Carbon pledge changes shire’s course

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Mt Eliza Community Hall, Monday 24 November. The usual fine nourishment followed by some feisty debate in a meeting that ran over time.

DID Council Watch detect a frisson running through the meeting as it ranged across topics from growing fruit and vegies on your nature strip (who owns them?) to who chairs council meetings?

Was the frisson in any way associated with anticipation about the meeting two days later, at which the new shire chief executive officer was to be announced? The councillors all knew the new CEO’s identity and were commendably, annoyingly for CW, zipper-lipped. Perhaps the secret distracted them.

Back to the nature strip. While growing produce outside your house is not entirely frivolous – ask that hugely bearded ABC TV gardening chap – it was, on a scale of 10, about 3 compared with councillors committing the shire to carbon neutrality.

(Who owns the vegies? asked Cr Tim Rodgers, perhaps envisioning his gravid Grosse Lisse vanishing the night before a free range salad soiree.)

What is important is that prams and wheelchairs, and even pedestrians, can negotiate their way past your house. Such additions as a sprinkler system and/or fake grass must not impede passers-by. Probably a bit late to plant Grosse Lisse this year.

Deeply significant was councillors’ vote on committing the shire to a carbon-neutral future. A vigorous debate proceeded. Some councillors tried to water down “commit” to “investigate”, but the majority was having none of it.

For CW, “commit” was the crux. One commits to a course of action, then investigates the best way to achieve the goal that has been set. To investigate allows for an escape route at the end of the process. Cr Rodgers was proposing in his motion that the commitment be immediate and absolute.

A secondary issue was that all references to “committed to sustainable peninsula” be abolished and that the stylised multi-coloured triangular logo also be done away with, leaving us with the sea snail shell logo. This also met resistance, on grounds of cost and need to consult the community.

The counter-argument prevailed – that “sustainable” had become a tainted term, captured and used as a smokescreen by some business rogues. Besides, argued Cr Hugh Fraser, shire executives with titles such as “sustainable” environment and “sustainable” organisation were forever explaining to the community just what their job was.

Exhume the chief financial officer, says CW, and the planning director, or even plain old planning manager. Older readers probably still yearn for the town clerk, replaced by the chief executive officer in the Kennett era.

Cr Fraser argued that the shire had to move away from the “sustainable peninsula” slogans to grapple with the need to become carbon neutral, by looking at practical ways to deal with carbon rather than sticking with the “malleable concept” of sustainability.

Cr Andrew Dixon felt the proposal was “for the new CEO” as it dealt in part with organisational structure. Warming to his theme, he was cautioned by the chair for intemperate language and raising his voice.

CW felt he had an arguable point on pre-empting input from the new CEO, who we now know is Carl Cowie, a Scot, dour or otherwise, who will be at his desk and responsible for all staff matters by the time you read this.

Cr David Gibb, seeking investigation rather than commitment on carbon, argued that information should be gathered and the community consulted. “We might have to buy carbon credits … I’d like to know [if that will be the case],” he said.

“I think that within bounds I’m prepared to spend that money, but I’d like to know that the community thinks about that because it might have a direct impact on the rate burden.”

Cr Fraser argued the council “had to start with the commitment – Cr Gibb has himself said he’d like to commit”.

“The only issue then is, let’s gather the information and then let’s fix the date and then let’s fix what needs to be done. It’s an important statement of principle that we commit to a policy of carbon neutrality.”

Cr David Garnock said he was committed to carbon neutrality “in due course, too, when we have investigated it properly”. The cost of buying carbon credits overseas “could be absolutely mammoth”. He believed the community would support carbon neutrality, following up with an Andrew Dixon language moment for which he instantly apologised. He is, we must remember, ex-navy.

Cr Rodgers was pleased with councillors’ general support for a carbon commitment. We have wind, he said, we have sun, “we are 98 per cent sure we have a massive geothermal thing under [the peninsula], proved by Point Nepean and the hot springs.”

(The development at Point Nepean’s Quarantine Station must find underground hot water or it will not go ahead. It will almost certainly find its water.)

After much debate about amended and substantive motions, the vote on this profound matter was called. In the absence of Cr Lynn Bowden, mayor Bev Colomb had used her casting vote twice to get the meeting to this point.

For the commitment to carbon neutrality: Andrew Dixon, Tim Wood, Tim Rodgers, Hugh Fraser, Graham Pittock, Antonella Celi, Bev Colomb. Against: Anne Shaw, David Garnock, David Gibb.

CW commends this very important green debate to readers. It can be found on the shire website, mornpen.vic.gov.au; our shire>our council>minutes & agendas>council meeting audio recordings>2014>24 November.

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