Brimbank Council was sacked by the Victorian Labor Government in September 2009 following an investigation by Ombudsman Victoria alleging improper conduct by several councillor's and State Labor MP's. The state government refused to act on the evidence gathered by the Ombudsman and prosecute former Labor councillors despite detailed information in the Ombudsmans report. In what seems a completely contradictory outcome the Labor councillors have been exonerated of any wrong doing and yet council remains sacked. As I have previously stated, the sacking had much more to do with keeping Labor out of the news in Brimbank in the lead up to the state election. They know the community and in particular the Greens was making headway in exposing Labor in the west. The only real solution to this crisis is for more ordinary community members to voice their views and become involved in good governance in their local areas.
This article appeared in the spring 2009 edition of the Greens Victoria News:
The sacking of Brimbank Council
By Geraldine Brooks
The Greens’ Geraldine Brooks was elected to Brimbank Council in November 2008. The City of Brimbank Council was sacked by the Minister for Local Government in September, following the Ombudsman's report in May and two reports from the Local Government Inspector. An administrator will run the council’s affairs until the next Local Government elections in 2012.
The suspension of Brimbank Councillors on the 15th September 2009 follows a very dark period in the history of Brimbank. The Ombudsman’s report released earlier this year exposed how residents have missed out time and again on pools, parks, community facilities and services, because Labor councillors’ attention has been devoted to accommodating factional and personal agendas rather than acting in the community interest.
In my first nine months on Council I was often the only councillor asking questions about issues and officer recommendations such as contracts, submissions and policy’s. For example, I would regularly be in the middle of asking my questions and our Mayor would respond with derision saying “does the Greens Councillor have another question?” I was also often the only one contributing to discussion and debate. I would speak to most issues, while other councillors would either remain silent or have a script that had been prepared for them by an officer. In nine months I put at least fifteen motions to the chamber ranging from support for a container deposit scheme, and a community meeting following the release of the Ombudsman’s report, to opposition to the defunding of Reconciliation Victoria and the extension of the urban growth boundary. At least two thirds of these failed because no one would second them, effectively blocking debate. In most cases the vote in the chamber has been ten to one against these proposals.
There is no doubt the individual Labor councillors who have been found to be acting inappropriately deserve to be sacked. I am concerned, though, that the sacking of the whole council is not a solution. The reasons cited to support sacking the council are glaringly inadequate. It is my belief that there are grounds to support dismissing some councillors, but the final Local Government Inspector’s report, which provoked the sacking, did not demonstrate them. The Minister could have sacked those found to be acting improperly and left the other councillors in place.
Replacing elected representatives with unaccountable, unrepresentative, Labor-appointed administrators will not help local democracy. There are many important issues that require advocacy and even fightback to the state government such as gaming, green wedges, climate change and the destruction of our grasslands by the proposed changes to our urban growth boundaries, restriction to planning appeal rights, and Westlink. How is a state Labor-appointed administrator going to advocate and protest about these issues on behalf of our community?
When Sunshine Council (one of Brimbank’s predecessors) was sacked, it did nothing to improve the outlook for our residents. Sunshine still has the highest rate of unemployment, poor public transport, very high rates of diabetes, obesity and mental illness, and our Labor representatives are doing nothing to tackle these concerns.
Sacking Brimbank Council seems to be more about drawing attention away from the November 2010 state election and the fact that this Labor government has done nothing about dealing with corruption in its ranks. The Brumby government has done nothing about the real source of inappropriate behaviour - senior Labor figures, and has done nothing to investigate real solutions.
The community will now not have access to elected representation for the next two and a half years. Administrators do not have to face election if their decisions are not in the best interests of the community they are supposed to serve. How is the community going to find out about a range of issues? How are the decisions about major developments going to go ahead without proper scrutiny and transparency? How will the community challenge decisions it disagrees with? How will the people of Brimbank have a say?