What’s the point in having your say?

I’m hearing a lot of disappointment from the community after the recent decision of Council to sell The Rex to the highest bidder. After extensive consultation with 369 people responding, 66% said they were against selling and wished to keep the building as a community asset. Many ideas were put forward with strong support for a community cinema/theatre, gathering spaces, arts hub, youth café and public toilets.

So, for many people it felt like Council wasn’t listening when it voted down the motion to work together to develop viable options to keep the building for community use.

Many people have asked me why Council did not choose to sell the Rex by an Expression of Interest process which would have allowed the chance to review proposals and seek a balance between a good financial return and a suitable outcome for the community.

It takes time and effort to participate in these community engagement activities and I’ve heard from many people that they don’t see the point in giving their feedback anymore.

The objectives of the Community Engagement policy are to:

  • Strengthen the relationship between Council and the community.
  • Recognise the creativity and expertise of Hepburn Shire citizens and stakeholders in identifying strengths and challenges, as well as developing solutions for our community.

After the July council meeting, many people have been left wondering how this decision has upheld these objectives.

I still have faith in the Community Engagement Policy. When we developed it, I genuinely believed that this would be a guiding document to help us think about complex, “wicked” problems and look for clever and fair solutions. And I still hope that by doing more Community Engagement and making it more accessible we, as a Council, can be more in touch with the needs and wishes of the people and make sound, informed decisions.

Not everyone liked the decision that was made on The Rex. And perhaps Council still has some way to go towards listening and working effectively with our community.

But we should not throw out the baby with the bath water.

Democracy has long been criticised for its failures over the years. In 1947 Winston Churchill famously said:

“Many forms of Government have been tried and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

So don’t give up on Having your Say. Our Community Engagement may not be perfect, but it is the best way to hear and understand the needs of our community. I personally read every survey response on The Rex – all 369 views, and I learnt a lot, both from those in support and those against the sale.

I want to encourage every member of our community to keep up the communication with their council. Wherever there is an issue that is important to you, or you are passionate about, keep talking to us. Whether it’s filling in a survey, coming to a Listening Post, Pop-Up info session, community forum or sending us an email – we need to hear from you.

I am always open to meeting with any member of the community who would like to share their views, and I will endeavour to bring those to the discussion table so your voices can be heard.

Have your Say at: https://participate.hepburn.vic.gov.au/

Councillor Jen Bray
Birch Ward
Deputy Mayor, Hepburn Shire
Email: jbray@hepburn.vic.gov.au
Phone: 0428 150 652

Councillor Columns will become a regular feature in TheWombat Post. We offer these spaces as an information channel from Council to the community. Councillor Columns are not subject to editorial review by our editorial committee but are published as we receive them from our elected Councillors.