Decision making at Monash Council does not appear to have changed. Residents using Gardiners Reserve indicate they have had no say in the choice of pitch to be laid, fencing or lighting. EM&U have been asking for several years for Council to consult with stakeholders at the beginning of the decision making process. Stakeholder representatives should be involved in the process from the very beginning and have a role throughout the whole process. Instead we see the usual token effort to involve stakeholders at the last stages.
It is hard to understand how Council has decided on a synthetic pitch yet has no information to pass to residents. On what basis did Council make the decision for a synthetic pitch? Has a procurement contract been signed? If so, with whom? During the 2016 election the community asked for transperancy. The Department of Local Government has called for transperancy. Monash Ratepayers has called for transperancy. Yet the decision about pitch at Gardeners Reserve appears to be far from transparent.
When will the ‘Have Your Say’ section on the Monash Council web site have the option for community members to add items they would like to have a say about?
Below: Letter from resident to EM&U 28 Feb 2017
Dear Empowering Monash and You,
I am writing to you as a resident of Monash with regards to Council’s proposal for a Synthetic pitch at Gardiners Reserve, Sixth Avenue, Burwood.
This major decision seems to have already been made in regards to the type of pitch surface, fencing and lighting without community consultation or understanding the community’s needs. Council are proceeding with a design for an estimated project cost of $2.9 million which will be decided on in the 2017/18 budget.
As residents, we were first informed by reading an article in the Monash Leader in January that mentioned the synthetic pitch, and not by council itself. We rang immediately and within a few days received a letter in the mail, with promise of a consultation in February.
We have since received a second letter inviting us to an informal consultation at Gardiners Reserve on the evening of March 9, with an opportunity to:
– hear about what is being proposed
– understand what the scope of works would be, if Council decides to fund the proposal in its 2017/18 budget
– understand why Gardiners Reserve has been chosen for the proposed synthetic pitch; and
– ask any questions we may have about e project and discuss any concerns.
We are very concerned that the decision to proceed with a synthetic pitch over alternative treatments seems to have already been made, and that we are being consulted very late in the process and are not being given the opportunity to have input into any decisions which will directly affect us.
Despite our requests for information on the decision process so far from Council officers, Councillors and the CEO we have not received any information, and are being told that we have to wait for the consultation to take place.
Worryingly, the consultation on 9 March is not listed in the ‘have your say’ page on Council’s website, and we fear that it may be limited to only one or two streets despite the wider community using this open space.
We hope that you will be able to offer us your valuable advice and support in this matter.
As a newly elected Council is finding its feet in Monash this is a good time to reflect on the achievements and future role of EM&U. As always we welcome the input of community members.
EM&U was an initiative of a group of diverse active people, most of whom first met through the Save Monash Gardens campaign in 2013 /14. Throughout the aged care sale process the community contended Monash Council was not transparent or consultative. Aged care residents, their relatives and the staff were not involved in the decision process.
EM&U was formed to continue working towards better governance in Monash Council. The aim was to better inform the community of any future Monash Council plans, to advocate for community involvement in the decision making process and to ensure the community were listened to. We feel that EM&U has achieved significant progression toward achieving these goals over the last 3 years. In saying the EM&U has achieved this is saying YOU, the community of Monash, have achieved this. We thank you for working with us.
EM&U and community members supported or encouraged some of the following City of Monash matters:
An improved public question time
Community members have found Public Question Time is more of a brick wall than an opportunity for interactive communication and empowerment. It was stressed to Council on many occasions that the Local law relating to Public Question time should be reviewed to ensure that there are no barriers to community members asking questions and receiving appropriate responses from their council, about issues affecting them. EM&U has supported a change relating to Public Question Time.
EM&U approaches to Council on Public Question time received no interest or uptake. However, as candidates advocated for election in the 2016 Council election this issue was often raised. Why? Candidates knew this was a matter of importance to the community and they needed to work on community concerns to be elected.
We are pleased to say the first steps towards improving this situation have been taken by the newly elected Council.
EM&U have advocated for live streaming or recording of council meetings to be implemented, to ensure community have access to Council proceedings, especially for those who are unable to attend council meetings. This will also ensure a more inclusive and transparent Council.
