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Council Watch

THERE are 145 families and 183 children affected by Mornington Peninsula Shire’s decision to stop administering family day care services. As well as finding “redeployment options” for its two children’s services officers, the shire says it is “committed to supporting each [of 25 educators] to find a preferred [commercial] provider to ensure a smooth transition for themselves and their families”. The shire says there has been a steady decline in demand for the service, which coincides with a rise in the number of commercial day care providers (“Shire closes door on family day care” The News 6/4/21). The shire’s family…

SUSAN Bissinger seems certain to be named as the replacement councillor for Hugh Fraser in Mornington Peninsula Shire’s Nepean Ward. Ms Bissinger’s appointment – subject to her signing a declaration that she is still qualified to be a councillor – follows Tuesday’s (13 April) recount of votes cast in the November 2020 election. Ms Bissinger told The News that she was “looking forward to getting things done, or at least having a go at getting them done”. In her candidate’s statement before the November election Ms Bissinger said “my goal is to improve the look, feel and function of our…

By Simon Brooks* With Mornington Peninsula Shire Council’s declaration of a climate emergency in mid-2019, and the August 2020 adoption of the climate emergency plan there is an expectation by many that the shire clearly communicates a position on some of the big energy infrastructure projects planned for our country, state and in particular within the municipality. I was privileged to be a councillor who was able to help drive these initiatives and I’m hopeful the new group of councillors will keep up the momentum with support from the shire staff and senior officers. Climate change is placing us at…

COMMUNITY groups and sporting clubs are being offered grants to buy such things as bottles and crockery to lessen their dependence on single-use plastics. Up to $50,000 will be distributed in $1000 to $5000 grants by Mornington Peninsula Shire to organisation’s based in buildings or spaces. “Single-use plastics are a massive problem globally and right here on the peninsula. Plastic litter doesn’t belong on our beaches, in our bays or creeks, yet we see it everywhere we go,” the mayor Cr Despi O’Connor said. “As a coastal community, the protection of our bays, creeks and ocean is integral to ensuring…

THE mayors of Mornington Peninsula and Frankston councils have been included in the state government’s Local Government Mayoral Advisory Panel. Cr Despi O’Connor (Mornington Peninsula) and Cr Kris Bolam (Frankston) are among 15 mayor’s on the panel which will meet with Local Government Minister Shaun Leane four times this year to “provide advice on a range of matters that impact local government” including “ideas and initiatives to benefit the local government sector and aid in recovery from the coronavirus pandemic”. The news release from the minister’s office incorrectly identified Cr O’Connor as “Mayor of Mornington”. The former Shire of Mornington…

By David Gill* I AM disappointed with the way my mostly newly-elected fellow councillors have allowed Mornington Peninsula Shire Council officers to continue to dominate the budget process, despite my advocacy on transparency and accountability. The budget is prepared by management without any opportunity for the community-elected representatives to vote on its contents until the draft budget is presented. At the draft budget meeting CEO John Baker even said that it is not best practice to change the draft budget and that we should wait for the final budget declaration meeting. Unfortunately, we missed an opportunity to be transparent and…

THE Victorian Electoral Commission will conduct a countback of votes on Tuesday 13 April to fill the vacancy on Mornington Peninsula Shire Council caused by the resignation of Hugh Fraser. Mr Fraser was reelected last November and his position will be filled by one of five candidates who unsuccessfully stood against him in Nepean Ward (“Fraser bows out after ‘differences’ with CEO” The News 15/3/21). The five candidates in the running are Susan Bissinger, Mechelle Cheers, Mark Davis, Simon Mulvany and Gary Naughton. The VEC says the vacancy will be filled by a countback of all formal votes from the…

ANYONE wanting to discuss an idea or other municipal matters can apply to meet the Mornington Peninsula Shire mayor Cr Despi O’Connor and CEO John Baker. The once-a-month 25-minute meetings start this week and will rotate across the shire’s Rosebud, Mornington and Hastings offices. All applications will be reviewed and, if a meeting request relates to operational matters, the applicant may be referred to a shire officer. Meeting times are limited and not confirmed until a response is received from the shire’s councillor support team. Confirmed times may be subject to change. Those attending will receive follow-up correspondence after each…

