Monday, July 16, 2012

Representing Local People

Moorabool Shire Council - Civic Hub
"Fearless" by Anuradha Patel and Velislav Georgiev

On 10 July, Moorabool Shire Council held a community and candidate information session to encourage and inform anyone considering standing for local government on 27 October this year.

Being a local councillor isn’t always a popular and highly sought after elected position. In Moorabool, the workload is estimated to be about 20 hours a week. In return each councillor receives an allowance of approximately $25,000 per year plus some provision for childcare, a phone and computer – with the Mayor being paid significantly more in recognition of the additional demands of that role.

On the ground, the workload of individual councillors is often much greater. The hours are taxing and hostility from aggrieved community members can be a considerable problem.

Moorabool Shire is currently represented by 7 councillors, elected within a 4-ward system that divides the electorate into Central Moorabool, East Moorabool, West Moorabool and Woodlands.

Only a handful of community members attended the Shire’s candidate information session, with the majority originating in East Moorabool Ward, which includes Bacchus Marsh and surrounds. East Moorabool will have at least two women contesting this election: Margaret Wohlers-Scarff and Tonia Dudzik.

Sadly, there appeared to be no new candidates for West Moorabool and Woodlands at the information session and only one new candidate for Central Moorabool Ward: Ballan resident Brian Meadows.

Central Moorabool

Moorabool Shire Council - Ballan Office

This post focuses on the Central Moorabool Ward. The next post will cover the new and incumbent candidates in the East Moorabool Ward.

In Central Moorabool, Brian Meadows, a retired systems engineer, says he intends to run on a “back to basics and first things first” platform, which he interprets as safe roads and pavements, “keeping rates as low as they can be” and encouraging small business.
He doesn’t yet have a position on Ballan’s social housing problems or on the preferred direction for the rapid increase in residential development in Ballan. Nor, when interviewed, did he talk about the more remote parts of the Ward or the Shire as a broader entity. It will be interesting to hear more about his position on these issues as his platform develops.

One of Many New Buildings on New Housing Estates - Hogans Road Ballan

Meadows believes that money shouldn’t be wasted and nominated the chessboard paving outside the Ballan Mechanics’ Institute as an example of waste. He looks to business and other private patrons to support the arts.

 Mechanics' Institute Before the Streetworks
 Mechanics' Institute After the Streetworks 
"Moorabool Earth Totem" by Peter Blizzard
(chessboard paving between the sculpture in the foreground and benches behind)

Mr Meadows was not familiar with the specifics of Council’s existing policies and policy gaps, but said that he would be listening to the community to generate ideas and would be “available and accessible”. If elected, he plans to hold regular meetings where community members will be encouraged to come and chat.

Central Moorabool’s incumbent councillor, Philip Flack, says he is yet to decide whether he will stand for re-election.

Modern Local Government

Calls for a return to a focus on roads, pavements and rates are relatively common during local government elections, but they would seem to be at odds with the work of leading a contemporary shire or municipality.

Councils have a legislative mandate that obliges them to be concerned with society alongside their concern with dollar value and the provision of physical infrastructure for pedestrians and drivers.

The Act also requires Councils to undertaken social planning, provide a range of services, express community identity and they must have regard to social sustainability, quality of life issues, and equity in access to services.

Moorabool Shire Council operates within a Council Plan under the Local Government Act. The Plan places roads and footpaths and a reduction in reliance upon rates alongside other items. These other items include:
  • financial planning
  • advocating for better services and facilities
  • water access
  • children’s and family services
  • community facilities
  • telecommunications
  • community empowerment
  • governance
  • support for community projects
  • an early years development hub for Wallace
  • emergency management
  • local prosperity
  • local town planning
  • managing water and energy consumption, and
  • improving service delivery.

Moorabool Shire runs a budget of just under fifty million dollars and operates in a contemporary social and political environment. All of the 7 elected councillors need to be capable of addressing this broad mandate as intelligent, responsible but deeply open-minded decision makers. They represent a diverse urban and rural community and do so in a context where the majority of residents are young families – and young families have high service needs.

Room for More

There are no young people in our current councillor line-up and though the ages of our councillors are unknown, most are clearly over 50. There are no state-wide, age related statistics on local council members, but the relationship between the high workload borne by councillors and the relatively small financial reward means that standing for office is very difficult for anyone other than retirees.

