Wednesday, September 26, 2007

So's vote is in the post

John So's day of Shame

John So has used his numbers to force the City of Melbourne into holding it's election next year by postal vote.

The 2004 postal vote Election cost the City of Melbourne in excess of 1.2 Million dollars and critics of John So's proposal question the integrity of the postal voting system with allegation that the system is wide open to abuse and fraud.

Under the current provisions of the Local Government Act the City Council must determine if the election is be to held by postal or attendance voting.

The Local Government Act should be changed to allow for a combination of attendance and postal voting with Postal votes automatic being issued to those who do not resident within the city and the option of attendance voting available to inner city residents.

John So sat in the council chamber stoned faced and refused to outline on what basis he decided to overturn the committee recommendation amidst calls of Shame Shame Shame from the public gallery.

Mayor votes to go postal despite critics
The Age September 26, 2007

A backlash is building against Lord Mayor John So among a coalition of inner-city resident groups that have vowed to campaign against him.

The pledge from 33 resident groups followed a decision by Cr So last night to use his numbers on the Melbourne City Council to dump a push for attendance voting at council elections - a system that might have hurt his chances of re-election.

To cries of "Shame! Shame!" from the public galleries, the Lord Mayor used his vote to back postal voting.

Postal voting favours cashed-up candidates like Cr So, a wealthy restaurateur who has spent more than $300,000 on his two successful mayoral campaigns in 2001 and 2004.

Candidates need money to spend on expensive mail-outs. Postal voting also encourages the expensive practice of setting up large teams of dummy candidates - as Cr So did in 2004.

The Lord Mayor refused to speak on the issue last night.

Since 1996, Melbourne City Council has conducted elections by post.

Resident groups pledged to campaign against the Lord Mayor.

"If John So wants to continue the (current) system, the voters of the electorate will need to take their campaign for change out to the full electorate and any other areas of influence," said Melbourne Business Council chairman Peter Nicoll.

Cr So sat stone-faced while councillors poured scorn on him.

Liberal Party councillor Fiona Snedden accused him of not having the courage to tell the council chamber why he preferred postal voting.

"In three months of debate (on this) I have not heard you speak once about why you prefer postal voting. Tell us why!" she yelled.

Victoria's 79 councils will go to the polls on Saturday, November 29, 2008, the first time all councils will vote on the same day. Most will use postal voting.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Melbourne's best and fairest

trade versus heritage

One day in September the best and fairest.

Spring is a special time and the bigmen fly in Melbourne. The Agriculture and Horticulture Show heralds the coming summer caped of by the Spring Racing Carnival.

How things have changed.

Show bags are not longer free and the content is not what they use to be.

Looking back Melbourne also is certainly not what it use to be. Much of its traditions and heritage has changed, not necessary for the better. Thank god we still have the footy and the Brownlow, even if a Victorian team is no longer a certain winner it is good to know that the Grand is still held in Melbourne.

One of Melbourne's greatest heritage assets is under threat. The Carlton Gardens, which forms part of Melbourne's and Australia's only World Heritage Building site is once again under threat of over-development and miss-use. Melbourne's Museum should never have been built on this site. It most certainly has compromised the significance and integrity of this World Heritage site.
Likewise the Melbourne Flower show is a serious threat to the well being and integrity of the Carlton Gardens, gardens that have been under severe biological and horticultural pressure as a result of the long period of draught. The Garden and Flower show is enjoyed by many and according to the State Government attracts 100,000 visitors. Whilst the setting is transformed and provides a picturesque traditional backdrop the Garden show the event is in reality nothing more then a trade show.

It's relocation to another site would not harm the event but may save the gardens.

Sadly the show can not be located at the new exhibition buildings complex. "Jeff's Shed" was another disaster in Melbourne's planning and like the Museum and the Casino and Federation Square, in reality, another one of those past mistakes that continues to add to the lack of Melbourne's success. For some unknown reason the Garden and Flower show cannot be re-located to the Agriculture and horticulture showgrounds. (If only the exhibition center was relocated to that site. The State Government in its lack of wisdom has decided that the Flower show is more important then the gardens itself.

