Dear Editor,

The ever increasing Corporatisation of Hepburn Shire is creating a lack of transparency in decision making which is removing community assets from benefiting the people of the Shire.

Is inexperience at senior levels creating a state of ongoing panic?

‘There needs to be change to better align Councillors and Mayors to effectively achieve community-based objectives and better operate as a diverse board of the community’ to quote The Local Government Culture Project ( Discussion Paper Local Government Culture Project Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions December 2021,

The Local Government Culture Project aims to “develop approaches that could improve culture and conduct. This would support creating a safer, more diverse, and representative local government sector. Mention is made through consultation of local government being a ‘parliament of opposition as opposed to a diverse board of the community’”.

Currently the experience of my construction peers is that the Hepburn Planning and Building department is in disarray. Senior staff have left, inexperienced people are being promoted to senior roles and too few people are spread too thinly, despite the spin that it is under control. As the current CEO stated, “We are currently experiencing an unprecedented increase in applications for planning, building & septic permits, as well as general enquiries and information requests in these work areas. We acknowledge that it is taking longer than normal to get a response from us. Please bear with us as we work to further resource the team to meet current demand.”

If the logic of the Sale of the Rex and the ending of the Storm and Flood recovery work is pursued, then Hepburn Shire apparently does not have the money to fund a project of the scope of Hepburn Aquatic Strategy. We have been told by Council for a project of lesser size that “It will require obtaining additional loans thereby burdening ratepayers across the whole Shire for a number of years.” and further, “If the project proceeds, the financial burden for all will be considerable”. Yet that project did have a 10+ year history in Council’s Long Term Financial Planning.

The logic is then that the concept of value for a ‘many $million+’ investment needs to be brought into question for the Aquatics Strategy.

To quote the Council Officers Report: “The high order indicative costs associated with implementing the actions arising from the Aquatics Strategy are estimated to be $5.9 million – $7.98 million. The implementation of the Aquatics Strategy is currently not included in Council’s Long Term Financial Planning and would be subject to achieving funding as part of future Council budgeting processes and seeking external partner funding opportunities where applicable.”

While I have supported the DIAC project from its inception, it seems contradictory that the Hepburn Shire Aquatic Strategy and the Daylesford IAC can proceed in such circumstances. It seems the ‘Warm Pool in Daylesford’ will be funded. If we can be told the financial logic of that I will support it. But it seems contradictory that the Daylesford IAC can proceed in such circumstances where there is no money for the Heritage Railway rail clearance or for the Rex which must be sold. (Unbelievably, we are told this decision cannot be rescinded). However it seems the Warm Pool will be funded?

We have been told by the current Council; “Many decisions made during the history of this Council have not yet been made public”. The most recent decisions in November regarding the Sale of the Rex are just a continuation of this Council’s ‘process of panic’ that is not transparent and, as yet, an unsatisfactory and unexplained decision that split the Councillors 4 to 3. Our questions to the Council are batted off with inadequate answers or outright refusal to offer an answer.

Resorting to defences of “Commercial in confidence” for why information can not be shared is a recent phenomenon which began in Victoria in the Kennett era in the late 1990s. It is world wide and is aimed at removing control from democratically elected governments and placing community assets in the hands of private enterprise, commonly known as privatisation.

The Rex project debacle was self-reported by an acting CEO to independent auditors and thence to IBAC who asked that it be referred to the Victorian Local Government Inspectorate to undertake an independent investigation. The local governments of both Hepburn and Hobsons Bay are awaiting the release of this investigation report. The lack of influence by either Hepburn Shire or the City of Hobsons Bay to have it published is appalling . There should be weekly delegations to the Local Government Minister arranged through the office of the Local Member, Mary Anne Thomas, for the release of the Local Government Inspectorate’s Report. We have to stop just hoping for the public release of that report. We must act to get the answers to the many of the questions that the public justifiably have, and take responsibility for what has happened.

We need to set the Rex project back on course. Like the ‘Republic of Mallacoota’ we have to take back the power of self determination and retain this important asset in the centre of Vincent St in community hands..

David Moore,

Editor’s note: Council has not decided to fund an indoor aquatics facility. Funds have been allocated for a feasibility study and business plan for a facility. As yet, no location for a facility has been identified.