Tonight’s blog of the Council meeting is going to be a little different. It has to be, because the meeting was astonishing – in a bad way.
I don’t even know how to describe what I saw.
So, I am going to transcribe sections of the meeting verbatim – and try to minimise my editorial descriptions. I will let it speak for itself.
The only comment I will make is that not once in the meeting was there any mention of the $25m that has been added to the long-term capital works budget for Debney’s precinct in addition to the $20m for the hub (Edit: except for Cr Surace’s comments), or that Council officers put together plans for a $65m redevelopment of the hub and park with a $40m budget.
Also, while I haven’t asked any councillors yet, I am fairly sure Cr Marshall’s first proposed amendment falls foul of the rules regarding rescission motions at Council:
“Local Laws 9.18: A Rescission Motion is a motion to rescind or vary a previous decision of Council.
A Notice of Rescission must be submitted by a minimum of five Councillors, who must all authorise the Notice of Rescission in writing. The Notice of Rescission must be submitted to the Chief Executive Officer in writing, and must identify…
It goes on. I will clarify whether this was one of the issues. It might have nothing to do with it. Maybe the proposed amendment was seen to confusingly overlap with the consultation report that is due in July/August detailing the feedback from six weeks of consultation on the proposed $65m Master Plan for the Debney’s Park Precinct.
End of my input.
I’m not going to start at the beginning though.
I’ll leave the first part of the meeting – in which the Moonee Valley Memoirists presented their charming collection of local stories to the Deputy Mayor, and I asked some questions about land the state government took from Moonee Valley in 2014 and still has not returned. I’ll return to the planning decisions and other agenda items another day.
I’ll start at the final item for the night – a notice of motion brought by Cr Surace seeking financial support from the state government for the Flemington Community Hub.
There is 1 hour, 47 mins, remaining as Cr Surace reads her motion. Cr Lawrence seconds.
Cr Surace says regarding the meeting on the 11 June “I feel that there were comments made that, in my view, created an ‘us’ and ‘them’, or a divide across the municipality and may have been confusing. I’ve raised this motion to make it clear that we are still funding the hub. However, given the uncertainty as to where the hub is to be located, and no approved plans – they are only draft concepts – I feel that this project needs to be shared financially by not only MVCC but also state and federal governments.”
Cr Surace quotes the Advocacy Strategy where Council said it is seeking $20m to provide the Flemington Community Hub, and that Council will match this with $20m funding in 2021/23.
Cr Surace outlines the current funding in the 2019/20 ($500k for design work), $20m to construct the hub across 2021-23, and $20m+ post 2029 for precinct.
“Council adopts the budget annually and reviews the long term capital work budget regularly as projects progress and more information comes to light. These budgets can be reviewed and assessed annually, and that’s not to say that we can’t revisit the time frame and allocations for this project in the future.” She says she is elected to represent all of Moonee Valley’s residents.
C Lawrence says the land at Debneys Park is part owned by the state government, therefore the state government should be contributing to the hub. “We must as a Council take financially responsible action.” He says rate capping is now a reality for all council “Unless we as a council advocate for more state funding … “FCH is not the sole responsibility for MVCC – it is a shared responsibility with the State Government of Victoria. That is where the extra funding should come from.” He asks his colleagues to support the motion.
Cr Marshall moves an amendment –
“That Council receives a report back at the Council meeting on 23 July 2019 in relation to the reallocation by Council of $22.5m to the Flemington Hub, restoring its total budget to $42.5m together with amendments as necessary to the SRP, to enable the community to engage with Councillors in relation to the importance of the hub to the residents living on the Flemington Housing Estate and the broader Flemington and surrounding community.”
Cr Cusack seconds the amendment. The meeting is adjourned while the amendment is typed up.
The meeting is resumed with 1 hour and 30 minutes to go.
