Thursday, June 28, 2007

Green Beware

Family First now an Alliance with the Liberals

Just what are the Greens up to in the State Parliament?

Have the Greens been hijacked by a extreme elements of the left? There has been a power shift in the greens and a lot of question need to be asked about who is exactly running the show.

The first sign of a take-over was when the Greens dumped David Risstrom., former Melbourne City Councillor and first Green to hold public office from the number one Senate spot. The Greens gave the no 1 spot to a "family first" member ... Brother in law ...

Now there is growing concern that the Greens are in bed with the liberal party and have formed an unhealthy alliance. If its Green beware ... there is much more to the Greens then the marketing label.. check out this site

Monday, June 11, 2007

Rob honoured by the Crown

A Right Royal Stuff Up

The theft and destruction of Melbourne's Crown Jewel at the hands of Rob Adams

If ever there was a excuse (As if we need anther excuse) for Australia to become a Republic it is the news that Melbourne City Council extravagant "Design Me a Job" Rob Adams is included in the Queens Birthday Honours list.

The Age's Clay Lucas reports that Rob Adams has "Turned the City Around".

Cow tailing Rob

In 1996 Rob Adams sat back and watched the City decline and go through one of its major planning mistakes in its limited history. Rather then fight for his beliefs Rob Adams soon cow towed to the destructive wishes of the Kennett Government and Mark Birrell in particular when the then state Government decided to hand over prime river frontage to Crown Casino that now dominates much of Melbourne's cultural precinct.

Along with the Casino land grab Melbourne's Museum was shifted from "Center Stage" to the Carlton Gardens. Instead of the Museum making a positive contribution to the City of Melbourne it has become a burden to the City and continues to compromise Melbourne's World World Heritage Site. Both the Museum and the Royal Exhibition Buildings have languished and suffered ever since thanks in part to Rob Adams who was very much at the forefront of this major planning disaster.

Planners, politicians and Architects at the time all criticised the relocation of the museum stating that the Museum need to be part of Melbourne Arts precinct and that the relation to the Carlton Gardens would be a mistake. Rob Adams at the time also agreed and argued that the museum should be incorporated into an expanded Federation Square Development.

As soon as push came to shove - Rob Adams, threatened with exclusion from involvement in major projects, soon capitulated to the demands of the State Government and in the process compromised his own professional standing . Rob Adams and the then City Council under the leadership of Lord Mayor, Ivan Deveson and Deputy Lord Mayor, Peter McMullin, refused to even call on the State Government to subject the Museum development to a proper planning review.

The Museum and the Federation Square project suffered as a result of Adams and the Council's capitulation. The outcome for Melbourne could have and should have been better for Melbourne. An Opportunity lost forever.

You either believe in a proper planning process or you don't.

The Federation Square Project, in which Rob Adams played a major role, went though a shame a planning review. A classic case of pulling the cart before the horse with the review being held after the project design was decided. Once again compromising Rob Adams professional reputation.

The Queens Birthday honours could single Rob Adams departure as the City undergoes major restructure and reorganisation.

Whilst Adams has done some good work, and Melbourne paid top dollar for the work and designs he oversaw, he will always be remembered for the day he bent over and sold out the City of Melbourne in the process.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Popularity versus Good Governance

So comes under detail scrutiny and review

Is the State Government up to the challenge?

The Age Kenneth Davidson takes a look at the underlying problems and legacy of the Kennet Government's Local Government Reform and the urgent need for the State Government to take the necessary step of intitiating further reform and not just ride the wave.

Davidson take a inner look at the City of Melbourne but teh real soultion lies outside its current boundaries and the need to serious consider a Greater Melbourne in association with electoral reform that restors good governance, accountability and representation.

The sooner the State Government initiates a public review the sooner we can begin to address the issues that confront our city.

Council pathways need urgent repair
Kenneth Davidson The Age June 4, 2007

THE report by Ernst & Young on the operations of the Melbourne City Council is a blistering attack on the administration of the MCC under Lord Mayor John So.

Finances are out of control. According to the report, the council has had negative cash flow of $67 million in the past two years and the cumulative draw on capital over the next 10 years is estimated at $109 million.

The report states there are three key issues that contributed to the problems the council now faces: "Administration and council decision-making processes are often inconsistent, incomplete and based on poor data, the administration has an increasingly top heavy, disaggregated organisation structure, and management of staff performance is ineffective."

