Dear local government types and few others,
Not since the old City of Camberwell was suspended by the Kennett Government
in 1993 have we seen local politics in the affluent City of Boroondara in Melbourne's eastern suburbs draw such attention to itself.
The issue is a remarkable decision during confidential session last Monday night to withdraw Boroondara's delegate from the Municipal Association of Victoria, the peak body for Victoria's 79 councils.
It is being described by senior Boroondara officers as the stupidest decision they've even seen because the current Boroondara delegate is Cr Coral Ross, who also happens to be Interim President
of the MAV.
Coral Ross is a genuine independent who was in the box seat next February to become the first popularly elected female President of the MAV since it was established by an act of Parliament in 1879.
Alas, a few Liberal blokes in Boroondara have decided to sabotage the pitch by pulling the rug on her.
If they don't reverse the decision, it is likely they will be humiliated when another council decides to nominate Cr Ross as their MAV delegate in order for her to run for the Presidency. This is allowed under the current rules and once elected President for two years, that same council could then re-instate their normal delegate as the President, once elected, must cease being delegate for their council.
If this situation is not sorted, there would also likely be quite a campaign against local Liberal MP Tim Smith, the chief architect of the boning, in his seat of Kew at the 2018 state election. Boroondara's current Liberal Mayor Phillip Healey contemplating running
against Smith and Mary Wooldridge in the bitter Kew preselection in 2014 but ultimately pulled out.
Here are all the relevant links to get you across what has happened to Coral Ross and what people are saying.
Boroondara resolution passed last Monday in confidential session
Liberal Mayor Phillip Healey's blog including his letter to Coral as MAV President
Crikey story on Thursday
Online story in The Progress Leader
ALGWA press release slamming Boroondara
I've taken this issue up directly with the 10 Boroondara councillors starting with this email on Thursday:
First email on Thursday, December 15, 2016
Dear Boroondara councillors,
What on earth are you doing to the MAV President?
For your information, I wrote the following piece which has just appeared in today's edition of Crikey: Liberal Party ‘woman problem' rears its ugly head in Boroondara. The Victorian Liberals have long struggled to get women into Parliament, and the perception of male dominance is continuing within the boundaries of Josh Frydenberg's seat of Kooyong. The women of Boroondara in Melbourne's leafy suburbs are issuing a call to action after the most Liberal-dominated local council in Victoria on Monday voted to pull the rug out from under popular Municipal Association of Victoria president Coral Ross.Ross, a well respected independent, was elected acting president of the MAV after long-serving president Bill McArthur was ejected by his local constituents in the Shire of Golden Plains at Victoria's statewide council elections in October.The MAV is one of the last bastions of male dominance in Victorian politics. Formed in 1878 by an act of Parliament, it has never had a female president elected for a full term.Ross is the third female acting president who has taken over from a bloke who failed to finish his term and was in the box seat to make history by being elected by the 79 member councils to be president for a full two-year term at the upcoming elections in February.Alas, her Boroondara colleagues have just voted in a confidential session on Monday night “not to appoint a representative to the Municipal Association of Victoria”, which means the incumbent president won't even be able to run.The hand of young turk hard right state Liberal Member for Hawthorn Tim Smith has been seen influencing decision, despite lobbying from a range of people, including his boss, state opposition leader Matthew Guy.Local Government Minister Natalie Hutchins is also not amused, and pressure is already being brought to bear to call a special council meeting to reverse the decision.Liberal mayor Philip Healy has the power to call such a meeting, as do any three of these 10 councillors. Watch this space.
Coincidentally, the Victorian Ombudsman has today released a 184 page report
criticising the lack of transparency of local government decision making.
Could someone please explain why you have pulled out of the MAV in a confidential vote without first consulting with your community or interested stakeholders?
Could you also please ensure a media release is issued explaining your decision. In that media release, it would also be helpful if the official advice from officers on withdrawing from the MAV could also be explained.
Once you do take the temperature on the inevitable backlash against your ill-considered decision, could you also please get on with the business of calling a special council meeting to reverse the decision.
You have already paid Boroondara ratepayer funds to be a member of the MAV until June 30, 2017.
By all means pull out then, but it makes no sense to withdraw your delegate when she has just been elected MAV President and you are paid up for the next 7 months.
If any of you would like to discuss this matter, feel free to call. I will also be writing a piece for The Mayne Report which will be emailed to councillors and local government officers across Australia.
I will be including the explanation of the decision from each of you, if it is provided. A no comment response or no reply will also be noted.