Cr Marshall says: “It’s fair to say … it’s been a pretty tough couple of weeks … it was a really emotional night … that was for a range of reasons … we were shocked, we had no idea. We weren’t the only ones who were shocked. In the days after the decision we received numerous calls … from people who had no idea that Council were contemplating reducing the budget of the project from $42.5m down to $20m. One of the things that seems to be frustrating about this is that it appears to be almost … and I’m not accusing Councillors here at all … at attempt at distraction and confusion to muddle things in and say ‘oh it was going to be this, it was going to be that’ – it was going to be $42.5m and the budget has been reduced down to $20m. This wasn’t contingent on getting state government funding – we wanted to – but it wasn’t contingent on that. It’s disappointing that there has been some confusion around that. I spoke with one man who had been involved in the consultation with officers and he said he had no idea … this has been a massive kick in the guts. If he had known there was any chance of this, he would have contacted council. I realised afterwards thinking about it, how fortunate we had been … to be involved in the engagement and the consultation process … to really engage … and see how excited people were … and hear different voices… this project offered real hope to people … on the state and broader community … in one of the sessions I took part in … one of the best sessions I’d ever had with consultation as a councillor … I met a mother who talked about her kids having a quiet space with her kids where they would be safe … I spoke with teens who spoke about having a space to hang out with friends … we spoke about the issues about being hot and cold on the estate. I had a chat with some women who spoke about the idea of having a community kitchen and the opportunities this would offer for them. There were so many stories. There was optimism and hope about this hub and what this represented to the community. A facility that could provide so much for people who have so little. It’s been devastating to have to look people in the eye and tell them what has happened with this. It really has. People who have been so often kicked in the guts for this to feel like another kick in the guts. So, this is an opportunity for councillors to have the conversations we have to realise this isn’t about politics. This isn’t about personalities. I really want you all to have the opportunity to hear those personal stories.”
Cr Cusack says this amendment improves the substantive motion by clarifying whether the advocacy is for a $40m project. “You can’t advocate for something you don’t have money for … What if you just restored it for five minutes and what if you thought about how the community thought about how the building might work in the future? …. All that had happened was that we had got through a broad design and then it was a question about the location. Nobody had had the real opportunity to set down on paper to say what they thought was important … if you don’t use this opportunity, if you don’t put this into your thinking … if you go to ministers and say you want money, they are going to say ‘what for?’ and now is the opportunity to actually get something from the community that says what it is for, not just the people on the estate, but obviously the people of the rest of Flemington and Ascot Vale and Moonee Ponds who will regularly use this facility. I don’t know who the players are going to be. You can’t sit here and tell me what this place is going to look like in 25-30 years’ time. I know there are some things that are givens now – there is a pavilion that is completely useless … that needs to be built and we understand the need for quiet space … agree to this amendment so you can find out a little bit more about the people who are going to use it. It is a community-centred arrangement, not a councillor arrangement. We must represent a community and get their voice into this.”
Cr Nation says the amendment is asking for a report considering reallocating the money to the FH project to give us the information, to consult with the community. “She’s not asking right now for that $22.5m to be put back into the budget.”
There is a murmuring from Cr Surace. Cr Nation says: “it says to receive back a report … regarding the reallocation”. The Deputy Mayor says there is no debate here.
Cr Nation: “If we can’t as councillors sit around and understand the amendment then God help us. We as a Council unit should give service to people who have been engaged in the project from the very start … to have their say on the prospect of halving its funding … They didn’t get a chance to have their say because they didn’t think it was a possibility … the idea of that money being halved was only found out moments before the meeting. I would like more days to consider that … and to have just over a month …
Cr Sipek is asking him to speak to the amendment.
Cr Nation: “I’m actually right on topic so if you guys want to keep interrupting me that’s fine, but I believe I am actually speaking to the amendment. I’m happy to speak to …
Cr Sipek: “It’s your time you’re wasting.”
Cr Nation: “Excuse me. Sorry. I missed what you said.”
Cr Sipek: “It’s your time you’re wasting by trying to debate this with me.”
Cr Nation: “You interrupted me.”
And on they go for some more seconds. “May I speak without being interrupted?” says Cr Nation.
“My point is that we will get 28 days to engage with our community to consider whether $22.5m should go back into the budget. That’s not what Cr Marshall is asking you right now to vote on. She’s asking you as part of this amendment to vote on being willing to consider a report to consider one of the most amazing decisions in a negative way that this council has made … and like any other motion … we owe the people on the estate to have their say and speak to every single one of us nine councillors.”