The Government is not responsible for the drought but it is responsible for the management of the effects of the draught

What is not as well known is that it was John Brumby that advanced the Royal Exhibition Building's nomination for World Heritage.

At the time John was supportive of the local community, academics, town planners, the City Council and the local community, all who opposed the relocation of the Museum to this world heritage listed site. John should think once again about his decision to support the Flower show ahead of Melbourne's only World Heritage site. Perhaps the show should be relocated on a rotating basis with the Alexander Gardens or better still the show grounds where it should have been in the first place.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Power and the Council and the State

Melbourne Car Free City - All except John So and his deputy who maintain a Council funded Limo

What about John and Singers Limo... Will they be kept in the garage on Melbourne Car Free city day? What about deliveries and emergency vehicles?

Power and the Council and the State

Who controls Melbourne?

Source: The Age: Clay Lucas

Melbourne City Council has been accused of lacking a long-term vision and being a pawn of the State Government and big business. Clay Lucas reports.
IN THE lead-up to the debate at Melbourne City Council last week over whether the city should stage a car-free day, one councillor told The Age they were happy to support the project.

"But that doesn’t mean it’ll happen," the councillor said. "Brumby will stomp on this thing by the end of the week."

It was a cynical reading of modern Victorian politics. But, as it turned out, not cynical enough.

It didn’t take Premier John Brumby to the end of the week to stomp on the idea of five young, enthusiastic and idealistic women. It took 12 hours.

Amid squeals of fury from motoring, business and trader groups, Brumby stepped in to crush the idea. "This is just short-term populism," he told ABC Radio. "It’s a stunt. It’s not going to change anything."

Alicia Webb, one of the environmentalists who put forward the car-free idea, was thrilled when the council agreed to give it in-principle support.

"The council (were) so willing to listen to the ideas of young people," says Webb.

But within hours, the group’s celebrations had turned into a media maelstrom. Webb says it was disappointing that the Premier rejected the plan without even hearing them out.

"The State Government criticised the concept before they even heard any of the details," she says.

That the project was blocked should not have come as a surprise in car-obsessed Melbourne.

Three months earlier, in April, Roads Minister Tim Pallas slapped down months of work by Melbourne City Council’s transport planners, who had proposed installing new "Copenhagen-style" bike lanes on St Kilda Road.

In one call from Pallas to 3AW’s Neil Mitchell, the plan was snuffed out, by a State Government desperate to not appear anti-car — despite all its sustainability spin.

For David Dunstan, from Monash University’s National Centre for Australian Studies, the car-free day and the bike lanes were more than just one-off proposals.

"They were about inspiring the public. They were both very imaginative and sensible ideas, and both were immediately stomped on by the State Government," he says.

Dunstan, who worked in the Cain government’s planning ministry in the 1980s, said a 1985 event he had helped organise — paving Swanston Street with grass, to capture city users’ imaginations over a plan to make the street car-free — would have been ridiculed by today’s State Government as loony.

"Anything original the council comes up with, Spring Street will immediately say no to," he says. "It is a sign of the profound contempt for local government from both sides of politics."

But it is also about something more obvious: power, and who controls central Melbourne. That was made blindingly obvious in January, after the council put forward an innovative idea to concentrate huge outdoor billboards in three key city sites, mimicking London’s Piccadilly Circus or New York City’s Times Square.

The council wanted to restrict the proliferation of "supersize" billboards, which they believed were overpowering the city’s heritage streets. But a word in the State Government’s ear from the powerful outdoor advertising lobby and the plan was overridden, subsumed in a statewide review of outdoor advertising laws by Planning Minister Justin Madden.

Rarely, if ever, is more than a whimper of protest heard from Lord Mayor John So when the State Government muscles in on council plans. "John will choose razzamatazz over usefulness every time," says Greens councillor Fraser Brindley, who brought the car-free plan to the council.

"He makes every decision in the frame of a photo shoot."

Last week So refused to back the car-free day, saying he supported it in spirit only. He did not publicly take on Pallas over the St Kilda Road bike lanes. Nor did he protest when the council’s advertising review was made redundant.

For Dunstan, the need to reform the City of Melbourne Act — last reviewed in 2001 — is obvious. "The reason why London Mayor Ken Livingstone has been able to achieve something is autonomy," says Dunstan. "Melbourne City Council has no effective power."

