The decision by Hepburn Shire Councillors to abandon the Rex Project is regrettable and has resulted in several hundred community members seeking intervention by the State Government to appoint an Administrator. Numerous written complaints have also been submitted to Council.
At their meeting, Councillors could have accepted the recommendation of their CEO to approve the preferred tenderer or activated community engagement in accordance with its own Community Engagement Policy. Neither of these pathways were followed but remain live options.
Basic principles that are inherent in any significant project are the design of a briefing document that outlines the objectives, options, costs, benefits, key stakeholders, risks and timelines. The purchase of The Rex in 2014 was a spontaneous decision seemingly without the benefit of a briefing document of this kind. A series of decisions by council from this vacuous base has led us to the current situation.
There are many problematic areas about this project that raise questions of probity, procurement practice and project governance to name a few. The silence from the Local Government Inspectorate, which commenced its review of the project in 2019 brings no transparency or accountability and is a sad reflection on the efficiency of that body.
While not culpable for the decisions of their predecessors, the current Council’s abandonment of the Rex Project is a significant decision for which it must be accountable. It should not have been taken without the benefit of the processes so clearly articulated in the Community Engagement Policy and while it is obviously an option, to reject the recommendations of the CEO and officers is a big call. At the very least, it would have reflected good governance to engage in a more extensive discussion with all key stakeholders, including the community, officers, staff, and the Daylesford Community Theatre.
If there is, as we have been told, a commitment to providing a quality environment for the Library, Council staff and the Daylesford Community Theatre, then throwing away 4 years of planning and a large amount of money without due process and even a plan to move forward is unacceptable.