Sustainable lingo rewarded


IT WAS a small gallery that gathered at the shire’s Rosebud bunker for the council meeting of Tuesday evening, 15 March. And a diminished roll call of councillors: Anne Shaw and Andrew Dixon had been felled by ’flu; Lynn Bowden was also an apology.

It was the day after the Labor Day public holiday and the festive feeling lingered. Fred Crump of Mornington had brought his kite, in the shape of an eagle, that had soared recently at the Rosebud kite festival.

And he brought a question. Shire tree planting in Mornington Park, including a banksia that had been moved just a couple of metres, had been an unmitigated failure. Nearly all had died. When would the shire hire “proper qualified tree doctors”, he wanted to know.

Responding, shire chief operating officer Alison Leighton said this was disappointing. “Council has recently instructed our contractors to increase the frequency of watering trees, particularly in the Mornington area,” she said. The shire needs its gadflies, its Fred Crumps, defenders of their communities.

A little later we were given a glimpse of how shire officers prepare applications for state government grants – their strategy, if you like, to use a favoured bureaucratic term. It is bureaucrats versus bureaucrats.

A word of explanation. In the shire’s reorganisational turmoil over more than a year, the word “sustainable” has been pitched in the bin. We are no longer “committed to a sustainable peninsula”. Our executive team is no longer labelled director of “sustainable” this or that. It was meaningless white noise. Good riddance.

So when Rita Kontos presented the Sustainable Transport Strategy (2015-2020) for adoption, Cr Tim Rodgers pounced. “Sustainable” must go, he grumbled.

Ms Kontos, the shire’s “sustainable” transport project coordinator (a title CW confidently predicts will soon change), defended stoutly, if wordily, and ultimately successfully against the formidable Tim Rodgers-Hugh Fraser tag team.

It boiled down to this: when applying for state or other government funding, you play their game. If “sustainable” is part of their lingo, and your funding application might get knocked back if you don’t use the word, bung it in, at every possible opportunity.

And, as Ms Kontos explained, there are several transport “strategies” – known to to plain folk as “plans” – each with its own meaning. The common or garden “transport strategy” differs from the “integrated transport strategy”, which contains far more transport elements than the “active transport strategy”.

There’s one more, which I must mention here, at peril of causing readers’ brains to explode. It is, of course Ms Kontas’s “sustainable transport strategy”, which incorporates “active transport” (cycling and walking), community, public transport, ride sharing and any other identified sustainable modes of transport.

Stay with me, Dear Reader. We have now arrived at the gist, the nub, the denouement, of the tale. Here is the crucial exchange, verbatim:

Cr Fraser: Have the department actually made it plain that you have to use the word “sustainable” in the title or is it simply that it’s obvious from the contents of the document itself?

Ms Kontos: The funding that will be made available will be made available for active and sustainable transport projects. Naming it anything else when in fact it is mainly focused on sustainable transport projects would not be a reflection of what the document actually is.

Cr Fraser: So what you’re able to confirm to me is that the government criteria specified for funding, if we should seek it, requires a reference to how it’s sustainable.

Ms Kontos: It may not require the term sustainable to be mentioned. However, the funding will be made available for sustainable transport strategies. So I think we would be better placed if we had the name kept as it is so that we can confidently apply for this grant without necessarily making an excuses or a long description of why it’s not called a sustainable transport strategy.

This makes perfect sense to devotees of “Yes, Minister”. CW feels a certain sympathy and admiration for shire officers who speak one language outside their work hours and another when they enter the shire portals.

It is said one only truly speaks a second language when one dreams in it. Do shire officers dream in bureaucratese?

First published in the Mornington News – 22 March 2016


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