Please note that Cr Ross was not aware I was proposing to write to you or write that piece in Crikey. She has no influence over what I'll be saying and doing about this in the period ahead.
Advocating for better treatment of women is something I've been doing for many years as this video from 2010
It is important to call out discrimination or unconscious bias when it occurs and that's what this communication to you is attempting to do.
Please don't bring your council into disrepute on gender relations by digging in and it should be the longer serving experienced councillors who take the lead on finding a solution.
Finally, here is the text of a press release which ALGWA has just released: MEDIA RELEASE: ALGWA slams Boroondara Council on banning of MAV delegate
The Australian Local Government Women's Association, and in particular the Victorian Branch, is bitterly disappointed at the action of the Boroondara Council in deciding, in a closed meeting, not to appoint a delegate to the Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV).
This unprecedented action by Boroondara Council will result in Cr Coral Ross, who is the Interim MAV President and its current MAV representative, being unable to stand for President of the Board in the forthcoming elections to the State's peak local government body.
"Cr Ross is the highest ranked female councillor in Victorian local government, being the Interim President of the MAV and on the Australian Local Government Association Board, " said ALGWA Vic President Helen Coleman.
"It is a travesty that her local council has decided not to appoint a MAV delegate, a prerequisite to standing for election, and therefore depriving the sector of her leadership and of someone who has always been a strong voice for local government. I'm surprised regarding Boroondara's actions from two perspectives, firstly not availing the Boroondara Council of the prospect of having a much prized “seat at the MAV's decision making table”, and secondly what appears to be a deliberate and ludicrous decision to deny a highly respected Councillor the opportunity to represent ALL genders on the leading Local Government body. This is a ‘No Win” outcome for the “home side” – or for all other Local Governments in Victoria.”
"Without a representative Boroondara Council will be paying its membership fee and waiving its right to be part of important decision making at the Victorian Local Government peak body level," added Ms Coleman
——————————————————————Second email to Boroondara brassAfter reading mayor Phillip Healey's remarkable letter to Coral as MAV President yesterday, I followed up with this email to the Boroondara councillors which copied in the senior executive team who are said to be appalled by the action of their elected representatives.
Friday, December 16, 2016
Dear Boroondara Councillors and senior executives,
By now most of you have probably worked out that your council's disgraceful decision to deny Cr Coral Ross an opportunity to contest the MAV presidency is a high risk public relations disaster. It looks petty and nasty and is bringing Boroondara into disrepute.
Having a male mayor writing this letter
to his female colleague trying to rationalise such a vindictive move is highly embarrassing.
If not fixed quickly, this decision will plague your entire term, damage the Liberal Party brand and raise the prospect of a formal intervention by the state government against Boroondara, as has been seen in Darebin, Geelong, Casey, Wangaratta and Brimbank in recent years.
There are also many holes in the mayor's arguments
, the most obvious being the fact you are paid up as MAV members until June 30, 2017, so why not remain represented until that time?
In outlining long-term concerns and the need for leadership change at MAV, the mayor's letter
ignores the fact the long-serving MAV President Bill McArthur was defeated in October and that CEO Rob Spence will finish his final contract at the end of 2017.
Your representative on the MAV board
has been a force for change. Why not let her remain to drive cultural change?
As you all know, the MAV is a rural gerrymander which too often downplays metropolitan issues and interests.
By removing the most viable metropolitan Presidential candidate, your actions run the risk of antagonising so many of your fellow metropolitan councils by removing the candidate many of them want to lead the reform program at MAV.
If the long-serving Boroondara mayor, who I've never seen at an MAV event over the past 8 years, is going to be intransigent on these issues, then it is up to the other Boroondara councillors
, particularly the 5 females
, to intervene and call a special council meeting to reverse this decision.
The officers also need to be stronger in the advice they are providing. You don't all want to be plagued with questions about this issue when you move about the community over the summer months.
It only requires three councillors to call a special meeting and the sole business of the meeting should read as follows:
“That council appoints Cr Coral Ross as MAV delegate until June 30, 2017, in order to support her run at the MAV Presidency in early 2017.”
I look forward to hearing when 3 of you have decided to go down this path.
Finally, I note the mayor's comment
to The Progress Leader
comparing confidentiality at Boroondara and City of Melbourne.
Cr Healey chose to use a very selective statistic. The full Melbourne transparency reform program is outlined here.
You have a long way to go, including issues such as disclosing your lease register, property valuations and senior executive contract details, just to name a few.
Sadly, Boroondara was even adversely mentioned on p40 of yesterday's Ombudsman's report
into local government transparency, courtesy of your attempt to stymie public question time.
