‘Super shire’ marks its first 25 years

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IT’S 25 years since council amalgamations throughout Victoria, which led to formation of a “super shire” on the Mornington Peninsula.

The amalgamation of 1994 saw the peninsula run by three state government-appointed commissioners instead of elected councillors, who were effectively sacked by the Kennett Liberal government.

The commissioners’ job was to create one council where there had been three: Flinders, Mornington and Hastings.

In the lead-up to amalgamation, individual councils fought turf wars, staking their claim (through submissions to the government) to land outside their municipal boundaries.

But the government stood firm on wanting one municipality for the peninsula.

Surrounded by water on three sides, the only disputed boundary was in the north, where the former shires of Mornington and Hastings met the boundaries of Frankston in the west and the then City of Cranbourne in the east.

Frankston, which had long described itself as the gateway to the Mornington Peninsula rather than being a part of the peninsula, was forced to give up parts of Mt Eliza and Baxter.

However, it too was enlarged by being given land north of Carrum Downs.

The amalgamation process was not always easy. Each of the peninsula’s three shires had its own staff, which meant positions being occupied by three people (even though some had different titles). Finding jobs for three CEOs was a priority.

Forcing three into one was only achieved through numerous staff meetings, seminars and retraining programs.

Some staff had difficulty adapting to the new culture and opted to take redundancies, while others suddenly found themselves lower in the pecking order.

The generous superannuation scheme left the new super shire with a debt that took years to effectively manage.

The amalgamation, or restructuring of local government, saw semi-autonomous business units set up within the shire and the introduction of compulsory competitive tendering.

The exit of commissioners and the reintroduction of council elections in 1997 signalled the end of a tumultuous time in Victorian local government.

The number of councils had been reduced from 210 to 79, and newly elected councillors were paid.

Two weeks ago (Thursday 17 October), the shire invited former shire presidents and past peninsula mayors to Mornington to mark the 25th anniversary of amalgamation of the three former peninsula shires.

Among those attending the function at the Mornington council chamber were Bill Goodrem and Brian Stahl, former shire presidents who went on to become mayors of the newly-created municipality. The current mayor Cr David Gill was shire president of the former Shire of Mornington in 1984-85.

They joined former Flinders shire president Keith Holmes, former Hastings shire president Sue Wilding and former Mornington shire presidents David McMillan and Paul Kelly.

The gathering of about 30 retired community leaders also included former mayors Judith Graley, Tim Rodgers and David Renouf.

“It was terrific to catch up with so many people passionate about their community,” Cr Gill said. “The anniversary was an opportunity to reunite and recognise an old era of councillors who represented their community on a volunteer basis. Amalgamation brought in a board of directors model and councillors receiving a stipend for their services.

“There was a fair degree of sadness and regret at the closure of the old shire councils, and the long period of no elected representatives forced on communities by the then state government.

“Our shire now serves a resident population of more than 166,000. We provide more than 500 services to the community, have 1702 kilometres of roads, maintain 227 community buildings and care for 641 areas of public open space and much more.”

Cr Gill said the anniversary was a good opportunity to take stock of what had been achieved so far and discuss the shire’s direction for the next 25 years “with so much wisdom in the room”.

First published in the Southern Peninsula News – 29 October 2019

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