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Questions remain over governance

04 Sep 2018

Questions remain over governance Image

By Sean Car

Some local councillors from the City of Port Phillip (CoPP) and the City of Melbourne (CoM) have expressed concerns with the state government’s new governance arrangements for Fishermans Bend.

The government announced last month that a new six-member development board would be charged with guiding the transformation of Australia’s largest ever urban renewal project.

The new independent board, to be chaired by the head of the former Fishermans Bend Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC) Meredith Sussex, has no formal representation from either council.

Lord Mayor Sally Capp and CoPP Mayor Bernadene Voss will instead represent their municipalities through a mayors’ forum, which the state government said would “keep the councils up to date and engaged”. Both councils will also be given formal roles in the government’s inter-departmental committees.

While the appointment of former CoPP mayor Janet Bolitho to the board, who also sat on the MAC, was welcomed by Mayor Voss, she said the community, which had three representatives on the MAC, would now have one “voice” on the new board.

“It is crucial that our community continues to have the best possible opportunity to provide ideas and feedback through avenues including a formal mechanism. To do this, continuing community engagement and representation is required,” Cr Voss said.

“We are keen to understand exactly how this interim arrangement will work, including how our community will continue to be heard and informed as Fishermans Bend’s new suburbs in our city take shape.”

“While council didn’t advocate for this type of governance arrangement, we are confident the Fishermans Bend Development Board and mayors’ panel has the potential to serve development well.”

Fellow experts in planning, industry, finance and transport Martyn Myer, Susan Oliver, Cheryl Batago and Gary Liddle, join Ms Sussex and Ms Bolitho on the development board.

A state government press release said the board would lead engagement with the community and advise precinct plans and major decisions to ensure the interests of the community continued to be at the forefront of development.

At a CoPP council meeting on August 15, Greens councillor Ogy Simic moved an urgent response to the new governance arrangements, which was passed by fellow Greens councillors Katherine Copsey and Tim Baxter, as well as acting Mayor Dick Gross.

Councillors Marcus Pearl, Andrew Bond and Louise Crawford opposed the motion, with Cr Pearl stating that the position held on the former MAC by Mayor Voss, who was absent from the meeting, should be considered as part of council’s formal response.

The motion noted that the new arrangement would only work if the mayors’ panel was a “genuinely representative mechanism” that imparted the full expertise and opinion of council.

“I moved the motion because I’m quite unimpressed with the way the state government has been operating the Fishermans Bend project,” Cr Simic told Southbank Local News.

“More specifically, I’m frustrated that councillors are constantly being locked out of the decisions made by the state government. For example, The Age received a copy of the draft framework before it was sent to councillors.”

“We also weren’t consulted on the governance model before it was announced. Ultimately this means that our community is missing out.”

Lord Mayor Sally Capp said having had the opportunity to participate in the formation of the new governance arrangements the City of Melbourne was satisfied that the structure would provide community with adequate representation.

“After some discussions about the way in which we would be able to operate, as well as understanding how influential our input was going to be, which is very similar to that of other government agencies, we were satisfied in ultimately signing off on that governance structure,” she said.

CoM Cr Rohan Leppert said there was a lot of capacity for good outcomes to be achieved under the governance structure, but said it was important to get it right.

“How we feed the community’s views to the board is going to make or break this new structure,” he said. “The biggest risk is that councils won’t have full participation or its voice heard in decision making.”

Cr Leppert said he was optimistic about the new arrangements and noted that Ms Sussex was an “outstanding” choice to lead the board. However, he said that co-operation wasn’t without its challenges and that such arrangements “had a tendency to be secretive”.

Member for Albert Park and state government minister Martin Foley moved to quash such fears, stressing that independence was a key component of the new structure.

“The new governance structures for Fishermans Bend – worked out in consultation with the mayors of both Melbourne and Port Phillip – locks in a leadership role for local government for the first time,” he said.

“The days of the Liberals rewarding rich donor mates from massive windfall gains with not one brick being laid are gone.An independent expert based governance structure takes the politicians out of the process – be they want to be MPs, councillors or anyone else,” Mr Foley said.

“The next step will be delivering a planning scheme that delivers the framework for a liveable, public transport based new Fishermans Bend. The new governance structures will make that work.”

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