HUGH Fraser last week resigned as a Nepean Ward councillor on Mornington Peninsula Shire Council. His resignation, just four months after being elected for the third successive time, took his fellow councillors, shire officers and constituents by surprise. Mr Fraser’s position on council will be filled by one of five candidates who unsuccessfully stood for Nepean Ward in last November’s municipal elections. The winner is likely to be known in about two weeks following a countback of votes by the Victorian Electoral Commission. The five candidates in the running to fill the vacancy are Susan Bissinger, Mechelle Cheers, Mark Davis,…

By Steve Holland* MORNINGTON Peninsula Shire councillors have for the first time held an open briefing before releasing a draft budget. A recording of the Tuesday 2 March public meeting is available on the shire’s YouTube channel. I would encourage other municipalities around Victoria to adopt this new practice, as it proved to be a win for transparency and lifts the lid on the local government budget formulation process. According to the state government website, Know Your Council, the shire’s rates are much lower than other municipalities. While some residents will dispute this, the statistics are publicly available and speak…

THE issue of whether or not to start Mornington Peninsula Shire Council meetings with a prayer or a pledge has received another setback. Councillors last week voted against giving the public a say on four options for starting meetings. The options suggested by Cr Antonella Celi included retaining the traditional prayer; rewording the prayer to delete any reference to “God”; replacing it with a pledge; or observing one minute’s silence. Both state and federal governments start sittings with a prayer that mentions God as well as an acknowledgement of country and traditional custodians. In December, council decided on saying a…

By Hugh Fraser* MORNINGTON Peninsula Shire CEO John Baker has been quick to propose to the new council – with eight new councillors out of 11 – radical changes to meeting procedures that substantially enhance a CEO’s powers while reducing council’s ability to regulate its own procedure. Touted as “best practice”, these management-proposed rules are not. Council needs to be zealous in guarding the representative democratic rights of the community to our third tier of (local) government as transparent, community engaged and able to extract accountability from management. As recently as 2018, councillors revised their meeting procedure rules. Over the…

MORNINGTON Peninsula Shire’s planning and building director David Bergin resigned last week. Mr Bergin, one of the council’s highest paid “key management personnel” was with the shire for five years after stints at Swan Hill, Boroondara and Mitchell Shire and local government in the UK. Shire staff learned of his “immediate resignation for a variety of personal reasons” in a farewell email to staff on Thursday 18 February. Mr Bergin said CEO Johan Baker had “kindly allowed me to end my contract early”. He was leaving the shire “having followed and displayed all our values, including courage, openness, respect, excellence…

TUESDAY 9 February was the first Mornington Peninsula Shire Council meeting open to the public since April, when COVID-19 forced them online. Just 50 members of the public were allowed to attend last week’s meeting at Mornington Community Theatre and strict safety measures applied: mandatory masks, QR codes, social distancing and “a symptom self-assessment” before leaving home. Councillors and staff were masked up, although the 1.5 metre distance seemed hard to achieve for some, especially when a rear shot showed the mayor Cr Despi O’Connor lean left and whisper in the ear of governance manager Amanda Sapolu. It is not…

MORNINGTON Peninsula residents who did not to vote in last year’s council elections will be sent “please explain” notices by the Victorian Electoral Commission. The VEC says it may send an infringement notice and a penalty of $83 to anyone who doesn’t respond to the letter, or doesn’t provide a sufficient reason for not voting. Around 350,000 letters will be sent out statewide. The letters are due back to the VEC within 28 days. “This notice is not a fine. It’s your chance to explain why you appear not to have voted, if this is the case. This is a…

