Winston Churchill said those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Absolutely no-one in South Gippsland wants council’s history repeated. The removal of a democratically mandated government is something that no-one, not councillors, nor the Minister for Local Government, nor Parliament, took lightly, as attested by Hansard records of State Parliament’s discussion on the Act that dismissed council.

Given the serious matters raised in the Municipal Monitor’s Report and the Minister’s “show cause” letter raising the possibility of council losing its democratic mandate, it was reasonable for council to obtain legal advice.

In long meetings held over days, many, but not all, of the remaining councillors compiled a detailed response for the Minister. Almost none of the historic details of issues raised by the Monitor were known to me as a “countback councillor.” Truth telling is hard going and I, and several other councillors, worked hard to discern fact and truth in those meetings.

After consulting with the CEO about correct procedures and budget, Mayor Don Hill, acting on behalf of council, engaged Kellehers – a Melbourne-based legal firm experienced in local government law. Along with other councillors I attended the first briefing session held in Kellehers Melbourne office. I paid all my own expenses. Several drafts of council’s response were reviewed by Kellehers, who further prodded truth and factual disclosures. Cr Hill managed all legal interactions and briefings with the lawyers and presentation of council’s written response to the Minister.

As it was inappropriate for council staff to be involved, councillors provided their own typed inputs in these meetings. Cr Skinner and I assisted all participating councillors and the Mayor in drafting an Action Plan for Good Governance, which formed attachment 7 to the 70-page council response.

It was a very determined effort to set out a positive way forward. It was dismissed by the Commission of Inquiry in one short paragraph. It was not shown to Parliament and has only recently been released following an FoI request. The Intent of this Action Plan was endorsed by a formal resolution of Council on May 8, 2019: “That council: (1.) endorses the intent of South Gippsland Good Governance Action Plan 8 May 2019. (2.) brings the South Gippsland Good Governance Action Plan to council for formal adoption once released. (3.) requests the chief executive officer to prepare a proposed program of training and support to implement the good governance action plan, including integration into the council plan and budget. Carried for: Councillor Skinner, Hirst, Hill, Cousin, Argento and Finlay. Against: Councillor Brown.

I am attaching a copy of this Good Governance Action Plan. Please allow interested readers to view it on your home page to help inform a balanced judgement.

Rosemary Cousin, Allambee South.

Editor: The remainder of Ms Cousin’s letter relates to selected transcript from State Government Hansard (June 19, 2019 Legislative Council) including support for Ms Cousin by Greens Leader Dr Samantha Ratnam. See Hansard for details.