We have no women in our current councillor line-up, although Moorabool has had some wonderful female councillors in the past. The same factors, high workload and low pay, deter women. The acrimony councillors often face from constituents is another major factor in women’s reluctance to run. It’s no surprise that at the State level, women make up less than 30% of Victorian councillors.

As the electoral office doesn’t open for candidate nominations until 20 September there is still plenty of time for new candidates to emerge. In the context of the candidatures of Margaret Wohlers-Scarff and Tonia Dudzik, the climate is building for diversity.

It would be wonderful to see some new candidates standing in the West Moorabool and Woodlands wards and more new candidates in Central Moorabool.

Key Dates

Campaign period - from now until voting closes
Nomination period - 20 September – noon 25 September
Ballot paper mail out - 9-11 October
Voting closes - 6pm 26 October


  1. Thank for this, Tor - very thought provoking; it is so easy to see why people don't take these roles on.

  2. Brian Meadows' view about the cheese board out front of the Mechanics' Hall is a worry. It is not a waste of money. It was part of an overall streetscape plan adopted by a previous council then hijacked by a few that did not, to my knowledge, engage in the initial community consultation about this project, that was widely participated in by the community.

    Further, it was championed by what many in Bungal Ward consider to the the last councilor in recent memory that actually engaged with, and represented the true view of the community at large and not her own interests.

    I urge all would-be candidates to bring themselves up to speed on the history of the ward they plan to nominate for, and more broadly the Moorabool Shire Council's. There has been, in my view, some very questionable decisions made by Council in the past. Particularly in relation to planning and development. For too long some councilors have at least projected the perception they were more interested in 'development at any cost', and overtly and demonstrably ignoring the views of constituents, and instead applying their own views and opinions when voting in the Chamber.

    Blind Monkey

  3. Fantastic site Tor and an excellent summary of the issues and benefits of representation. It is not always easy being on Council but the satisfaction of achieving community inspired projects is well, well worth it.

  4. Bring on the women and young people to represent us. Calling all supporters of arts, culture and social justice principles. We need you! (Imagine that Uncle Sam image with the finger pointing)

    Thanks Tor for this enlightened conversation.

  5. @Sally. Social justice and cultural issues are vital for communities. So are economic matters, for without good fiscal management the social and cultural stuff doesn't happen.

    I'm interested in getting a genuine local candidate elected in Bungal Ward. One that resides in, and has a vision for the Ward, rather than lots of family history, that whilst quaint, says nothing about the candidates (or sitting Councilor's) vision for the future.

    Ballan, Gordon, Mount Egerton, et al, doesn't need medium or high density development. If one wants to live in 'leggo land' one can move to any number of suburbs in the Greater Melbourne area. All the MSC is allowing at this time is replication of Melbourne and environs style medium density development due to Councilor's unwillingness to fund the development of planning overlays and schedules to the Moorabool Planning Scheme that would give planners the ability to reject development applications for inappropriate development, inconsistent neighborhood character.

    At this time we have a Councilor who by his own admission is pro development. Attempts in recent times to have him take up objections to to local developments has fallen on deaf ears, with the result he represents his own views in the Chamber, to the total exclusion of his constituents.

    I'm less than certain Mr Meadows will be much better given his past involvement in the community.

    Blind Monkey

  6. Hi Tor, good summary and I can only encourage residents to consider nominating for Council but go in with eyes wide open. You have summarized the challenges but the rewards of working with and for your local community cannot be understated. Happy to help aspirants understand the workloads. BTW 2 of us are currently under 50, maybe Council ages us! Michael Tudball (Cr.)

  7. This comment isn't anonymous. It's from Brian Meadows but I'm posting it for him and "anonymous" is the only posting menu item I could use that doesn't involve posting as myself (Tor Roxburgh)