Incredibly, So is refusing to take responsibility even though he played an active part behind the scenes in most of these decisions. He claims wrongly the administration of the council is the responsibility of the chief executive, David Pitchford.

Even greater responsibility lies with the State Government, which inherited an electoral gerrymander created under the Kennett government that Premier Steve Bracks has refused to reform because it wants to have both control and distance when the council becomes the victim of its own in-built incompetence.

It is the same governance principle that applies to the franchise model governing urban public transport. The Government wants to earn the gratitude of the big end of town, which wants to make money from building toll roads financed by public-private partnerships. It wants the foreign multinationals that stand behind Connex and Yarra Trams to take the heat for running an inadequate public transport system. The franchisees run the system to maximise their profit from the subsidy, which is now about twice the subsidy that applied just before the MET was taken out of public control, without an improvement in service that could justify the extra cost to the taxpayer. The Government believes it is a price worth paying in order to confuse the issue of who is responsible for the system.

As Transport Minister Lynne Kosky said recently in response to the question, why shouldn't the Government exercise its right to rescind the franchise without penalty in November, the Government didn't want to be responsible for running a transport system. Like So at the local government level, Kosky at the state level uses the same excuse of managerial issues outside her control to duck ministerial responsibility.

The Kennett legacy is still with us. The politicians run a double act. They are dictatorial when it suits them to be seen as decisive, and have the ability to deny accountability when it suits them to put distance between themselves and unpopular decisions.

As the Ernst & Young report points out, the wasteful expenditure, very often with no higher purpose than to increase the standing of So, has occurred because So's control of council numbers means that projects involving additional spending outside the budget global limits, which should be referred to full council, are stitched up by council committees.

"Decisions are routinely made by council committees on recommendations that require new funding," the report said. "This is exacerbated by the practice of not providing full costing details … (this) sets up conflict in the budgeting process as the total cost of approved initiatives exceeds the council approved budget."

The most egregious example of the impact of this approach was So decision to provide $47.5 million to the development of the Convention Centre on South bank on the suggestion of the Treasurer, John Brumby, without referring the proposal to full council until he had stitched up the numbers outside the committee and council process.

So was told by Brumby the project would not go ahead unless the council made the $47.5 million contribution, even before concept plans were drawn up and tenders called for the development, according to Kevin Chamberlin, who was chairman of the finance committee at the time and not a supporter of the proposal.

The Bracks Government may be characterised as Kennett Lite. It's public face is warm, friendly and caring but it is largely responsible to the same interests that stood more openly behind the Kennett government. Like the Kennett government, the Bracks Government hides behind a managerialism that tries to put as much distance between the Government and ordinary voters as possible.

The Bracks Government inherited gerrymandered boundaries and an undemocratic "deeming" provision for voting in MCC elections. The only reforms the Bracks Government introduced were to abolish the ward system and the introduction of direct voting for mayor separate from the election of councillors.

The Government left in place the gerrymandered boundaries introduced by Kennett, which split off parts of North Melbourne, half of Kensington and all of North Carlton.

The deeming provisions means that council officers are legally required to look up directors and owners of commercial property only, and where they are not already on the electoral roll they can be "deemed" to be on the role. Electoral material and ballots will be sent to them and they are entitled to vote, even if they live in China or Hong Kong or elsewhere and have never visited Melbourne or known anything about the candidates standing. The system is wide open to rorting. And yet it hasn't been referred to the Victorian Electoral Commission, which is undertaking a review of local government structures and voting. Why?

Melbourne could get a better set of representatives if the pre-Kennett boundaries were restored and direct mayoral election was abolished, according to Green councillor Fraser Brindley. The present system, which gives more votes to commercial property owners than residents, suits the Government because it favours tame-cat business representatives who share the Government's "development" objectives such as channel deepening, the East-West tunnel linking Hoddle Street and the Tullamarine Freeway, the Convention Centre and special events such as the Grand Prix and the Commonwealth Games.

Population is coming back to inner Melbourne. The gerrymander should be reversed so that the council is elected by a majority of residents rather than absentee property owners. MCC electoral reform and public ownership of the urban transport system are the necessary preconditions to seriously tackling Melbourne's livability issues.

Being Ernst and Young

Melbourne City Council's $300,000 Efficiency Report

Melbourne City Council has published, following public outcry and ongoing speculation, has decided to publish secret $300,000 Ernst and Young - Efficiency Report.

The report confirms what everyone has known but the City Council refused to acknowledge. It cost the City Council over $300,000. This report, well worth the read if not the cost, will become a road map by which ratepayers and the State Government will review the performance of the Council and to senior management.