VOLUNTEERING Victoria has given Mornington Peninsula Shire $23,000 to “strengthen volunteer connections on the peninsula”. The shire says it will use the money to help community groups recruit more volunteers in a COVID-safe environment. The mayor Cr Despi O’Connor said: “Volunteering allows people to connect with and make a difference in their communities. “Dedicating your time as a volunteer not only helps the cause they choose to volunteer for, it is also a good opportunity to make new connections and friends.” The shire says it can can help recruit and screen volunteers in a COVID-19 safe way. Resources include the…

THE weekly mobile library service to 16 Mornington Peninsula towns may be taken off the road permanently as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The service was stopped in March due to state government coronavirus restrictions and replaced by a home delivery service. Mornington Peninsula Shire says the alternative has been so popular that it had decided to review the future of the mobile service. Libraries, arts and culture manager Karina Lamb said the online “click and deliver” was used 1729 times during its first three weeks. “We’ve received exceptional feedback on this service, and it has prompted us to…

MORNINGTON Peninsula Shire’s aim of introducing an effective recycling policy is being hampered by apathy, experts say. Some residents are unsure of what can and can’t be recycled, while others couldn’t care less what goes into their bin as long as they get rid of it. As a result, contaminated recycling rates on the peninsula are 5 per cent higher than the state average. Birte Molier, of Waste Wise Peninsula, supports the shire’s efforts to introduce a three-strike process. “If residents continue to deliberately and significantly contaminate their recycling bin, they will receive official notices or warnings and eventually get…

THERE is almost certain to be a revival of newly-elected councillor Anthony Marsh’s failed bid to drop the prayer that is said before each Mornington Peninsula Shire Council meeting. Cr Marsh was stopped from being able to introduce the move as “urgent business” at the first meeting of the new council last Monday (23 November). He has also been criticised for not including his plans to remove the prayer in his election campaign (see Letters Page 12). Cr Marsh was supported by Crs Paul Mercurio, Sarah Race, Kerri McCafferty and the mayor Despi O’Connor. Councillors against allowing him to move…

DESPI O’Connor won a seat on Mornington Peninsula Shire Council at last month’s local government elections and last week was elected mayor. The Briars Ward councillor is among eight newcomers on the 11-member council: Steve Holland and Anthony Marsh (also Briars Ward), Sarah Race (Nepean), Lisa Dixon (Cerberus), Kerri McCafferty and Debra Mar (Seawinds) and Paul Mercurio (Watson). They join re-elected councillors Hugh Fraser (Nepean), David Gill (Red Hill) and Antonella Celi (Seawinds). Cr Race was elected deputy mayor. Eight former councillors from the 2016-20 cohort: Simon Brooks, Rosie Clark, Bev Colomb, Sam Hearn, Frank Martin, Julie Morris, Bryan Payne…

STATE MPs from both the major parties have now become involved in campaigns being run by candidates in this week’s Mornington Peninsula Shire Council elections. Mornington Liberal MP David Morris has posted his personal how-to-vote card on his Facebook page, listing Briars Ward candidates Steve Holland, Bruce Ranken and Stephen Batty. In August, Nepean Labor MP Chris Brayne made an early entry in the campaign by providing Facebook space to Jared Tipping in Seawinds Ward, Melissa Goffin and Claire Thorn, Red Hill and Sarah Race, Nepean (“Anger over MP’s poll roll” The News 31/8/20). Mr Brayne also used the shire’s…

A SINGLE-use plastic policy and Beyond Zero Waste Strategy 2030 are the focus of Mornington Peninsula Shire Council as it aims to stop sending waste directly to landfill by 2030 and phasing out “problematic” single-use plastics. The shire says the plan complements its position as a “leader in best practice waste management for over a decade”. “With the adopted policy and strategy in place we can look to an innovative and progressive future where waste is repurposed, recycled or reused and single-use plastics are eliminated.” The mayor Cr Sam Hearn said there were “better choices [for consumers] than single-use plastics”.…

