Council has moved quickly to establish the Hepburn Together Community Panel to provide input to the Community Vision and Council Plan. The Panel was announced last week and met for the first time earlier this week.

Council appears committed to fulfilling their commitment and their obligation to transparency and community engagement.

Unfortunately, promises made by the previous Council to engage with the community about concerns relating to Local Law 2 remain unfulfilled.

General Local Law 2 (Community Amenity and Municipal Places) was passed in February 2020 despite considerable concern expressed in local media, social media and by members of the public at Council meetings. At the July 2020 Council meeting, Council resolved to establish Community Reference Groups relating to firewood collection on Council land, salvaging at Council managed transfer stations and planting on nature strips. Council adopted terms of reference for the groups and advertised for expressions of interest. At the September 2020 meeting, Council appointed community members to each of the reference groups.

The Wombat Post contacted members of these reference groups to inquire about progress. A number have replied to indicate that seven months after their appointment, the reference groups are yet to meet.

Council transparency and accountability was a big issue in the local government election of 2020. A community action group, Community Voice, was established to promote candidates who promised greater transparency, accountability and community engagement. Cr Tim Drylie and Cr Jen Bray, who were affiliated with Community Voice, were appointed as community members to Community Reference Groups before they were elected to Council.

Members of the reference groups have expressed disappointment that there has been so little progress on this issue given its importance in the local government election and the fact that two of the community members on Reference Groups are now on Council. The lack of progress is in stark contrast to the speed with which Council has moved on the Hepburn Together Community Panel.

A Council representative has indicated that the community reference groups will meet in May for the first time. “Delays due to COVID-19 and resourcing has meant this meeting is unfortunately later than we had originally planned, however staff are looking forward to working with members on these projects,” said Interim CEO, Bradley Thomas. “We are committed to this process and looking forward to the outcomes. Shire staff intend to table a report with recommendations for Council to consider at its meeting in September or October.”

Feedback from the reference groups will inform policies and processes to complement the local law and reduce unnecessary red tape for the community. An independent facilitator will lead the discussions.