VOTERS have just over one week to elect 11 councillors to run Mornington Peninsula Shire for the next four years.
Social media has become an intense platform for debate in what is recognised as the most unusual municipal election ever because of the COVID-19 restrictions on campaigning.
Ballot packs were mailed out to peninsula voters by the Victorian Electoral Commission last week and must be returned by 6pm Friday 23 October.
Voting is compulsory for those listed on the state electoral role.
Just five of the sitting councillors are seeking re-election and the results will be announced Friday 13 November.
The endorsement of candidates in all wards by the Tyabb airfield-based Peninsula Aero Club has led observers to claim that the club’s involvement is more conspiracy than coincidence.
Candidates supporting the airfield’s allegations that it is being treated unfairly by the shire has seen at least five of them sign a petition calling on the state government to reject changes to planning regulations affecting the airfield (“Pro-airfield candidates want state to act” The News 6/10/20).
The proposed changes followed investigations by a QC hired by the council into planning permits and businesses operating at the airfield and are scheduled to be hard by the Victorian Civil Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) in April next year.
In August, a video released on the internet featuring footage taken at the airfield was described by shire CEO John Baker as “clearly misrepresenting the council and some councillors”. He said the video was “deliberately designed to mislead and denigrate and is factually inaccurate” (“Video flies in face of poll rules” The News 31/8/20).
The aero club’s online newsletter provided a link to the video under the heading “Council’s attitude to various matters a cleaver [sic] and amusing insight!”.
In a message attached to the aero club’s endorsement of specific candidates in each ward, its president Jack Vevers talks about the shire having “waged war” against the club and the airfield as well as harassing and attacking “farm gates, wineries and other small businesses”.
A petition backed by two candidates calls on the shire to provide more bike and BMX facilities. The two candidates are both Mount Eliza residents, with one standing in Briars Ward and the other Red Hill Ward (“Bike jumps now an election issue” – The News, 13/10/20).
The council election has also seen candidates peppered with questionnaires from community groups and organisations, including The News.
The exchanges on social media have been described as brutal and cruel.
Lawyers have been contacted over one candidate’s comments about a rival in the Briars Ward whose 10-week-old daughter died in 2018. The information was allegedly leaked from a not-for-profit organisation. The organisation’s president has said the information about the child’s funeral arrangements was on the internet and “therefore in the public domain”.
A Watson Ward candidate has told police his computer was hacked. His campaign was subsequently delayed by his efforts to firstly track down the source of the hack and then to await delivery of a new computer.
Screen shots being taken to record particularly viscous and allegedly defamatory statements are may be used as evidence in post-election court cases.