At a council committee meeting on Tuesday (that So did not attend), councillors voted to write to Local Government Minister Dick Wynne asking him to review the Act.

Ken Livingstone provides an excellent template for what can be achieved when a government is prepared to give real power to local government.

"Red Ken" was elected in 2000, after Tony Blair reinstated the Greater London Authority (Margaret Thatcher had abolished its predecessor, the Greater London Council, in the 1980s). Blair handed the authority executive powers over transport, emergency services and planning.

Seven years later, Livingstone remains mayor. And while his popularity is up for debate, his power is not.

Since 2000, Livingstone has introduced a congestion charge to keep cars out of London’s city centre, and used the revenue to improve London’s buses. He has fought hard against Gordon Brown’s privatisation of the London Underground, helped win London the 2012 Olympics and introduced a plan to put 50 per cent of affordable housing in all new projects.

Back in Melbourne, such revolutionary plans are seldom considered by the city council, partly because under a system set up by the Kennett government in the 1990s and continued under Labor, its voting system is gerrymandered to business.

Businesses registered within Melbourne City Council’s areas get two votes, while residents get just one vote.

THE pro-business candidates that are elected, such as John So, who was returned on a platform of keeping city rates low, are reluctant to rock the boat for the big end of town.

The situation is unlikely to change at next year’s council elections. So has already indicated he will run again. Such is the cost of running a lord mayoral campaign that several prospective candidates have already told The Age they will not even consider running against him.

In 2001, So spent at least $120,000 to get elected. In the most recent 2004 poll, insiders say he spent upwards of $200,000.

Critics of the current system of election at the city council complain that it stops candidates with big ideas running. One critic is John Young, a former Melbourne town clerk who spent 30 years working for the council finishing in 1994.

Since April, Melbourne City Council has been touting its Future Melbourne strategy as the source of new ideas for the city. The plan, a partnership between the council and Melbourne University, aims to come up with new ideas for the city, despite the council’s biggest idea — support for a proposed tollway tunnel linking the Eastern Freeway with the western suburbs — already being backed by both So and senior council bureaucrats.

But Young questions whether Future Melbourne is really the vision the city needs. New ideas for the city’s future should come from elected councillors, he says.

"Where is the vision coming from? I’m not sure it should be coming from a bunch of Parkville academics," says Young.

One Parkville academic, Melbourne University’s Paul Mees — who is not involved in the Future Melbourne project — argues that the most important part of coming up with ideas for the city is being a passionate advocate for them.

Instead, he says, the current council serves one purpose for the State Government: compliance. It never makes trouble, says Mees, and backs the State Government on big projects such as road tunnels, freeway extensions and new car parks.

"In all of the world’s cities where things have gone well, the push has come from the central city council.

That is never going to happen under the system we have now," says Mees.

But Chris James, a spokesman for the Victorian Employers Chamber of Commerce and Industry, says the council does not need reforms, and that the changes put in place in 2001 have worked well.

The stability of the council has given business stability and been a force for good in the city, he says. And it has vastly improved on the days of old, when constant sniping reduced its ability to function well.

But others believe the council’s high watermark as an agent for change was the 1980s; it saw the first woman lord mayor (Lecki Ord), the first avowed conservationist lord mayor (Trevor Huggard) and vibrant public debate about Melbourne’s future.

The council wrote the massively influential 1984 Strategy Plan, which laid out a blueprint to reinvigorate inner Melbourne. It worked hard to relax fire regulations and other red tape so that artists could work in the city and those keen to live in the CBD could do so.

Then, in 1993, the Kennett government gutted the council, undermining the likelihood of dynamic resident activists — such as Huggard — winning seats again.

For Dunstan, there is little chance the Brumby Government will reform the city council to give it real teeth.

"The Labor Party has walked away from City of Melbourne politics. It is part of its deal with the big end of town, and it has meant handing over the city to the people who profi t the most from it: the property managers. And they are troglodytes ... who do not believe in local democracy."

Other critics say it is crucial that planning powers are returned to the city council if it is to regain its importance in the public policy arena.