Monash Council, under Mayor Klisaris, knocked our submission for recording and broadcasting back. He claimed it would cost $60,000 and the Council couldn’t afford this inclusive measure. (He did spend $37,000 on a lunch in Oakleigh.) He claimed privacy would be breached, yet the meetings are public anyway. Now, as the local government department puts streaming forward as a favourable transperancy measure, Monash Council acts.
EM&U supported the community for a vision of a peoples’ space in Glen Waverley and a healthier lifestyle for those living, working in or visiting the area. Several groups initiated submissions on open space on Glen Waverley Central Car Park. The groups combined and well-developed and researched submissions were presented to Council. The proposals included underground car parking with easy access to shops. A green and open space would provide an inclusive meeting place and as one real estate manager commented, ‘It would make Glen Waverley.’ Importantly, the proposal asked Monash Council NOT to proceed with the Expressions of Interest (EOIs). As in the sale of residential aged care dispute the Council went ahead regardless of the numbers of people in the community asking for a different course of action.
Throughout the community feedback process on this project the community appeared to believe the issue was whether or not the Glen Waverley Library was updated and modernised i.e. by shifting it to Central Car Park. This was not the issue at hand. There was no reason to stop the Library being updated and modernised on its current site. In fact, many in the community prefer this option. In this case the Council’s marketing was clouding community understanding. Many people still do not understand the high probability of high rise buildings being erected on Central Car Park alongside the library.
IMPORTANT NOTE:The Council has NOT announced the results of the tender process so please keep expressing your views on open and green space in Central Glen Waverley to your Councillors.
Residential zoning and development has been a huge issue of concern to people across Monash. Whether it is the creek escarpment, McMansions, the loss of sunshine and greenery or access to local schools, the increased development and changing nature of Monash has affected everyone. EM&U has given community members a place to voice their concerns. There is an unequal access to media and communication. The Council has a smooth media machine and access to publications. It is harder for the community and EM&U has done what it can to provide an outlet for community information.
EM&U supporters were active presenting to Planning Panels Victoria on their visits to Monash. At the last meeting the newly elected Council voted to accept the Council Officers recommendations on the Planning Panel Report.
The Monash community has frequently requested the Council to involve, collaborate with and empower the community i.e. use the higher levels of the IAP2 Public Participation Spectrum http://www.iap2.org.au/documents/item/84
Looking into the future of Empowering Monash and YOU
The purpose of EM&U was to foster a community where all community members have access to knowledge, community services and media. Community members should be partners in democratic decision making in local government and engaged at the community level and be actively involved in advocating for areas considered a social responsibility, including quality in aged care and inclusive practice. We do hope that the Council will endeavour to make improvements and give the community an opportunity to have a say in the near future.
As key people take on different roles in their lives we question where EM&U is going. At this point in time the emphasis is on the Facebook page. Time will tell whether there is a role to play into the future. We welcome your views.
Thank you for your support and please, follow us on Facebook.
I took the time to read through this report and found it very informative and interesting that it revealed some issues relating to Councils. Community members had reasonable concerns about transparency in their Councils and in fact there were many complaints made to the Ombudsman.
“This investigation arose from a single complaint about a decision made in a closed council meeting – a practice that we found to be widespread across Victoria. Some complaints resonate as a theme: local councils continue to account for some 25 per cent of jurisdictional complaints to my office – more than 3,400 last year. People complaining to my office about council decisions periodically refer to the decision being made “in secret” or “behind closed doors” as evidence to support their concerns. I tabled the report into the original complaint in June 2016, but this has been a far wider investigation, looking at the transparency of decision-making within local government in Victoria.” Source: Deborah Glass Ombudsman.
As part of the investigation 79 Victorian councils were surveyed and 12 were selected to be examined in detail.