    From Brian Meadows
    Alas I am concerned that your blog greatly understates my business record that qualifies me for Council. Please publish this.
    I created many complex and advanced systems for major clients over many years, integrating computers with manual systems at the leading edge of the technology. Among these was software for the Ford Motor Company that, uniquely, was developed in Australia and transplanted to overseas affiliates. I held the contract executive positions of Chief Systems Manager with VLine to modernise their systems and their change strategies, with Victoria Police to rescue a very large, very costly and complex project that had stalled and with the South Australian Police modernise and establish a working systems, computing and communications division. These involved managing financial budgets, some greater than the Moorabool Council’s, and as many professional staff and suppliers in very complex work. I oversaw development and management of major computer and communications networks each driven by performance measurement standards a long time before councils even thought about them. As a consultant, I developed Strategic Plans for these organisations and for various government and private organisations including China Light and Power in Hong Kong. As a consultant I worked with the Commonwealth Bank improving their organisation and global networking management, and prepared specifications for and evaluated proposals for a $1 billion outsource contract. With one of the Big Four US consultancies, among other things, I spent time in Portugal evaluating a $3 billion outsource services contract and developing changes for their inter-company organisational arrangements. With this background, helping develop the Council’s budget and overseeing service delivery performance is relatively straightforward.
    As Sponsorship Coordinator for the 2012 Autumn Festival I raised from local business several thousand dollars that guaranteed we could import signature events such as the popular woodchop (an idea gained from listening to sponsors). The Festival was attended by record numbers and the Art & Craft show made record takings. Not only that, but post-Festival visits to the sponsors obtained forward commitments of enough donations to ensure even more money for next year. It will enable the Committee to implement its vision for the Festival as a Country-style Festival; many of the ideas came from listening to sponsors. I have established a repeatable fundraising method that should guarantee future funds. So this is the practical approach to business funding arts, not directly, but by creating the environment in which the Arts can succeed while also returning a profit to businesses open on the day and income for community groups. It is very much in line with my philosophy that Councils should try to create the environment in which people can succeed.
    I also arranged for greater political representation at the Festival with the result that State Government MPs are more aware of and sympathetic to Ballan; it is already paying off.
    Listening is the key ingredient to success and, according to the electors, its present absence is a major problem. The public have more good ideas and knowledge about problems than is usually credited.
    In the end, the people in Moorabool deserve representatives who can ensure their legitimate needs are met and deliver value for money. With my demonstrated creativity and service delivery management expertise in large enterprises, I have all the necessary skills, adaptability and the time to do the job better than most.

  8. Interesting post, very educational.

  9. @Brian. I accept on face value your corporate credentials and while these are useful as an elected representative at any level of government, there are other qualities required. Your comments around the chess board (above) is but one indicator that you may struggle to be the well rounded representative the people are plainly looking for as the great many feel our current 'representative' (I use this term loosely) is anything but well rounded, or engaged with his Ward.

    What is your vision for Bungal Ward, and the Shire more broadly, in relation to development?

  10. Moorabool News Vol 6 #31 of 14 August 2012 p.15 Letters to the Editor.

    Congratulations Maureen Duggan on your timely letter re our absentee councilor not supporting Ballan locals over the so called Ballan Gateway subdivision. Phil Flack has yet again demonstrated his self-declared pro development stance. He was elected to represent Bungal Ward, not his own self interests or views. We got exactly the same (lack of) support from Flack over the nine block subdivision bordered by Steiglitz, Jopling and Edols street. He wouldn't even met with us, instead suggesting we "contact the Bacchus Marsh councilors because I am pro development."

    There is no need to have medium density development in most parts of Ballan. If would-be residents want to live a Caroline Springs life style, they need only purchase a property down there. But don't try and turn Ballan into an outer suburb of Melbourne.

    Bungal Ward needs a community minded councilor able to think strategically, and who's not going to vote in the affirmative for every two-bit subdivision some money hungry developer wants to establish to make a buck, completely mindless of neighborhood character or community needs and vision.

    Flack has been a huge disappointing. As one of his constituents I feel duped and unrepresented.

  11. Can I correct/clarify a point raised in Tor's piece..?
    Council has NEVER paid for childcare for councillors... just ask Di McAuliffe. You ARE entitiled to it, but arranging a carer is problem number one ... the second problem is that parents standing for council are warned NOT to start claiming childcare costs, as they will be seen to be costing the ratepayers more.
    Laws are one thing, but the reality is different. I wish this was not the case... but this is why we end up with Councils full of old men with no understanding of the issues facing young families. It's yet another form of discrimination against women and children.

  12. Sorry whoever you are, but your post is just wrong. Child care for all Councillors is available and supported by this Council, and whatever happened in the past is unfortunate, but it does not occur now. It is guaranteed under the Local Government Act, so if you have other information, then let me know and I will investigate.

    And I have always encouraged younger people and women to stand, but they do not and this is not our fault.

    All our Councillors have children and many of us have grandchildren and we understand the needs of families, and still support our families. Name the areas of the Shires service that you think need attention, and I am sure that most are the domain of the State and Federal Government or who do not provide us with the funds needed to extend Pre-Schools or build Youth Centres. Sure we can cut other services to pay for this, so how about you name the services we can cut.

    Happy to talk to you privately about this.

    Pat Griffin