The blow-up in the chamber we had to have


AFFABLE new shire mayor Graham Pittock was given a damned good tryout at his first council meeting of 2015-16. He remained affable almost throughout the four and a half hours the meeting ran. Close to the end all smiles had faded.

It was a heavy agenda, possibly too heavy for a single meeting. Some participants, despite this, adopted a leisurely pace, taking some items up side alleys and down the garden path.

All this came to a head late in the night when tempers were getting frayed. Cr Pittock suggested one exasperated dissident councillor, Anne Shaw, might care to leave the chamber.

Antonella Celi, a leading performer, possibly aiming to develop her debating and procedural skills in pursuit of a parliamentary career, state or federal, was in full voice.

She no doubt was aware that Frankston’s federal MP and dumped Coalition minister Bruce Billson had announced he was quitting politics and maybe sees a chance to live the dream – chauffeured cars, helicopters, fact-finding trips, a ministry, the lot.

Now was her time to build a CV as a debater par excellence. She taunted, she tantalised, she engaged in badinage, she advised the chair how to run the meeting. Her penchant for points of order was in full, vivid flower. She even engaged with the gallery when accused of being anti-democratic, asking them to mind their language.

The blow-up has been a while coming, but its coming was inevitable. And understandable. Those who used to be known as the “rusted-ons” held sway in the chamber for a decade or more, rarely losing a vote on any issue they supported.

Then, in a byelection just over a year ago, Cr Tim Wood won Red Hill ward and the rusted-ons’ 6-5 majority became a 5-6 debacle – so far as they are concerned. Politics without power? Bruce Billson knows how it feels.

Times have changed. Former rusted-on Cr David Gibb has adapted to the times and is to be commended for it. Cr Anne Shaw battles on, dedicated to her principles and her community, as does Cr David Garnock.

Cr Andrew Dixon must sometimes wonder, as he expressed in a moment of despair late in Monday’s meeting: “What am I doing here?” An existential question many have asked over the millennia.

Then there’s Cr Celi, a strong hyper-active worker in her community, in social media, on committees, attracted moth-like to the glint of a camera lens. She has a heap of admirers, who will not take kindly to this appraisal of her. No matter: that is the burden of a commentator.

Next October will see a new council elected. Manoeuvring has already started. Which councillors (if any) will call it a day? Who is eyeing off vulnerable seats? How will the numbers fall? Will we witness the rusted-ons rise like a soufflé, from 5-6 back to 6-5? What effect would that have on council policy?

Watch this space. We live in interesting times.

First published in the Mornington News – 1 December 2015


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