In 1980, Melbourne City Council was stripped of its planning powers on all applications bigger than 25,000 square metres. They automatically go to the State Government.

It is a stark comparison to Brisbane, where all the major parties run tickets and the 26-member council divides into government and opposition.

Councillors are paid the same as state backbenchers. The council in Brisbane (which covers a far larger area than Melbourne City Council) runs public transport. Additionally, the council has authority over large planning projects.

Dick Wynne is not keen on changing the City of Melbourne Act. "We have no plans to review (it)," the minister said through a spokesman. And this means keeping the status quo, and the likelihood that, should he run again, So will be re-elected in November 2008.

Privately, Wynne and the State Government are happy to have a Lord Mayor like So. The Liberal Party, too, is happy enough; it has no plan to reform the council should it win power in Victoria.

According to Dunstan, it is unsurprising both parties support the current system, or So. "He is exactly the person both sides of politics wants."

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Secret Review

for Council's Eyes only

Melbourne City Council, true to form, held its own internal review of its representative model, conveniently forgetting that it is the State Government that really makes all the decisions and that the only real issue under Council's control is whether or not to have postal or attendance voting.

The City Council called for submission and looked like it was doing the right thing, but was it. The City of Melbourne did not published copies of the submissions it had received, in fact most of the discussion was once again held behind closed doors at the all illegal Councillor briefing sessions. The meeting they have when they are not having a meeting.

In reading the minutes of last nights Finance and Governance Committee meetings the City Committee has recommended that the City of Melbourne formally request the State Government to include the City of Melbourne in its Local Government representation review and that the review also consider issues related to external boundaries.

The motion was passed four to three with John So's (Do nothing) team voting against the motion.

It would appear that John does not want a representation review (You never know what it might come up with) The best way to silence your critics is to not give them a voice or opportunity to be heard.

The State Government is the proper authority to undertake the review, independent form the Council itself. The Councill's review was nothing but a joke and the administration's failure to published the submissions it received is another example of the Council trying to keep issues under wraps. The City has wasted time and money in the process.

The referral motion to the State Government will now go to the full City Council meeting scheduled in two weeks time. Odds are that John So will veto the motion and deny ratepayers and residents the review that the State Government should have had in the first place.

It is understood that the responsible Minister, Dick Wynn, would like to see a review but will only do so on the initiative and invitation of the City Council.

Will So do the right thing and support the review motion so that a review can be undertaken before next years Municipal elections or will John So once again avoid the tough questions and deny Melbourne the right of an independent public review, representaion and boundaries included? And more imprortant why is teh council limiting teh review of External boundaroes to Kensigton? Does not carlton also deserve the right to be re-united as does South Yarra and other neighbouring inner-metropolitan neighbourhoods.

Below copy of Motion passed by the City Council's Finance and Governance Committee.

The motion was put and carried with the Chair Cr Shanahan and Councillors Brindley, Clarke and Seddon voting
in favour of the motion and the Deputy Lord Mayor Gary Singer and Councillors Jeter and Wilson voting against
the motion.
The motion in its entirety reads:
1. That the Finance and Governance Committee recommend Council:
1.1. determine to undertake attendance voting for the 2008 Council Elections consistent
with state and commonwealth government practices (postal voting entitlements);
1.2. approach the State Government in relation to:
1.2.1. its published timetable for independent reviews of electoral structures of
Councils in Victoria currently excludes the City of Melbourne;
1.2.2. since the implementation of the City of Melbourne Act 2001, no review of the
structure of Council has been undertaken to ensure it meets the needs and
expectations of constituents of a dynamic and changing capital city;
1.2.3. the outcome community consultative processes instigated by Council on the
issues of electoral processes and local area representation;
1.3. write to the Minister for Local Government, in light of 1.2.1 to 1.2.3 above, to:
1.3.1. request that the City of Melbourne be included in the State Government’s
current review of all municipalities and provide advice in relation to
1.3.2. request that the State Government conduct an external review in line with the
Local Government Act 1989 and publicly declare results by March 2008;
1.3.3. request that the reassessment also include a review of the representative
model, inclusion of Docklands and external boundaries; and
1.3.4. inform on community feedback of City of Melbourne consultative processes.