting the trees I planted. Since retiring as a dairy extension officer, I have more time to put into representing the community. Spent 10 weeks on council. Want a respectful council chamber. My name is Frank and I’m frank by nature. Good to see people at Promontory Coast forum co-operating. Maybe the problems started at mayoral election time, where people come out of it owing other people favours. Perhaps it’s better to put all the new councillors in the room and leave them there until they decide who is mayor. Spoke to other candidates in Strzelecki, but Michael (Felton) didn’t want to speak to me after I said I was aligned with Andrew McEwen. Just putting it out there.

Q. What do you like about this area?

A. I was delighted when I got the chance to move here. Love the green rolling hills. Love living here.

Michael Felton

Thanks organisers. Age 47, wife Nicky married 24 years, two adult boys, and grandfather to one with another coming. Worked in public safety for 18 years. On local hall committee and CFA. Lived in Nyora since 2008. Don’t require much from council besides roads and rubbish. But I want a council that works harmoniously together. Want a shire that listens and makes good decisions for my family, and my community. Want a council that has no personal agendas. Had administrators for two years at great cost. We can’t afford the debacle of the previous few years. Need additional facilities, support for the smaller communities. Need a council that is respectful, where people can be heard. Embarrassing few years.

Q. Interested in democracy?

A. Yes I got interested in running a few years ago, it’s community representation with no hidden agendas just get on and get the job done.

Jenni Keerie

Mother of two, grandmother of three. Live and worked here since 2003. After continuous improvement, ongoing financial viability, climate change action, transparency of decision making. I have the skills to fulfill the role. Re-establish best practice on the council after an awful period. Experience working with the community to achieve results. Involved in a variety of local projects, consultation on skate park, Korumburra Community Hub, Korumburra Community Meals and Korumburra Round Table. Helped stop the closure of the Bendigo Bank, a proud moment.

Standing for council is an important decision and it’s a role I can do and want to do. I am curious, and resilient. I am ready and prepared.

Q. If elected in three years’ time what should the story be?

A. We are working together to create a better future, but it takes planning and collaboration with others.

David Amor

Thanks, and thanks for tuning in. We are taking about the Strzelecki Ward, just thought I’d mention that. So critical that we take back the power of the shire. I’ve had a gutful of the administrators doing what they want to do, and the ratepayers have had nothing to say for 8 months. More respectful councillors, never want to see that again. Home and business in Korumburra for 30 years. A family man. Ex-KBA, president of the tennis club. Been on a lot of committees. I am that person who will ask the hard question or the silly question if necessary. The infrastructure in South Gippsland is no better than when the council was sacked. Bring community rating up to 45% satisfaction, working together with councillors and staff. Worried about the waste on rubbish, caravan parks, Bair Street, the rail trail and other projects and services. Enormous blowouts in costs. Questions have not been answered. Lucky to be at the top of the ballot, so vote 1, I am your voice.

Q. How would you describe the shire to others?

A. There are 28 individual towns, it’s a food bowl, it’s beautiful and we love it. But to get to Wilsons Prom, our jewel in the crown, we need better roads.

Andrew McEwen

Thanks Colin and Jen. Our land, the land of the Bunurong and Kurnai, is very special, it was called the land of milk and honey by the pioneers. They built a culture of mutual support. I am actively involved in 12 local groups. We need to commit to working towards the common good. We have failed on community satisfaction. Our rates are 24% higher than comparable shires and small towns don’t get a fair share. I want a council that is open, revitalised and trusted. Want to be able to have a council where people can come and ask questions again. Work for the whole shire not vested interests. Use a citizen jury to describe where we want to be. Need to declare a climate emergency. I have no development interests or no political allegiances. Need a council that we can all respect.

Q. What would you do to enhance council and area.

A. We need a new system of local government, work in a collaborative way, as a leadership team.

Jim Forbes

Welcome to all residents and ratepayers. Lived Poowong 44 years, raised three sons here. This is one of the best parts of the world. I am standing because I want to see better outcomes than we have seen from the past council. Been on a lot of community organisations. That’s the fundamental part, to be in touch with the people you are asking to support you. Council is like a family, you can choose your friends but you can’t chose the people you work with on council. Like to see some things introduced like a planning permit tracker. People often say to me things take too long. The vacant land rate, at 200%, is grossly unfair, people who own these blocks aren’t able to get access to services. Council is about roads, rates, rubbish and community services.

Q. What would you like to see in three years’ time?

A. Like to see trust restored, and towns have faith in being supported. And a council that works as a team and has respect for each other right to the end of the term.


Questions included:

(Q1.) Would you appoint an indigenous development officer?

(A1.) Best answer, Mick Felton: Gippsland has a 5.1% koorie population but South Gippsland’s is 1.1%. I’d like to see a part-time indigenous development officer or to share one with another municipality.

(Q2.) What specific local actions would you like to see to help us transition through the climate change emergency?

(A2.) Best answer, David Amore: Here in South Gippsland can’t even get the rubbish bins right. Need to do a better job with recyclables. Like to see a recycle industry in South Gippsland. Got to start in our own backyards.

(Q3.) How would you attend to competing demands across the shire?

(A3.) Best answer: Jenni Keerie: Comes down to the overall plan and what people would like to see in their areas, to enhance their unique aspects and work to that plan as a united force, to get better outcomes.

(Q4.) Korumburra is seeing a period of renewable, it’s likely to grow at a faster rate than Leongatha. Should there be more focus on Korumburra as a shire centre than Leongatha?

(A4.) Best answer: Mick Felton: Mick Felton: Yes, Korumburra on a growth track. We’re also getting 800 more homes in Nyora, that’s 1600 more people. Got the problem where the shire office is, that’s where the money goes, happens all over. Yes, Korumburra needs more funding, but so do a lot of the other smaller towns.

(Q5.) What would you do to maintain the productivity of the agricultural economy of the shire?

(A6.) Best answers: Jim Forbes & Frank Hurst. Jim Forbes: The wealth of the shire comes from the high rainfall and good soil types; generated by farming. The right to farm is one of my main platforms. Got to recognise the importance of agriculture. Frank Hurst: We’ve got to fix the situation where you can’t live on land between 4 acres to 40 acres in size because you can’t build on it. Some of the worst blocks are where people aren’t allowed to live there. Also encourage the use of smaller blocks for smaller farming enterprises.

(Q6.) About Coal Creek, what will you do to improve Coal Creek?

(A6.) Best answer: Mick Felton: It is an awesome place, but why is it free? Why not charge $1, $2, or $5 to be poured back into the facility. People will pay. Nathan Hersey suggested glamping, Andrew McEwen a school camp. Frank Hurst said old buildings should not have been removed. David Amor said a lot of money had been wasted on Coal Creek.

The candidates concluded with a two-minute summary.

There had been a similar forum on Tuesday night for Coastal Promontory Candidates and another is scheduled on Thursday night, October 7.