A week is a long time in council


AN EXTRAORDINARY thing happened at last Monday’s Development Assessments Committee meeting. Apart from approving the proposed Arthurs Seat Skylift proposal, councillors voted unanimously to approve another matter, which the previous week they had unceremoniously thrown out.

Or did they approve something significantly, or even slightly, different? It seems not.

Here is the 26 May Notice of Motion from Cr Tim Rodgers (Nepean ward), which got the thumbs-down:

“That the matter of Planning Application number P13/1830, in respect to Lot 5, 3080 Point Nepean Road, Sorrento be heard and determined by Council and not under delegation by Council officers and on a date to be fixed by Council.”

And the 2 June motion from Cr Hugh Fraser (Nepean ward), which was unanimously approved:

“That the matter of Planning Application number P13/1830, in respect to Lot 5, 3080 Point Nepean Road, Sorrento be heard and determined …” and so on.

The motions appear to be identical. Why then was the first defeated and the second approved? How could it be that the two councillors’ summaries supporting their motions, also identical, be repugnant and illogical to some councillors one week and find favour with them seven days later?

Here is part of the argument put at both meetings:

“The property, the subject of this planning application to council, is on the shore of Port Phillip Bay, and is part of the significant heritage site of the 1803 Collins First Settlement of Port

Phillip, requiring consideration of any treatment in respect of both the sensitive environment of the eroding cliff face and consideration of the public viewing across it from the neighbouring Parks Victoria’s lookout towards the Western Sister and beach and waters of Sullivan Bay.”

This is indeed a significant historical site – the spot where Victoria’s European occupation began – worthy of, if you like, gaining the official ceremonial imprimatur of elected councillors representing the community rather than being just another piece of paper passing anonymously over a council officer’s desk.

Cr Rodgers had argued this in the chamber. He was rebuffed with windy arguments, some containing minute particles of logic. He was finally shouted down and threatened when he tried to inform the chamber that it had been misled on a significant fact. A point of order overruled without being heard? What are we coming to?

Then, a week later, Cr Fraser moved the same motion. Cr Rodgers seconded it. For? Against? Passed unanimously!

Some councillors – namely Anne Shaw, Andrew Dixon, David Gibb and mayor Antonella Celi – might have felt a mite foolish for approving what was anathema to them just a week earlier. Cr Celi perhaps doubly so: she had used her casting vote to defeat the Rodgers motion when the chamber was tied four-all.

What is happening here? It appears the Gibb faction, now minus Frank Martin, who resigned recently leaving the chamber locked at five-all, is inclined to vote down any move originated by their opponents (councillors Rodgers, Fraser, Lynn Bowden, Bev Colomb and Graham Pittock), no matter what the logic or validity of the position they are opposing.

Those who monitor council fervently hope it has not descended to this; they hope that the craziness of the 26 May meeting will not recur. Important, serious matters are looming that need better than blind knee-jerk responses from the suddenly disempowered Gibb-Shaw faction.

Behind the scenes is furious manoeuvring for the Red Hill ward Mr Martin recently vacated. Whichever side wins will be the majority on two key votes – whether to reappoint chief executive officer Michael Kennedy for a fifth time or advertise his job; and what policy to adopt on that hoary old amphibious elephant, the Southern Peninsula Aquatic Centre.

It appears the Red Hill ward election will be held on 23 August. Before that, council could well decide what to do about Dr Kennedy’s job and whether to do it while Red Hill ward residents are effectively disenfranchised. (Disclosure: this writer is a Red Hill ward resident.)

Here is a thought: councillors could bring forward their decision on the CEO’s job, deciding to advertise the position in the absence of a full complement of councillors. Dr Kennedy could then re-apply for his job and, if councillors, including the newly elected one, regard him as the best applicant, he will be reappointed.

It can be argued with considerable force that to reappoint the CEO in a “hung” chamber, where his future is dependent on the mayor’s casting vote, would taint all concerned.

It is a fine dilemma for some councillors normally aligned with the Gibb faction, two of whom (Dixon and Garnock) are part of the 2012 intake. Are they independent thinkers, or will they follow the leaders, as apparently they did in voting against Tim Rodgers’ motion on 26 May?

Watch this space.


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