To date the report card is not looking good. We have seen a continued reduction in the working capital of the City Council and a ever expanding costs and wasted expenditure.

Can John So turn the sinking ship around before it goes bottom up?

John So has tried to place the blame on the CEO claiming that the CEO is responsible for staff management and Council finances. It was only two months ago that John So and the City Council resolved to extend David Pitchford's employment contract (be it for a reduced two year tenure). If the Ceo performance and financial management has been so bad that John So now finds it necessary to cast blame on David Pickfords performance then why was his contract renewed and why didn't the City Council put to open public tender the Ceo position?

The Fact remains that John So must share responsibility for the financial blowout. Under John So's term of Office Melbourne has seen a massive increase in staffing and expenditure. increased income from expanding property values and rate revenue have underpinned the Council's exuberance and excess. Now reality hits. If the Council fails to act and reduce costs the City Council will be bankrupt in ten years time. Increases in property values and expansion of City development will not save the council from it's financial fate. Hard decisions need to be made. Decisions that are made worst by John So's negligence and high expenditure.

The State Government must also act to address the situation. It is not just the City of Melbourne that is under financial pressure other city Councils also are feeling the burden of keeping rate increases to a minimum whilst delivering essential services. Many Councils can not afford the luxuries that the City of Melbourne forks out. Councillors and Staff are treated to numerous benefits, free meals, free booze and 5 star overseas "Fact Finding Excursions" the lord Mayor and Deputy Lord Mayors have an all expenses paid limousines and a full time drive costing $100,000 a year at the Lord Mayor's disposal. (the costs of which is not disclosed in the Council's published expense statements).

The State Government needs to fulfill its promise to the electorate in the lead up to the 2006 State Election. Melbourne City Councils external boundaries need to be reviewed along with its representative model.

Greater Melbourne - Long term efficiency gain

Councilor Peter Clark highlighted the issue when he called for public debate on the creation of a Greater Melbourne and efficiency gains in planning and finance that would benefit Victoria and Melbourne Inner City development.

Cr Clark's motion was scuttled by John So, who refused to allow debate and consideration of a Greater Melbourne and review of the City Council's representative model.

The State Government must reject John So head in the sand approach and initiate a review and encourage debate about the possible merger of inner city municipalities as a way of generating greater efficiency and service delivery to Melbourne.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

John So Passes the Buck

$300,000 Efficiency Report Sees Light of Day highlighting So's spend fest

Melbourne City Council's Efficiency Report, that was the subject of an investigation into Confidentiality breaches under Victoria's Local Government Act has finally been made public, having done the rounds and been widely circulated around Town Hall and leaked to the media.`

The report highlights what most had already known. The City Council is in financial trouble, John So has over spent and the bureaucracy was out of control with Senior Staff redesigning their job to suit their life style and putting on additional staff to deal with the issues that Senior Staff found not to their liking.

In an extraordinary pass the buck John So tried to place the blame and responsibility onto the administration and the CEO, David Pitchford. Whist the CEOI must be held accountable for the financial and governance of the Council Council, and the Lord Mayor, John So, must also be held accountable. It is the role of the City Council to monitor the activities of the administration and set the financial parameters and project priorities.

The role of Lord Mayor is not just to be the cute cuddly icon of popularity. The Lord Mayor is paid over $110,000 per year plus additional benefits (Free food, drinks, a limousine and driver and a host of staff at his disposal- Estimated to be worth over $500,000 per year)

And the buck does not stop there. Other Senior Staff and Councillors are also accountable for the governance of our city.

Melbourne Green's Councillor, Fraser Brindley has tried to distance himself from the fall out that has been exposed by in the Council's $300,000 efficiency report by stating that

"Some of the really big substantial issues have been long known by a lot of councillors and we tried to do something about it but we have been blocked"

what Greens Councillor Brindley fails to mention is that he was part of the problem. Decision and documents that should have been made public have been considered behind closed doors, official meetings of the Council that do not comply with the provisions of the Victorian Local Government Act. Meeting that are illegal. In fact Councillor Brindley was one of the first to recommend that reports on Council financial expenditure be referred to these illegal meeting. meeting that still continue to be held today and are not challenged by Cr Brindley.

Costs associated with John So and his Gary Singer (Deputy Lord Mayor) are not disclosed on the Council expenses Quarterly Statements undervaluing the level of expenses claimed by the Lord Mayor and his Deputy. Costs associated with internal Catering and other costs continue to avoid public scrutiny.

