Melbourne City Council must clean up its act - Councillor

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Allegations of improper conduct continue to swirl around the City of Melbourne Council under controversial Mayor Robert Doyle. Councillor Richard Foster says it must become transparent and accountable.

Lord Mayor Robert Doyle forcefully broke up the peaceful Occupy Melbourne protestors.

ASK ANYONE who knows me and they will tell you that I’m not a flag-waving supporter of Occupy Melbourne, nor the Occupy movement (if that’s what it is) in general, wherever they may be occupying something. What Occupy Melbourne was doing in the City Square on 21 October 2011, whether they had a right to remain there, and the manner in which they were removed are all matters that I don’t believe have been conclusively resolved – yet.  But some aspects of these matters are currently being investigated by Ombudsman Victoria and they are also the subject of Court action.

At the time that protestors were occupying the City Square, the Melbourne City Council was a different regime to what it is today. Following the Council election on 27 October 2012, Lord Mayor Robert Doyle lost his majority and has had to face a very differently constructed Council. Whilst a number of Councillors have been returned, the new Council now also comprises five new Councillors of various political persuasions.  To say that this has changed the dynamic of the Council would be an understatement. Already it’s clear that our new Councillors have some ideas of their own that they’re ready to prosecute, and that means that our Lord Mayor can no longer enjoy the freedom that he once had with a majority of votes in the Council Chamber.

Now that the voters have achieved more balanced representation on the Council, it amplifies the interest in what happened – or what’s alleged to have happened - during the previous Council term.  It’s taken only four months of the new Council and already allegations of hefty donations from property developers to Robert Doyle’s team have resurfaced. And this time, they’ve been extended to suggestions that attempts were made to obscure the true nature of one particular donor.

(Image courtesy Fairfax media)

While we will not always be able to control, contain, or influence the activities of others, what’s important is that any apparent abuses of publicly owned facilities are brought to light.

Just as important, is that the actions of our elected representatives must be continually accounted for. Yes, that includes me and every other person who holds public office. I don’t agree entirely with the protestors who are the subject of discussion, but I will fiercely defend the right to protest appropriately and peacefully. Where this right is denied, it must be brought to light, those responsible for the denial must be brought to account, and dodgy efforts to conceal one’s attempts to influence the public mind about protestors by using a government facility must be exposed. We cannot risk integrity becoming a second-class citizen.

Last week, I issued an internal request for information relating to this use of a City of Melbourne computer, but somehow I suspect that it just won’t be forthcoming. Information Technology is a strange world and I’m expecting a host of reasons why the information I’ve asked for can’t be supplied. And this will become yet another example of public officials out there seeking to make things right, while others who are culpable keep exploring new ways to say: “this whole thing really doesn’t matter all that much”.

This has almost nothing to do with protests in the City Square and nothing to do with protestors in general, but it has everything to do with integrity and with ethics — especially as they apply to public office. Most concerning are the ongoing conversations about donations from property developers and the use of Council appliances in arguably inappropriate ways.


Allegations of some Councillors behaving badly continue to mount. It would be pretty easy to suggest that I shouldn’t be worried about this at all; Councillors caught up in allegations of cash-for-access by property developers are Liberal Party members and I’m not, so if it reflects badly on them who cares? Well, we should all care because these sorts of allegations reflect poorly on a local government that should be held in high esteem.

The City of Melbourne is rightly expected by its ratepayers to focus on the needs of the community; the local amenity and environment, the health of its residents and visitors, the City’s prosperity, the needs of the disadvantaged, and the many other competing interests that a large city has to manage. But instead we’re tasked with responding to repeated allegations of rich property developers spending huge sums on re-electing Councillors, the editing of online comments about a protest organisation, and there’s more.

I teach my four year old daughter the importance of honesty and integrity. I reckon you’re never too young to learn these things, nor too old to be reacquainted with them. I’m happy to report that she gets it. So when some of us adults – particularly those who hold public office – are accused of forgetting, or ignoring, or actively evading these principles it’s ever so important that we get to the bottom of it.

Together we must continue to call for greater transparency and accountability at all levels of government, but especially at those levels that are currently the subject of serious allegations. I know there is a great deal that we can achieve – the community and the Council together – and I would much rather be concentrating on this than the exposure of dodgy dealings.

But we cannot confront the truth if we don’t know what the truth is. It is incumbent upon us all to continue pressing for answers to the things that we can’t rationally explain, to insist that those responsible are held to account, and to ensure that we have the protections in place to prevent unsavoury, inappropriate, and illegal conduct from infiltrating our public institutions in the future.  And then we can get on with the things that matter just as much, like building better services for our community. Bringing the truth to light is inarguably necessary and I will continue fighting to ensure that it happens, but I know what I’d rather be concentrating on.

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