RED Hill ward voters will have a shire record 17 candidates to choose from when they cast their ballots for a new councillor on 23 August.
The long list of names on the ballot paper is seen as a major win for the democratic process which in 2008 saw candidates in six of the then 11 single-councillor shire wards returned uncontested.
Former Red Hill councillor Frank Martin entered council unopposed that year. He faced two opponents in 2012, one of whom is standing again this time. He resigned recently because of ill health.
This election’s huge field is a disparate group, including two former councillors, a retired County Court judge, an accountant and a microbiologist.
The poll result could have several profound consequences for Mornington Peninsula Shire. With Red Hill ward vacant, councillors are stalemated at five-all on crucial issues, including the site for Rosebud’s proposed Southern Peninsula Aquatic Centre (SPA).
The new Red Hill ward councillor opposing building SPA on the foreshore, or opposing building it at all, could kill the project.
More generally, the long 6-5 dominance of the councillor group led by David Gibb and Anne Shaw could end, opening up a more collegiate voting era in what has, on major issues, such as development, been a bitter division of views. Cr Martin was on most issues a Gibb-Shaw ally.
Several candidates have already expressed concern about the shire’s financial strategy, especially the growing debt burden, which is being exacerbated by the spiralling cost of the SPA. The recently approved 2014-15 shire budget scraped in by five votes to four over concerns about borrowings.
At the 2012 election less than 70 per cent of eligible voters – 8516 of the 12,349 (now 12,509) – cast a vote, 198 of them donkey votes. As was the case then, some 4000 eligible voters live elsewhere, most of them in Melbourne’s leafy eastern and southern suburbs.
Canny candidates are writing to these voters, who comprise nearly one-third of the Red Hill electoral roll, to maximise their election prospects.
The two ex-councillors campaigning for Red Hill are Leigh Eustace, formerly of the old Mt Eliza ward and Neale Adams, who was Red Hill councillor in the early 2000s. Cr Eustace lost his place at the 2012 poll, when single-member wards were replaced by multi-member ones. Mr Adams lost to Frank Martin in Mr Adams’s 2012 bid to re-enter council.
Both would almost certainly look critically at the SPA project, particularly at the foreshore site.
Retired County Court judge Tim Wood QC would, if elected, be the second lawyer and second naval officer on council. Cr Hugh Fraser (lawyer) and Cr David Garnock (RAN) represent Nepean and Cerberus wards respectively.
Mr Wood still holds the rank of Commodore and is a consultant to the Inspector-General of the Australian Defence Force. He has concerns over issues such as neglect of roads and other infrastructure in the ward.
Accountant Bryan Payne, once a council CEO, was unsuccessful in the 2012 Nepean ward election, running third behind Tim Rodgers and Cr Fraser.
Microbiologist Barbara Porter could be considered a strong and well qualified environmentalist. She was involved in the original successful appeal to VCAT against T’Gallant’s plans to expand its restaurant and wine business on the Mornington-Flinders Rd. T’Gallant succeeded at its second appeal to VCAT.
As well as ex-councillors and those who have previously stood for council, Peter Holloway is widely known. A National Trust stalwart and local historian, he has been active in the community for years. His issues include close scrutiny of rate rises, the need for an efficiency audit of the shire and shire debt reduction.
First-time candidates include Dr Mark Fancett, part of the fierce and successful campaign to stop the Pioneer quarry in Dromana being used as a rubbish tip. He helped compile and present a powerful case against the proposal that saw off the plan – overwhelmingly rejected by the Environment Protection Authority. The quarry is in Red Hill ward.
Of the others, Canadian Shawn Jackson, who runs a B&B in Red Hill has put his hand up because he is unhappy about how shire decisions affect his local community. Michael Treadwell, 27, has a degree in planning and environment and Rose Ljubicic is a Greens candidate for Preston in the November state election.
Kerry Watson, secretary of Red Hill Community Action, is one of the pro-environment candidates – a contrast to Alastair Young, a builder/developer who calculates the shire has 465 green wedge lots that could have a house built on them.
Brian Morgan is a cricket umpire and bridge player not opposed to a foreshore pool; Kate Roper and Kylie Greer are pro-environment, Ms Greer having a special interest in placing curbs on the proposed Arthurs Seat Skylift.
Leigh Coleman has been aiming to develop his property at 1a and 1b Jetty Rd but is rumoured to be ready to sell the property; Darren Andrew of Safety Beach is an electrician who is also unhappy about how the shire is being run.
A final point: for those to whom this is a concern, eight candidates live outside the ward. This writer believes that, in the era of mobile phones and motor cars, this is not a substantial factor. It has not deterred voters in Cerberus and Seawinds wards from electing Cr Garnock (Mt Eliza resident) and Cr Gibb (Dromana farmer).