The amendment is put.
For: Crs Nation, Marshall, Cusack,
Against: Surace, Sipek, Byrne, Gauci Maurici and Lawrence
1 hour and 13 minutes remaining.
Cr Marshall: “Can I just ask as a point of clarification just to understand the intent of the motion whether Cr Surace had anyone internally or externally to council assist her in the preparation of the notice of motion or her speech notes. Noting of course that there is no problem with that, I just want to be clear, because I want to understand the intention behind this.
Cr Sipek: Sorry, what was the question?
Cr Marshall: Did Cr Surace have assist her in the preparation of the notice of motion or her speech notes. To help me understand the intention of the motion.
Cr Sipek: The vote’s been taken. I don’t understand why you want clarification after the vote has been taken.
Cr Marshall: We’re going back to the original motion. I want clarification. I haven’t spoken on it.
Cr Sipek: You want clarification on the original motion of whether Cr Surace had any help writing her notice of motion …
Cr Marshall: … and her speech notes. Noting that we have to comply with the Code of Conduct.
Cr Surace: As I stated … most of the information … was from council’s website.
Cr Marshall: That was not my question.
Cr Surace: I’m answering your question. And in relation to my notice of motion, it’s no different to any notice of motion that I have put … for this council and I’ve never been questioned about.
Cr Marshall: That’s not my question. My question was did anyone, anyone assist you in the preparation of your notice of motion or your speech notes? That’s the question. And again, this goes to intention, because there were points raised in the speech notes that were, you know, so I wanted to understand …
Cr Sipek: Were what, Cr Marshall?
Cr Marshall: Well they repeated statements that I’ve seen made by others that perhaps didn’t reflect some information that might be accurate. So … that’s the question … and there’s no problem Cr Surace. You can get whoever you want to ask to assist you.
Cr Sipek: I’ll permit the question.
Cr Surace: As I said … the information that I provided …
Cr Marshall: So, you prepared them yourself …
Cr Surace: I prepared them myself.
Cr Sipek: Cr Marshall, can you allow Cr Surace to answer the question.
Cr Surace: I’ve answered the question.
Cr Marshall: Was that a ‘no’? No one assisted Cr Surace in the preparation of her notice of motion or her speech notes?
Cr Sipek: I think she’s answered your question
Cr Marshall: No, she hasn’t, so that was a no? As a matter of record, that’s a no?
Cr Sipek: Cr Marshall, you are now acting disorderly, right. Your question has been answered.
Cr Marshall: What was the answer sorry?
Cr Sipek: Cr Surace, one last time …
Cr Surace: Mr Mayor, I’ve put together a response … I’ve put together … over several hours … with information that I have taken from Council’s website, which is available for the whole community, and that’s where my responses come from.
Cr Sipek: We go back to the original notice of motion. Is there any other councillor who would like to speak?
Cr Cusack: “Sepaking to the substantive motion … this motion is one of the most hair-brained things I’ve come across in my life …
Cr Marshall: Hear, hear.
Cr Cusack: What we’ve got is a motion that is full of contradiction. One minute, we’ve got in point 2 that the community hub remains a top priority for Council … it then goes ahead and says that the advocacy strategy is about $20m bucks and I don’t know if that’s $20m on top of the $20m that council … I presume it is … so we’re talking about a $40m project. But we may not be talking about a $40m project – we don’t know. I ask the very simple questions … nobody can go an advocate for something that is only half there. You might as well take … it’s breathtaking to think you can only talk about a $20m project because that’s all that’s in the budget. That’s all that can be designed for because that’s all that’s in the budget. Then you turn around to government and say well give us $20m for something else (and I know I said I would resist editorial comment … but isn’t that exactly what Council officers did when they put together plans for a $65m project on a $40m budget? Sigh). We’ll check on the extra steak knives … it just doesn’t make sense. You are killing the project altogether. If you took a hair-brained approach like this, no one will listen to you. You are turning it around … government, we are threatening you … you need to agree to a $40m project and give us $20m, or we will give you only $20m worth of something that has never been designed, never been talked about, and has no currency in the community. It’s like one of the clouds that floats over Flemington … it evaporates again. Cr Marshall’s amendment was to get more time so people could express what they want. Now you’re saying we will build a hub that doesn’t exist. How can anyone go to the next FNAG meeting and talk about a $42.5m hub when you can’t do that within our budget. You can only talk about the money that we were actually prepared to put on the stump …You’re basically condemning this project to be a nothingness. I tell you now that the people of Flemington are getting very angry about this, and you will find out what they want.