VOTERS will choose 11 of 43 candidates to form the next Mornington Peninsula Shire Council. The state government decided to go ahead with the October elections despite the COVID-19 restrictions which will impact on candidates’ campaigns. Nominations closed Tuesday 22 September and voting, postal only, will close at 6pm on Friday 23 October. Voting is compulsory and the Victorian Electoral Commission will mail out voting packs between 6 and 8 October. Just five of the 11 current councillors are seeking re-election, which means a majority of the new council will be new to the job, although at least one candidate…

AN “ambitious” climate emergency plan has been adopted by Mornington Peninsula Shire Council one year after declaring a “climate emergency”. The Ensuring Our Future: Our Climate Emergency Response plan aims to guide the peninsula towards having no carbon emissions by 2040 through seven “summits” and 21 “action steps”. However, the shire says the outcome “can only be achieved by the community and the shire working together”. A 10-year program includes targets around leadership and governance, climate advocacy, zero carbon energy, resilient and adaptive community, sustainable transport and travel, sustainable land use and environmental restoration, circular economy and zero waste. The…

UPDATED planning controls and exemptions for vegetation removal are among changes to bushfire protection exemptions on the Mornington Peninsula. Mornington Peninsula Shire Council said it had successfully lobbied the state government for the state-wide changes which align fence line vegetation exemptions with the map of Victorian bushfire prone areas. The changes mean landowners in areas at risk of bushfire can clear vegetation without a planning permit. Landowners outside bushfire prone areas covered by vegetation protection, environmental significance and significant landscape overlays need a planning permit to remove vegetation. “These changes allow landowners of properties at risk of bushfire to remove…

A STRATEGY to determine how the Mornington Peninsula handles housing and population growth over the next 16 years – while ensuring the peninsula’s special values and character are protected – was adopted by council last week. The Mornington Peninsula Housing and Settlement Strategy: Refresh 2020-2036 comes as the state government projects the shire’s population will increase from 161,520 at the time of the 2016 census to 200,360 in 2036 – an increase of more than 38,800. The planning services committee meeting on Monday 20 July resolved to start the process of amending planning controls to ensure development better respects the…

A FOOD economy and agroecology strategy is designed to help shape the Mornington Peninsula’s agriculture and food industry. Mornington Peninsula Shire Council is researching and consulting on the strategy to support growth in the agriculture and food industry and build resilience to climate change through sustainable farming. The project will examine the peninsula’s agriculture, food and beverage industries at an economic, social and environmental level. It will consider the impact of recent drawbacks, such as the bushfires and COVID-19, on the industry. The mayor Cr Sam Hearn said the sector, worth about $1.3 billion, was a key contributor to the…

MORNINGTON Peninsula Shire CEO John Baker has ended a bid by Cr Hugh Fraser to have the council take a step back and reject a budget adopted at its 23 June meeting. Cr Fraser had sought to overturn decisions which included abolishing the contentious rural living rate and excluded the fees and charges schedule. However, Mr Baker last week used his powers to block Cr Fraser’s plan, last month’s resolution had already been put into motion and a statutory process commenced. “Accordingly, I consider this matter to be outside the powers of council and vague and unclear,” he said. Cr…

MORNINGTON Peninsula Shire councillors are expected this month to receive a report on planning approvals involving three Mornington-based companies, engineers, planners and developers Watsons, Schutz Consulting and Wolfdene Built. As well as involving its own officers, the shire hired an “external planning expert” to review permits going back 20 years relating to the $650 million Martha Cove development at Safety Beach. The investigations were ordered last December to make sure the shire has not made corrupt planning decisions similar to ones alleged at the City of Casey during the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission’s Operation Sandon. Shire councillors on 23 June…

THE 10-year-old Crib Point township plan has been updated and is open for public input until 14 August. The plan sets out the strategic vision and direction of the town’s development and aims to protect its character of tree-lined streets and mix of old and new houses. Mornington Peninsula Shire mayor Cr Sam Hearn said the plan ensured Crib Point would “continue to have the look, feel and function of a country town on the coast, closely connected with its natural environment”. The original plan from 2009-11 set a long-term vision and guide for the development of Crib Point. It…