Local Government, Public Justice and Community Health Care

In our previous three posts on local government, we have developed a critical analysis of a political problem that derives from the recent 2016 LGA council election for the Borough of Queenscliffe. We began this discussion about local government last year with a post that responded to the political ambiguity and instability that had come about as a result of that election. The erosion of trust is very serious. Deceit on the hustings cannot be talked away. Our analysis has identified a variety of failures in the political context of mutually interlocking social responsibilities; each of these failures contribute to the “crisis”:

the flaw (the lack of truthfulness) in the conduct of the election; the failure of Candidates to disclose their political party affiliation; the conduct of the Local Government Authority and its elected Council; the negligence of the political parties in political education; the failure of the Victorian Electoral Commission to address to electoral deceit; the State Government’s policies with respect to police officers being available to stand for election to LGA Councils; the Victoria Police’s silence with respect to the question mark now placed against the application of the code of conduct for police officers.

This is a gridlocked ethos of political irresponsibility. It illustrates a political unwillingness to view this state of affairs as a serious political problem that needs to be solved. Our system of public governance is being weighed in the balances and found wanting.

Nurturing Justice is contributing to a political debate in which many commentators are suggesting similar things about the brokenness of our political system; try here and here. Our particular contribution to this debate in this post is to identify some important local indications of this widespread brokenness.

As Australian electors, those to whom elected representatives are nominally accountable for the way we are governed, we have learned too well how to avoid long and complex political argument; as a polity we are allergic to extended discussion about complex political history. The political controversy we instinctively avoid may even be about what happened last week, or even, as we have been saying, about the LGA election in 2016, but we electors in this polity – in the BoQ and anywhere else – have learned too well the art of political avoidance. It was precisely electors with that reduced and a-historical mind-set that gave a full quota of first round votes (1/5th of 3000 electors = 600) to the candidate who announced:

I am not a politician!

Some readers may have been attracted to this post because I have added “Community Health Care” to its title. And they may well be interested to read what NJ has to say about “Community Health Care”. So let us first frame our reflection with this question: what has health care provision in our community got to do with our political responsibilities let alone with any crisis we might have with political irresponsibility at the LGA level?

One needs to follow closely because as well as the “legitimation crisis” in the BoQ there is also an ongoing political battle going on about the way Bellarine Community Health is conducting its affairs and contributing to “Health Care” provision in this local community. There is, of course, much more that can be commented upon, that what is contained in one post.

In The Queenscliffe Herald, the local monthly newspaper, readers can read “Verbal Stoush Continues Over BCH” (p.3). This latest chapter in that ongoing BCH saga not only concerns the disagreement between the State Government and Bellarine Community Health over the BCH’s recent appointment of a new CEO, but we also read an article there by 4 members of BCH Ltd making public their concerns about BCH management. They have serious criticisms about the conduct of the Company’s affairs. Consider the following statement:

The BCH Board made a decision to exit Residential Aged Care and divest themselves of these community assets without community or member consultation.

This is a serious accusation. But how is this statement to be evaluated? What kind of criteria are appropriate for evaluating the actions of BCH Ltd, a company limited by guarantee?

Part of the Board’s self-inflicted political problem is their unwillingness (or is it inability?) to draw attention to the reason they had to exit from Residential Aged Care provision. For some years before the closure of Coorabin, Government funding policy for aged care had been redesigned in order to provide services that assisted elderly people to stay in their own homes.

As a consequence of changes in aged-care funding from Canberra, decisions were made at the State Government level to re-configure the constitutions of community associations that had, up to that point, exercised oversight responsibility for aged-care facilities like Coorabin. If aged-care facilities were to remain viable in an era where government funding was to be dispersed with the aim of keeping elderly people in their own homes, and that funding for aged-care facilities was only going to be for those with special needs who could not any longer stay at home, then Coorabin would need to be run on business lines and that meant that the Queenscliffe Community Health Association would have to change its constitution to become a profit-based operation, a company limited by guarantee. That was the policy decision made by the State Government’s Department of Health and it meant changes to community health associations across the state. The Queenscliff Community Health Association was not exempt from this.  

So when Coorabin ceased operating as a residential aged care facility, four years ago, it was also at a time when the ongoing funding for aged-care was dispersed with the presumption that Residential Aged Care would have to operate on for-profit business terms. Facilities would have to be upgraded to cater for the less mobile and more needy clientele. And this change in orientation for Coorabin was already prefigured by the change in the constitution, a change that made it’s founding association into a company, and that meant a basic change in what it meant to be a member of a community health body like BCH Ltd, the successor to QCHA, as a change to its name – no longer Queenscliff but Bellarine. When that changeover took place, the constitution of the new body replaced the old constitutional provisions by which the Board had to be elected by, and was accountable to, the members of the Association for the conduct of the Association’s affairs. The changeover meant that the Board of BCH Ltd, a “company limited by guarantee”, was not elected by, nor accountable to, members in the way that the Board of the previous association had been. What had changed was the nature of membership and the structure of public accountability as this was spelled out in both constitutions.