The areas of focus were:
• the closure of council meetings and special committee meetings to the public
• the handling of confidential matters
• the nature and quality of audio and visual records of meetings and the public’s ability to access records
• the scope and exercise of delegated council functions/powers and administrative actions; and the reporting of these to council and the public
• the nature and content of information discussed in ‘assemblies of councillors’
Due to the findings, there were specific recommendations made in the report to be introduced or implemented. Here is a summary of some of the recommendations or suggestions:
• relating to the Local Government Act, a requirement for more detailed reasons in relation to the closure of meetings to be specified in the minutes and that embarrassment to, or potential adverse criticism of, council are not reasons to close a meeting to the public
• implement a mandatory ‘Code of Councillor Conduct’ training program
• conflict of interest requirements to extend to advisory committee members and to have an updated list of committees on a Council’s website
• ensure that agendas are made available to public five days before a council meeting
• public questions and answers to be recorded in minutes, through audio or audio-visual recording and publication, as well as posting recorded open meetings to council websites
Did you know about section 15 ‘Your right to freedom of expression’under the Human Rights Charter?
“People are free to say what they think and want to say. They have the right to find, receive and share information and ideas. In general, this right might be limited to respect the rights and reputation of other people, or for the protection of public safety and order.” Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission
How does this right play a role in Council? As stated in the report:
“Councils also need to take care regarding restrictions on public question time. Unreasonable restrictions have the potential to be incompatible with not only the right to participate in public life, but the right to freedom of expression in section 15 of the Charter. For example, where councils require questions in writing prior to meetings, they should ensure there is appropriate assistance available to those who may have difficulty placing their question in writing. A number of councils mentioned they offered such assistance. Councils should also ensure that any restriction on the content of questions or submissions by members of the public at meetings which could be considered to limit their right to freedom of expression is appropriately balanced with any lawful restrictions reasonably necessary to respect the rights and reputation of other persons or national security, public order, public health or public morality.”
You will also find a summary of transparency in the report:
Cr Rebecca Patersonhas been elected Mayor for City of Monash Council and Cr Stuart James, Oakleigh Ward Councillor as Deputy Mayor. Hope you will work together with community to achieve many things during your term.
The City of Monash Election results were finalised on Sunday 30 October 2016. The following candidates were successful and elected:
Glen Waverley ward
Geoff Lake (re-elected) Lynnette Saloumi (first-time Councillor)
Mount Waverley ward
Brian Little (re-elected) Rebecca Paterson (re-elected) Mt Pang Tsoi (first-time Councillor)
Paul Klisaris (re-elected) Robert Davies (re-elected) Shane McCluskey (first-time Councillor)
Theo Zographos (re-elected) Stuart James (re-elected) Josh Fergeus (first-time Councillor)
Gayle Nicholas who is the founder of Empowering Monash and YOU, sadly was not successful in been elected for the Glen Waverley Ward, but campaigned very well and had a worthwhile experience. Link:Following an unsuccessful bid 4 Monash Council.EM&U will continue to push or support for recording and broadcasting of Monash Council meetings, which Gayle has also strongly advocated for. Click on link provided for further details abut streaming of council meetings and what some Councillors had to say prior to elections. Link:Feedback to Council: Streaming/Recording of Meetings.
You will have an opportunity to meet the elected Councillors at the:
Council Civic Centre (293 Springvale Rd, Glen Waverley), Monday 31 October, at 5pm. The VEC will declare the election results. For the City Of Monash election results, visit the Victorian Electoral Commission (VEC) website.
Special Council meeting(Council Chambers), Thursday 3 November at 6:30pm. Councillors will be sworn in, and a Mayor and Deputy Mayor elected or a date set for the election of the Mayor and Deputy Mayor.
Monash Council has introduced measures to improve the functioning of Council meetings. However many believe that Council meetings are now more like a school classroom. “If people behave like children and act in an unprofessional way, they can expect to be treated like children. I make no apologies for that. I was elected Mayor a few weeks ago to fix our dysfunctional meetings and I am determined to do that” stated Mayor Geoff Lake –Hands on heads improves Monash Council meeting.Councillors were required to place hands on their head if they wish to raise a point of order.
Now after spending $10,000 on his idea of a behaviour monitor and taping the meetings (which other Councillors were not allowed to assess) Mayor Geoff Lake wants to relax the ‘Hands on head’ requirement!
