I write regarding Michael McKenzie’s letter to the editor, Bendigo Weekly, December 22, “Residents have little say”.
When it comes to governance, strategy, setting and developing the budget, and decision making at council meetings, councillors continue to call the shots. This is what is expected of any council under the Local Government Act.
The Act, which is currently under review, clearly sets out the role of councillors and staff and this is the same for all 79 municipalities across Victoria.
The chief executive officer is responsible for staffing.
The only staff member the council is responsible for is the CEO.
The CEO oversees the operations of the business and ensures staff deliver on the decisions of council.
Council cannot overreach into these responsibilities, as this would be a breach of the Act.
Additional staff resources help to deliver council services. The changing needs of the community must be responded to and roles are developed to reflect this.
In the past 10 years, our population has grown by 19 per cent, from approximately 96,100 in 2007 (ABS data) to approximately 114,200 in 2017 (ID Consulting forecast). The average annual rate increase during this time was 5.08 per cent, of which all rate rises are a decision of council, not staff.
Council remains committed to core service delivery and genuine community engagement. Resident input is welcome and council continues to meet with residents, whatever their special interests may be.
However, it is not possible for council to act on every suggestion offered to it.
Cr Margaret O’Rourke,
Mayor, City of Greater Bendigo
As 2018 is upon us, it occurs to me that 2017 has left behind it a number of lessons to ponder.
Whether any of these lessons are learned remains to be seen, of course, but optimism must prevail. So here, in no particular order, are some of the lessons which I see as a legacy of 2017.
Freedom of speech does not equal freedom to vilify others on the basis of their ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation.
Freedom of religion does not equal freedom to criticise or attack others on the basis of their system of beliefs.
Freedom of association does not equal freedom to victimise or prey on others who are less powerful or less influential.
Freedom of speech is about speaking out in favour of diversity and inclusion, and against activities which prevent others from reaching their full potential.
Freedom of religion is about acknowledging the rights of others to believe and worship as they see fit, and giving shelter to those who are persecuted for their beliefs.
Freedom of association is about affirming others through support and friendship, and offering protection against bullying and intimidation.
Happy New Year.
Council’s latest lavish publication, “Creating the world’s most liveable community” (a project wish-list for state and federal government) highlights the charade of community involvement, and makes a mockery of the Citizens’ Jury and due process.
In my opinion the publication is a grab-bag of un-prioritised projects with little regard for rate impact.
One would expect all the wish-list projects to be in council’s four-year Community Plan, or its 30-year Plan Greater Bendigo.
These two plans contain our community’s “priority projects” endorsed by councillors. But the wish-list publication contains projects that do not appear in either.
Here is a sample: Bendigo Health towers removal, gas works and convention centre, city baths, city centre revitalisation, Bendigo Airport terminal (with no guarantee of viable passenger or freight flights), another new library, a high end city hotel, duplication of rail track (which the Brumby government had demolished), Golden Dragon Museum expansion, Lords Raceway.
Tens of millions of dollars of the bottomless pit of ratepayers funds are tied up in the extravaganza.
Council appears to have developed a gung-ho cargo-cult mentality. It wants to play in the big league. Many projects are simply not council’s responsibility. It certainly is haphazard planning.
The question is, when will the community be asked to consider these new projects, and why didn’t councillors debate the state government wish list in open council?
The least that could be done is to prioritise the projects so that the community can see where its priorities now fit within the council’s priorities wish list and what will be sacrificed so the projects can be afforded.
Key to redemption
Over the Christmas period many residents in Bendigo and surrounding areas have excelled in decorating their homes and gardens with twinkling lights and tinsel, cartoon characters, and of course Santa with his reindeer.
One can’t help but acknowledge the effort and expense involved in setting up their displays.
But among all the glitter and the excessive power bills, its hard to find any display depicting the core reason to remember and celebrate Christmas, the birth of a babe (Jesus) in Bethlehem 2000 years ago.
But all is not lost. For many years, the balcony of the Eaglehawk Town Hall has had on display at Christmas time, as a visual reminder, a nativity scene depicting the characters who were part of that historical event.
Initially the task of erecting the display was in the hands of the former Mayoress of Eaglehawk, Muriel Roy and friends, and at a later date members of the Eaglehawk Rotary Club took over that responsibility and have faithfully carried out the task to this day.
They are to be truly commended for their diligence. In our ever increasingly fractured secular society, we can never be reminded too often, that the babe in the manger who became the Christ on the cross is the key to the world’s moral and spiritual redemption.
Eaglehawk Presbyterian Church Elders, Eaglehawk
Common touch lacking
Michael McKenzie’s letter, Bendigo Weekly, December 22 “Residents have little say” hits the nail on the head.
He observed council distances itself from core services, overlooks ordinary residents and follows trends of power groups at great cost. Tellingly, he noted services for everyday people had changed little.
A community is a society and not an economy, yet our city councillors are behaving like they are in an optimists garden, believing that growth and more growth now and for ever, is not only desirable but also normal, perpetual and expected, no matter what problems it creates.
Problems with housing congestion, traffic, destruction of neighbourhood character and the environment. The question is growth for what and for who? Growth in principal seems to be for profit and for power, not to serve the larger interest of the local community.
The question is do we need all this growth without protection, and who makes those final decisions on where the stimulus is spent to achieve growth – it appears not councillors.
The claims that growth will lift us out of poverty and unemployment is a lie, like the lie of trickle-down economics.
Robert Menzies once stated: A glib dishonesty of mind which argues to a predetermined conclusion, determined in the light of passion or prejudice, or selfishness, has always seemed to me the most contemptible vice.
Councillors are not representatives of the ratepayers anymore, and seem to only act at the behest of senior officers and state politicians. For people like Michael and others to question this is seen as counterculture.
Councillors now act like apparatchiks or potentates endowed with power lacking the common touch.
My hope is that the recently formed Bendigo ratepayers association can form a strong body.
That the association will not become apparatchiks to lobby organisations and power in the community, but rather look after the ratepayers’ interests first and last.