At the very least you should call a public council meeting so that other councils can formally submit into the decision-making process and then all 10 of your councillors can speak for themselves. If you provided an audio recording of your council meetings like Melbourne does, other interested parties could then listen to the debate as well.
At is stands presently, we don't even know what the vote was, who presented what arguments or how individual councillors voted. This is hardly transparent on such a high profile and controversial decision.
Stephen MayneWho's who at City of Boroondara?
Controversial state Liberal MP for Kew
, Tim Smith, has emerged as a powerbroker at Boroondara council but his Parliamentary colleagues are already telling anyone who will listen that he has over-reached in trying to bone the only non-Liberal ward councillor in his seat.
Smith backed a number of council candidates and did better than he was expecting and is now damaging all of them by grossly over-reaching. Power has gone to his head and there is collateral damage all over the place.
So what should happen now? There is a Boroondara planning committee meeting at 6.30pm on Monday night
which will be the first time these 10 councillors will appear in public since boning their respected colleague in a confidential session. It might just be worth turning up
or at least sending messages to the key players. All the contact details are here
Here is a brief rundown of the 10 Boroondara councillors
, which demonstrates the common theme of ward councillors in Tim Smith's seat of Kew going after the perenially diplomatic and professional independent Coral Ross.
only narrowly survived
last election in a two-horse field. Long-time Liberal councillor and mayor this year who has never liked the MAV and wants to demonstrate some muscular power now that the Liberals have more influence at Boroondara than any other Victorian council. His Studley ward
largely falls within Tim Smith's state seat of Kew, where he aspired to be the member before pulling out of the 2014 preselection contest.Jim Parke:
former Liberal Party member and a controversial lawyer, car park ticket issuer and debt collector
whose practices have been criticised in Parliament
and at MAV forums. Lists "pistol shooting"
as one of his favourite recreations. Returned uncontested in Bellevue ward
which falls entirely within Tim Smith's state seat of Kew. Was mayor in 2015-16 when he demonstrated a strong anti-MAV position. Also lead the charge to weaken Boroondara's public questions regime as was outlined on page 40 of the recent Ombudsman's report
into local government transparency.Cynthia Watson:
new Liberal councillor in the Maranoa ward
who was encouraged to run by her local Liberal member Tim Smith. Much of Maranoa falls within Smith's seat of Kew, which he holds with a 10.64% margin
. Cynthia was elected with the benefit of the donkey vote after the incumbent didn't recontest. Regarded as being influenced by the Liberal men who are targeting Coral Ross. We wonder if she is aware of the famous Madeleine Albright quote that "there is a special place in hell for women who don't help other women".Jack Wegman:
veteran former mayor who has taken a paid gig as a gun lobbyist in recent times, but has become embroiled in litigation with warring factions at the Sporting Shooters Association. See recent Herald Sun picture
with an adler shotgun. Not a Liberal but seems to have fallen in with the ruling clique so far this term.Felicity Sinfield:
assisted by the donkey vote
in defeating Cotham ward incumbent Judith Voce. Liberal Party member and police officer. Regarded as being influenced by local state Liberal member Tim Smith. Ward falls entirely within Smith's seat of Kew.Steve Hurd:
only narrowly re-elected with the assistance of the donkey vote in Glenferrie ward
in a big field of 6 candidates. Like Cr Parke, is also a lawyer but more Labor-aligned.Garry Thompson:
architect and new councillor whose Solway ward
is at the southern end of Boroondara, away from Tim Smith's seat of Kew. Presumably perplexed by this carry-on but hasn't intervened as yet to negotiate a settlement. Lisa Hollingsworth:
5th generation Boroondara resident who was only narrowly elected
in Lynden ward. Not seen as overly hostile.Jane Addis:
40 year Canterbury veteran who got the biggest primary vote of any incumbent in the Maling ward.
Not seen as overly hostile or aligned with the ruling Liberal clique.Coral Ross:
attracted an impressive primary vote of 63% when re-elected in the Gardiner ward
in October. As noted by ALGWA, Coral is the highest ranking female councillor in Victoria and current Acting MAV President. Regarded as a good prospect to become the first elected MAV President to serve a full-term, until had the rug pulled by the local Liberal men and some of their fellow travellers.
That's all for now.
Do ya best, Stephen Mayne* The Mayne Report is an email newsletter and website which promotes transparency and good governance in the corporate, political and media worlds. It is published by Stephen Mayne, the founder of Crikey.com, shareholder advocate, ASA director and former City of Melbourne councillor. To unsubscribe from this email list, click here.