The Local Government Act requites that all meetings of Council be open to the public and that only under certain circumstances can meetings be closed to the public. the need to maintain open and transparency is fundamental to good governance. Every time the Council refers document's to the closed illegal meetings of Council the public are denied access to information.

the Other issue that has not been addressed by the City Council, who are looking for ways to avoid accountability, is the role of the Council's internal Audit Committee. the report has highlighted many serious deficiencies in the Councils administration and the question must be asked why were some of these issues not highlighted by the Councils Audit Committee. The Audit Committee also meets in secret behind closed doors and its monthly reports are not made public.

The other checks and balance in the system is the role of the State Government and office of the State Auditor General and the State Ombudsman. whilst the Office of the Ombudsman has managed to highlight serious issues of corruption the Ombudsman's and the State Department of Local Government have not yet reviewed issues of Council governance and in particular culture of secrecy and avoidance, illegal meetings, decision made under delegation. A breading ground for corruption and and inefficiencies.

The buck stops here, here or here?
Peter Weekes The Sunday Age June 3, 2007

IT [Melbourne City Council] DOESN'T know how many highly paid staff it employs, it approves major projects without knowing the full cost while giving others the go-ahead with no funding, and the duplication between its departments has created "friction".

If it was a publicly listed company, shareholders would be demanding blood. But it's not. It is Melbourne City Council and these are just some of the findings of an independent review of the operational efficiency of Town Hall since John So was elected mayor in 2001 and forced through the appointment of his nominee for chief executive David Pitchford.

The report by Ernst & Young, which was commissioned by Mr Pitchford and the council, follows a series of internal reviews that one councillor said "merely papered over the problems".

"Some of the really big substantial issues have been long known by a lot of councillors and we tried to do something about it but we have been blocked," said Greens councillor Fraser Brindley.

The council is one of the largest in the country, with cash reserves of $117 million and total assets of $2.2 billion. But following the damning report and council's admission that this year's proposed operating budget is about $4 million in the red (despite the report finding annual savings of at least $11.4 million could be made) many are asking where the buck stops.

Some councillors, such as Catherine Ng, who was elected on the mayor's Living Melbourne ticket, argue that the fault lies with the administration led by Mr Pitchford. Others, including Cr Brindley, blame both Mr Pitchford and the Lord Mayor.

The report found that under the council's three differing reporting systems, the number of people earning more than $100,000 varies dramatically; that the council is often provided with insufficient financial information on projects; that financial forecasting is "unsophisticated and inconsistent" with council objectives; and that some departments have their own infrastructure plans with no reference to council-wide objectives.

The Mayor left it to Mr Pitchford to release the report but when asked later if the buck stopped with him, Cr So said: "The chief executive is responsible for the administration of the organisation. He is responsible for staffing and operations."

Professor Ian Ramsay, a corporate governance expert at the University of Melbourne, believes it is reasonable to draw parallels between how a business operates and how a democratically elected council serves its ratepayers.

While he hasn't followed the problems besetting Melbourne City Council, Professor Ramsay said: "Over many years, many public sector organisations have looked to the private sector to see what governance principles and policies may be appropriate to adopt."

Asked whether the buck stopped with the council or its chief executive, he said it depended on the issue. However, "in corporations law, the board is responsible for overall management of the organisation and a key responsibility is to appoint the chief executive, so generally ultimate responsibility would rest with the board".

The council was brought under corporations law by the previous Kennett government. It specifies that the council does not have the power to hire or fire, apart from the chief executive. Councillors say that this has meant they have had no control over soaring staff numbers, which the report found accounted for 97 per cent of the increase in total spending since 2002, despite "no corresponding significant improvement in services".

"I have tried my very best," said Cr Ng, "but if you don't have all the ammunition, you can't do anything. That's why we had to call for the independent report because we can't get the real data if the organisation is not providing that. Every time you ask for something they say it is fine but you can't get access to the books to check it."

One of the largest increases was in the marketing department, where the effective full-time staff has jumped 57 per cent since 2003 and now accounts for 11.75 per cent of the budget and continues to provide "the same functions".

"It's fat," said Cr Brindley. "If John (So) wasn't so vested in his approach we would have addressed this long ago. His cult of personality correlates perfectly with that trend in (marketing) growth."

He said Cr SOS chauffeur was one of those who was paid more than $100,000 once overtime was included, which was more than the base salary.