Cr Marshall asks a point of clarification: “Have councillors who supported the reduction in the allocation to the reduction in the allocation to the Flemington Hub, have they done any deal with respect to Mayoralty votes, in relation to bringing projects forward that are in the Capital Works Plan – bringing the timing forward or in relation to any new projects as part of any agreement to support the reduction in funding.
Cr GM raises a point of order that the question is misleading, and that it shows a lack of respect for councillors’ responsibilities.
Cr Marshall: Well is the answer no, Cr Gauci Maurici?
Cr Sipek says he agrees with the point of order of Cr Gauci Maurici that this is defamatory and disorderly and he rules the question is not allowed.
Cr Marshall says she disputes Cr Sipek’s ruling in accordance with the provision.
Cr Sipek: So there is motion that you disagree with my ruling. That motion requires a mover and a seconder. The Chairperson must vacate … a temporary Chair is elected. There is no vote. Cr Cusack seconds.
There is 1 hour and 3 minutes remaining.
Ten minutes, and another adjournment, later, Cr Byrne is in the Chair.
She upholds Cr Sipek’s point of order, deeming it to be intentionally mischievious in the meeting and calling frivolous points of clarification.
Cr Marshall says Cr Byrne is not following the meeting protocols. She reads them. Cr Marshall must be asked to state the reasons for her dissent. “It sets out a process that must be followed … The temporary Chairperson must invite the mover to state the reasons for his or her dissent.”
Cr Byrne: Cr Marshall, I just received governance advice …
Cr Marshall: Well it’s wrong …
Cr Byrne: I’m happy to receive further governance advice.
Cr Marshall: Well it sets out a process, so you either follow the process … this is ludicrous.
There are fifty minutes of the meeting remaining.
Cr Byrne invites Cr Marshall to state the reasons for her dissent.
Cr Marshall: Thank you Cr Byrne, I appreciate you following the meeting procedure protocols. The point of order was that my statement was likely to mislead or deceive a person. It was not a statement, it was a question and there are very distinct differences between a statement and a question. … It was simply a question designed to understand why the ward councillors had no idea that this amount of money was going to be pulled out of the most important project in this ward. … The consultation of which has been going on for months. Why that might be the case … why councillor would go behind the backs and come up with some arrangement about reduction in funding, you have to start questioning why, because if you are doing something in good faith, you sit down and you … you raise those questions … when you don’t do that, when the ward councillors find out five minutes beforehand … a motion that really destroys the project in their ward, then it is reasonable to ask why – what has led to that. Not a single word by any councillor supporting this reduction, has there been any evidence put forward … these random comments. The money hasn’t been reallocated, so you start thinking what arrangement has been agreed, because we weren’t part of these discussions … seeking to get to the bottom of that, and so the point of order was ruled incorrectly because it was not a statement that was likely to mislead or deceive a person.
Cr GM says her second point of order was that it showed a lack of respect to other counicllors.
Cr Marshall: How so? So a question asking … if there was any arrangement to help provide …
Cr Byrne: I would like to put a motion that the Chairperson’s ruling be upheld.
And there is some discussion about who can move and second and checking of the rules.
The motion is carried – same split.
Cr Byrne vacates the Chair. There are still 45 minutes of the meeting remaining. This is the final item.
Cr Nation speaks to the substantive motion. He says the motion gives a “false pretence” that the project remains a top priority because the budget has been split in half.
There is more argument between Crs Sipek and Nation about speaking to the motion.
