COMMUNITY lobby group Save Westernport wants candidates with a “a sense of environmental responsibility and awareness” to stand for Mornington Peninsula’s Watson Ward seat left vacant by the resignation of Paul Mercurio.
Mercurio resigned in early December following his election as the Labor MP for Hastings at the November state election.
His departure was followed weeks later by Nepean Ward councillor Kerri McCafferty, reducing the 11-member council to nine.
McCafferty’s replacement will be announced next week after a countback by the Victorian Electoral Commission of votes cast for four unsuccessful candidates in Nepean, which is represented by three councillors.
Watson Ward is represented by one councillor and a postal by-election will be held in March to replace Mercurio.
Candidates have five days in which to nominate from Thursday 9 February.
Mercurio was one of five candidates for Watson Ward in the November 2020 election and was elected with just under 56 per cent of votes cast.
“Over the years, the peninsula‘s unique character has been maintained by important green wedge planning protections, designed to prevent the encroachment of greater Melbourne’s urban sprawl into the Mornington Peninsula Shire,” Save Westernport president Candy Van Rood said.
The “urgent need to conserve and regenerate environmental resilience” on the peninsula had been highlighted by a Victorian Auditor General’s report which blamed local councils “for the devastating loss of biodiversity in Victoria”.
“Throughout 2022, unsustainable and ill-suited development proposals that threaten biodiversity on the peninsula were put before councillors to consider whether to recommend approval of plans for one insensitive, inappropriately scaled project after another.”
Van Rood said the proposal by Ryman Healthcare for an aged centre on green wedge land in Mount Eliza “showed the lengths that developers will go to to exert inappropriate commercial pressures on council”.
The shire has steadfastly opposed Ryman’s plan which was approved by the Victorian Civil and Administrative tribunal just days before Christmas.
A special online council meeting to discuss mounting a Supreme Court challenge to the VCAT decision was abandoned last week because six of the remaining nine councillors indicated they would not attend (“Councillors decline online meeting” The News, 17/1/2023).
“Despite the valiant call from certain councillors and community groups to put what’s best for the peninsula ahead of short term financial gains, too often meaningful debate is pre-empted by the undue influence of developers over a powerful voting block in council,” Van Rood said.
“Save Westernport hopes a more diverse range of candidates will restore the balance that many perceive was lacking on the council during 2022.”
Van Rood said the shire had “championed its green wedge and environmental credentials” in the past and was one of the first municipalities to declare a climate emergency.
The VEC will run an online information session for prospective candidates from 6 pm on Monday 6 February.
When nominating candidates must pay $250 and have completed a free training session within two years of Saturday 18 March.
The VEC will send postal voting packs to enrolled voters between Tuesday 28 February and 2 March.
Voting is compulsory and closes at 6pm on Friday 17 March, with results being available from Friday 24 March.