Snippets of Motion Document:
Cr Geoff Lake
“I proposed that these matters be raised by a councillor silently signalling their desire to raise a Point of Order or move a Procedural Motion. In the case of a Point of Order, this could be done by placing both hands on their head. In the case of a Procedural Motion, it was by placing one hand on their head. Although ‘novel’ and ridiculed by some, the adoption of these measures immediately improved the functioning of our meetings. Since the May meeting, we have barely had a single Point of Order and no disruptive Procedural Motion raised. Part of the reason for this improvement has been because the signalling process meant that it was immediately apparent what it is that a councillor is wishing to raise – i.e. a Point of Order or a Procedural Motion – and the mayor is placed in the position of being able to immediately and specifically engage the Councillor on the matter they are raising. These measures have succeeded in making Points of Order and Procedural Motions an exception rather than the norm they had previously become. As I said at the time of proposing these reforms, I am not concerned in the slightest if requiring someone to put their hands on their head does dis-incentivise a councillor from Council Meeting, 19 October 2016 Section 7.3 – Page 4 Mission Accomplished: time To Relax the ‘Hands On Heads’ Requirements moving these – as we were getting far too many of these interventions than was warranted or reasonable. Indeed we were getting more Points of Order and Procedural Motions raised at a single meeting than what was experienced across the entire previous four year Council term. I am pleased that since the May reforms, we are once again back to how things were in the previous term.”
“I thank all councillors and attendees in the Public Gallery for contributing to the improvement of our meetings. Given this improvement being sustained over the past five months, I recommend to Council that we now relax the more contentious and onerous elements of the Supplementary Standing Orders (i.e. the ‘hands on head’ requirements) because the objectives of these measures have now been realised. With a new Council to take office from the November meeting onwards, it is appropriate in my view that it be given the chance to conduct its meetings in the professional and respectful way expected by our community without the need for these more extraordinary measures which were unfortunately necessary five months ago.” Source: Motion to relax ‘hands on head’ requirement.
But why is he adding the motion now? The requirement was not relaxed when community was so against it?
Is it really due to the excuse that behaviour has been improved or is itpossible, due to the Monash Council elections and voting by the 21 October 2016? What do you think? Leave your comments by clicking on the Leave a Comment button above.
Postal ballot packs were mailed out last week (October 4, 5 and 6). Votes must be returned (in the mail) by 6pm on Friday, October 21. Votes will be counted (per latest advice) on Saturday, 29 and the results are due to be announced on the 31st.
Because of the election schedule, the regular monthly meeting, will be held at the Monash Civic Centre (293 Springvale Road, Glen Waverley) on Wednesday 19 October, from 7pm. This meeting is being held earlier in the month due to the Council elections in late October.
The meeting’s agenda (and associated reports) will be available from 5pm on Friday 14 October at Agendas and Minutes. Questions for public question time must be submitted by midday on Tuesday, 18 October.
Victorians will vote for new municipal councils between today and October 22. The new councils will be elected for a four year term.
It’s appropriate to consider the commitment of the people who offer themselves as our representatives at the level of government closest to our community.
Since the start of this council term in November 2012 there have been two Federal and one Victorian election. Many seats in those elections have been contested by municipal councillors who had been elected on the presumption they would serve the local community for a four year term.
In the City of Monash, of 11 Councillor positions, the list looks like this:
2013 Federal Election
Cr Geoff Lake (Glen Waverley ward) was preselected by the ALP for the seat of Hotham but returned to council after internal factional shenanigans kicked him out days before he would have been obliged to resign from council.
2014 State Election
Cr Steve Dimopoulos (Oakleigh ward), ALP, stood in the seat of Oakleigh. He was elected and resigned from council. Stefanie Perri, having been defeated as the ALP candidate for Box Hill was elected by countback to fill the vacancy.
Cr Theo Zographos (Oakleigh ward), Liberal, stood for Oakleigh and returned to council after defeat.
Cr Robert Davies (Mulgrave ward), Liberal, stood for Mulgrave and returned to council after defeat.
Cr Paul Klisaris (Mulgrave ward), ALP, unsuccessfully sought preselection for Prahran.
2016 Federal Election
Cr Stefanie Perri (Oakleigh ward), ALP, resigned from council while Mayor to stand in Chisholm. Defeated. Replaced on council by Nga Hosking after a countback.