“It would have been nice to understand the rationale … and more – sorry I am getting tired …if they did know earlier this was the proposal this could have been discussed with the community. It seems to have happened like that … no one who is going to be directly impacted … I still don’t understand what happens with the $22.5m.”
Cr Nation moves to add an extra point “that the $22.5m originally allocated to the FH project is quarantined and not reallocated to other projects not reallocated to projects in the CWP or new projects.”
Cr Surace: A point of clarification about whether the money is intended to sit there forever.
Cr Nation: Quarantined and put aside … not reallocated.
Cr Surace asks if this is legal.
The Acting CEO says “if the intent is to earmark for use only towards this purpose … but the question of legality is not something we could answer without notice … the question is more of practicality. What is the intent.
There is further discussion about what the motion means with Cr Marshall seeking further clarification.
There are 31 minutes remaining.
Cr Nation: Where is the $22.5m? … When we talk about the importance of this project, we put aside this money. Where it was envisaged that the $22.5m was … We are still at a loss as to where that money was going. I understand that $22.5m has not been reallocated … We don’t want to be throwing around words like ‘service cuts’ … This just gives me reassurity that it is not just going to be spent on the next footy pavilion … or expansion of proposed high ball stadiums.
Cr Cusack says “we were looking to borrow, and this was going to be worked in over a long-term plan … to take it out from the poorest people in the municipality … and not borrow is particularly concerning … We need to make sure that if this $22.5m is going to be used in the future …
There are still 25 minutes remaining.
Cr Marshall also speaks … “the only thing people can infer (if the amendment is not supported) is that the money will pop up in some othere project next year”
Cr Surace says she is disgusted at some of the comments that have been directed towards other councillors based on an assumption that things were done under-handed. To be accused of playing games… I take offence at that.
Cr Marshall raises a point of clarification: Why were ward councillors not advised about this amendment at the same time as other councillors?
Cr Surace says councillors get amendments beforehand.
Cr Marshall says that is not truthful. “We did not know this was going to happen.”
Cr Sipek: “What comment do you want a point of clarification?”
Cr Marshall: How can she say there have been accusations? Let me rephrase.
Cr Surace: My motion has turned into quite a fiasco. I have raised my concerns about Cr Nation’s motion – we are waiting on legal advice … and does it sit there forever.
There is discussion about speaking to the amendment.
Cr Marshall raises a point of clarification: How is it contradictory?
The comment is withdrawn.
Cr Surace: This behaviour is quite ridiculous.
The amendment is lost. Same split.
Cr Mashall: There’s a tell.
There are still 18 minutes remaining in the meeting.
Cr Marshall moves a further amendment “That Council write to the Ombudsman and the Inspectorate to seek clarification as to whether this arrangement in relation to the Flemington Hub is legal or in any way contravenes any provision in the Local Government Act or any other principle or law applicable to MVCC.”
There is another adjournment.
Cr Marshall speaks to the motion. “For me there real concerns here is … if councillors had known then we would have had a fair debate … instead we were ambushed … all other councillors knew about it … we had no idea about the biggest project in thee Myrnong ward … councillors were sneaking around …
Cr Sipek: Do you have proof that people were sneaking around?
Cr Marshall: I have proof that I didn’t know anything about it.
There is argument about whether Cr Marshall had proof about whether there were discussions?
Cr Marshall: Mayor – were there any discussions with yourself …
And more argument.
Cr Marshall: Were there discussion, emails, correspondence in any form …
Cr Sipek: Not that I was aware of, no.
Cr Marshall: Was the first thing you knew about it when you got the piece of paper …
This argument goes on …
Cr Sipek: I’ve been sick. No, I didn’t.
Cr GM asks if the motion can be put.
There are still six minutes remaining.
Cr Marshall: The fact Cr Nation’s motion was not supported raises enormous red flags.
Cr GM asks if the procedural motion can be put.
Cr Marshall: I was half way through speaking. So, we’re shutting down debate are we now? it wouldn’t surprise me.
The amendment is put. Cr Marshall asks if she can move a dissent.
The amendment is carried unanimously.
Cr Byrne asks if the substantive motion can be put.
The motion is carried unanimously.
The three hour meeting has concluded.