On the revenue side, the council is bound by the promise made by John So dominant Living Melbourne team not to raise rates during the current term, and is heavily reliant on parking metres.

However, only an estimated 10 per cent of infringements are detected, and a third are provisioned as doubtful debt. It has been a problem for about 15 years. To make matters worse, the council's computer system does not meet the requirements of its recently implemented Infringement Act.

The report also found that while Events Melbourne played an important role in positioning the city to attract tourism, "it was not yet fully effective", covering only about 10 per cent of events.

Welcoming the Ernst & Young report, Mr Brindley said: "Up until this point, the only scrutiny that we have had at Town Hall is the colour of the ice cream John So is licking with Megan Gale.

"Ernst & Young isn't saying abandon ship. These are problems that can be fixed and most councillors accept most of the findings."

The chairman of the Town Hall's finance committee, Brian Shanahan, said the council should adopt some of the report's recommendations immediately to negate at least part of this year's projected budget shortfall.

To council's cost...
■The Ernst & Young report says that unless dramatic changes are made, the council's cash reserves will be gone within a decade.

■Last week the council announced it would retrench 26 staff, with another 100 to go by year's end, saving $6 million.

■If parking infringement rates were lifted by 1 per cent, the council would earn an extra $2.6 million annually.

■Decisions made without full understanding of the costs include City Baths (under-costed by $974,660) and child care ($1.03 million).

■Funding allocation is robust for arts and culture, but subjective and inconsistent for Events Melbourne and Business Melbourne.

■The council charges lower fees for kerbside trading than any other capital city except Adelaide.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Cock's Tender Up as Cull begins

John So under pressure to make ends meet

Melbourne City Council begins to implement some of the recommendation contained in the $300,000 efficiency report as the Council begins to prune the bush and cut back on John So uncontrolled expenditure.

If anything John So has demonstrated that he has no idea of strategic investment. Wasted investments such as the Tourist Bus and lighting the Tan are just two examples of how out of touch with reality John So is from the day to day management of the Council.

John So last week faced a no-confidence motion amidst claims that he was a hands-off, removed from the coal-face, Lord Mayor.

This is one of the main problems identified with the populist direct election models. If Melbourne was sincere about good governance then it would scrape the hybrid direct election model, expand the city boundaries and the size of the elected City Council. The Lord Mayor, or at least the chairman of the Council, should be apointed from and by the elected Councillors.

There still is a long way to go and more cut backs can be expected. Still unknown is the extent of redundancy and breach of contract payouts the Council has to fork out. Again pointing to further stuff-ups and blow-outs in the City Council's Finance.

Finance Committee Chairperson Brian Shanahan has been the one that has had to take the flack and the task of doing all the hard work. Last week Shanahan voted no-confidence in John So as the Council's leader. Shanahan also voted against the Council's budget. Shanahan now needs to consider whether he will continue to prop up John So and remain his silent puppet or resign from being Chairman of the Council's the Finance Committee.

Senior executives to go in council cull
Clay Lucas, The Age May 30, 2007

Melbourne City Council could cut up to 100 staff in a second round of redundancies, a report reveals.

The council is expected to save $1.5 million by sacking 26 people, including several senior executives, in the first round of redundancies, announced earlier today.

It would save a further $5.7 million in redundancies in the second round, the report says.

In the first round of redundancies, the Council will sack several senior executives, including its controversial spin doctor.

The council is set to reveal 26 redundancies as part of its biggest shake-up in 14 years, understands, with up to 100 more to go in the coming months.

Two directors, 10 executives and 14 staff are among those expected to be made redundant today.

Corporate affairs director Hayden Cock, whose package is worth $220,000, is believed to be among those to be made redundant.

Chief executive David Pitchford notified each of the 26 staff this morning.

The move follows the completion last month of a $300,000 report by consultants Ernst & Young on how the council could cut costs.

The report found a massive blowout in labour costs at the council, huge problems with its parking officers, a blowout in executives at the council on more than $100,000, and an explosion of spending on marketing.

Lord Mayor John So, who did not return calls, will come under immense pressure now the confidential report is public.

The report's highly critical findings have found many problems at the council have emerged since 2002 - the year after Councillor So became Lord Mayor.

Other related coverage Links from the Age
Mayor survives attacks, but loses Dalai Lama fight
Big-spending mayor goes for broke
Rare revolt on budget as So confirms job cuts ahead
Budget blow-out a 'turn on' for media man So