Cr Paul Klisaris (Mulgrave ward ), ALP, resigned from council to stand in Aston. Defeated. Replaced by John Starkey on countback.
That’s six of our elected representatives using council as a political career stepping stone. For State elections, a councillor is not required to resign, rather they take leave from close of nominations until declaration of the poll. During that period, they are not representing the council ward by which they were elected. Once nominations close in the Federal elections a councillor must resign thereby allowing the electoral commission to promptly conduct a countback election for a replacement councillor.
In this council term (running until October 2020) there is expected to be a Victorian State election in 2018 and a Federal election in 2019. Which candidates standing for council are planning to quit their role, if elected, and stand for one of these elections?
There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with a councillor being a member of a political party. This is only a problem when the membership combines with career ambitions incompatible with a commitment to serve residents and ratepayers.
When considering your vote this election it’s worth asking your prospective candidates about the duration of their commitment.
You may have already received flyers/publications distributed by candidates. These items have information relating to the candidate to decide who to vote for. Please be aware that candidates have added their authorisation statement on their publications to ensure you know who they are from or you are aware they have authorised the content. Any other items distributed without a candidate’s statement added to them does not guarantee that it is by them or they have given permission to be circulated.
Why is it that a simple question at council does not get a simple, direct answer?
Over the past three years I have regularly attended Monash Council meetings and often asked questions in public question time. Council gives a “written response”. The name “response” is apt because the “response” rarely is an “answer” to the question that is asked.
By way of example: on September 27, an amendment to Council’s Financial Hardship Policy was proposed and, while well intentioned, it offers benefits to one group of struggling ratepayers while denying the same to others in equally straitened circumstances. I asked why this was. The response was a long-winded, contradictory evasion. Judge for yourself.
The Proposed Policy Amendment
Extract from Monash Council Agenda – September 27, 2016
My Question To Council Tonight
Compassion for ratepayers suffering financial hardship is commendable; no question.
I have lived in Monash for 30 years.
18 months ago I downsized near to Boyanna Rd.
12 months ago (remember, we’re imagining), aged 57, too ill to work I invoked my income protection insurance (reduced income, no pension, huge medical bills).
3 months ago revaluation doubled my CIV and increased my rates by 40%.
I qualify under council’s hardship provisions for interest rate relief on deferred rates (part 1 of the amendment).
Next door is an older, struggling pensioner who moved into Monash for the first time eleven years ago who qualifies for zero interest (part 2 of the amendment).
What is the difference in NEED between these two hypothetical ratepayers that warrants preferential treatment of one over the other?
The question is not critical of the idea that relief should be offered – in fact it applauds the concept. The question points out the inequities based on the assumption that two ratepayers are both suffering extreme financial hardship yet they are treated differently:
I have no pension yet, hypothetically, I have no more disposable cash than the pensioner next door
I am not receiving any government assistance because I am funding myself through my own income protection insurance yet I am eligible for less public assistance than my neighbour
I have lived in Monash, paying rates, for 19 years more than the pensioner yet, having moved house recently, I am penalised in comparison
I am too ill to work yet, being younger, may well have more years ahead of me in which to accumulate a compounding burden of interest on my deferred rates jeopardising far more of the equity in my home
Councillor Lake’s response on behalf of council (he has couched it in the first person so I believe it fair to attribute it personally to him) follows below with embedded comments.
Thank you for your question. At the outset, assuming both have applied for deferred payments under the proposed amendment, they would both be better off than under the current policy. My proposal, as set out in Item 7.2, is seeking Council approval to reduce the interest rate charged for the deferral of Council rates for persons qualifying under our Financial Hardship Policy. This represents a reduction from the current 4.75% to 2.5% per annum. The current 4.75% rate which applies is already lower than the proscribed statutory rate of 9.5% and follows the development of Council’s current hardship policy which I instigated around two years ago. So an interest rate of 2.5% on deferred rates would be the outcome for your hypothetical non-pensioner in the example you have proposed. That is an interest rate substantially lower than anything else commercially available at the moment.
My question asked about the unequal treatment of two struggling ratepayers. The fact that both get a reduced rate was never in question and the fact that both are better off than under the current policy does not address the inequity.
Commercial interest rates are irrelevant – governments are not commercial entities. And the fact remains that, in these straitened circumstances, any interest rate compounds the debt accumulating against my property. The question is not about whether or not a rates debt ultimately needs to be paid regardless of personal circumstances, it asked about the different treatment of two disadvantaged people.
In the proposed Notice of Motion I am also seeking councillor support to reduce the interest rate charged on deferred rates for eligible aged pensioners to 0% where a person is over the age of 65 and can prove they have lived in their home for more than 10 years.
The latter approach recognises a person who has passed the current age in Australia when someone becomes eligible to apply for the Age Pension. This approach is proposed by me to offer residents of pensionable age an ability to live completely free of any concern around the payment of their Council rates. This is in response to the dozens of pensioners I have spoken to over the past month, and the hundreds who have responded to Council’s petition to the state government, who have told me about the significant impact on their life arising from the significant rate increase they have received because of property values increasing substantially.
Being older doesn’t mean the financial hardship is greater. Being an aged-pensioner (but not a disability or other pensioner) does not mean you’re, automatically, harder up. Financial Hardship is a question of your ability to pay your rates bill without being put in a situation where you cannot pay for the necessities of life and neither age nor pension status change that.
The requirement to prove that a person has lived in their home for at least 10 years is also unfair. In the example I cited, I was well and truly qualified on this count until I downsized. After living in my own home for 28.5 years I downsized and, 18 months later, in serious financial hardship, I’m told I don’t qualify for help because I haven’t lived there for long enough.
Still the inequities, the subject of the question, is not addressed.
If my changes are supported tonight, aged pensioners with more than 10 years living and contributing to our community, can choose not to pay another dollar in rates and be completely confident that over time interest will not reduce the equity they have paid off in their home. Their rates will simply sit as a charge against their property to be recouped by Council when the property is sold. This in an option which will not be for everyone but it does offer immediate financial relief to anyone who is otherwise feeling they have no other choice but to leave the local area they have lived in for most of their life.
And there is the contradiction.
The hypothetical me in the example has lived and contributed to our community for nearly three times as long as the hypothetical pensioner but it’s the pensioner who gets the benefit described in this paragraph and the long term resident who misses out. It’s the long term resident who, contrary to the comment above, may “have no other choice but to leave the local area they have lived in for most of their life”.
But what is even worse here is the underlying implication that compassion must first be earned – “…aged pensioners with more than 10 years living and contributing to our community…” are worthy or more care and compassion than others!
When it comes to council rates, age pensioner ratepayers are the most vulnerable section of our community because they are living off very low fixed incomes with little prospect of increasing their income in real terms in the future. The proposed amendments will provide some immediate relief to some of those most in need. This is in addition to our strong advocacy around these mattes to the state government and my proposal tonight represents assertive action we can take ourselves right now.
Pensioners are vulnerable. Invalids are vulnerable. The chronically ill, unemployed and many others are vulnerable. They all live of very low fixed incomes.
It is true that the hypothetical me may recover and resume working and earning in which case I’d have to start to repay my deferred rates. But I may have already been forced to sell up to escape an increasing and insurmountable interest burden despite having lived and contributed to the local community for most of my life.
So, I return the the question which was not answered:
What is the difference in NEED between these two hypothetical ratepayers that warrants preferential treatment of one over the other?
Why Can’t Citizens Get Answers?
When you consider the above example the only answer I can see is that there is no legitimate reason for the different treatment. If it’s fair to charge one person 2.5% interest on deferred rates when they’re in financial hardship then it’s fair to charge everyone 2.5%. If it’s fair to grant a 0% interest rate to one person then it’s fair to grant it to everyone.
And if that’s true then the answer to the question asked is very short and direct, “There is no difference in their needs, I will amend my proposal to recognise the unintended inequities”.
Time for a Change to Question Time
The final insult to the community in the above example is that my question was required to be kept to no more than 100 words (I got away with a few extra this time) but Council responses face no such restraint. Cr Lake’s response used six paragraphs, about 500 words, to NOT answer the question.