It is a remarkable and continuing feature of this “stoush” that these constitutional changes are regularly absent from the debate as it now rages back and forth. The recent history of public policy and government decision-making simply doesn’t make it into this public controversy. As a result the public debate is gridlocked in disappointment from one-side and self-justification from the other. And these are the flow on effects to the local community life that came about from changes to Federal and State funding for aged-care.

Meanwhile the community’s corporate responsibility for aged-care seems to have evaporated. For many, I suspect, it is a mystery, but it is a mystery that can only be overcome if people are willing to think about their own responsibilities for aged-care in public-legal, historical and political terms. Sadly the major political parties are on another planet as far as rendering assistance to overcome this deficit in public understanding. 

But by having their appeal broadcast, these four BCH members have made a public their appeal to the BCH Board. It is a significant political statement. From reading it carefully our attention with be drawn to the fact that the BCH Board lacks the kind of constituted accountability to its members and to the community that the four writers believe it should have and which was a central feature of the Board’s relationship to members in the predecessor body as a community association. BCH Ltd is a “company limited by guarantee” and so it is subject to different constitutional requirements. To criticise BCH Ltd by appeal to the former constitutional criteria misses the point and simply draws attention to “the world we have lost”. The public debate as it rages on all sides manifests a serious declension from comprehensive political debate.

This ongoing “stoush” is also what remains of an incomplete political debate about the closure of Coorabin, about the appropriate public policies for the provision of aged-care. Nurturing Justice is about the seeking of public-legal wisdom in situations of political gridlock such as these..

We have been discussing how a local community’s corporate sense of responsibility for the provision of aged-care, having set up an association that would, in time, allow local residents access to their own “retirement home” in their own locale, a residence for which they already been responsible. And so, what we are discussing is such a possibility that has been lost. 

Some say, and not without good reason, that the local community’s involvement in aged-care has been vandalised. But to use the term vandalised when criticising new developments in public life, is to remind ourselves of the way public facilities and buildings left in a derelict state, with inadequate maintenance, invite vandalism. To use the term politically requires us to turn the critical light upon ourselves: could we as association members or as citizens have brought this state of affairs upon  ourselves? Could we have facilitated the vandalism – not by what we actually did but by what we failed to do? That is certainly a question that residents of the Borough of Queenscliffe need to ask themselves, particularly if they are prone to lament the decline of our community life. 

The “stoush” goes on, but unfortunately, those in charge of BCH Ltd are not drawing attention to the constitutional framework in which the company is required to do its work, and for which the Board of Directors are responsible. Somewhere in the midst of this confused situation, the accountability of BCH Ltd to the “Bellarine community” needs to be rediscovered. But to do so they would then have to face up to the fact that successive governments have redrawn public-legal the map and hence changed the prospects for local associations exercising civic responsibility for aged-care.

“Both sides” of parliamentary politics seem content to allow BCH Ltd to shoulder all  or most of the public disquiet for the resultant confusion. These privileged election machines, as Nurturing Justice regularly refers to them, are not showing any keenness to foster insightful political understanding about these community changing changes to legislation and public policy. They are merely acting as the political children of TINA – There Is No Alternative.

But there is always more to be said and the former members of the former association that had fostered Coorabin, the former aged-care facility that was a focus for local community’s sense of responsibility for the elderly, need to look carefully again at the way in which our God-given public responsibilities to care for our neighbours is an integral part of our everyday life. We stand in need of deepened political wisdom that respects our history as well as the public-legal dimensions of our neighbourhoodedness.  

BCW 15.6.17

How Should Political Parties Conduct Themselves in Relation to Local Government?

Our previous post has concluded with the affirmation that the Liberal Party is a primary cause of the serious crisis that has now befallen the Borough of Queenscliffe. Of course this is a serious accusation. Can I back it up?

Many of my fellow citizens in the Borough will ask: “What crisis?” My answer, along the lines of the previous post, may well bring forth the following rejoinder:

Well what do you expect? They are after all, all politicians!

So, what am I to say when that is said? Am I to walk away, shrug my shoulders and let the matter drop?

Actually, there is something political I can say there and then – it may at least give some cause to pause. I could say:

And our Mayor’s election platform insisted that he wasn’t a politician!

To highlight this fact is not to indulge a “cheap shot”; this is an important clue to the crisis we face. Our contradictory political situation needs analysis and this contradiction should be front and centre as we carefully unravel the various responsibilities that have formed, and are shaping, our political lives – this anomaly is central to political beliefs that are basic to this crisis.

Readers will also notice I have avoided names. The names can easily be found by a diligent search of the web. I have spoken to the person concerned and told him I am willing to discuss the matter with someone else present. But here I prefer to talk in terms of offices, positions of public responsibility. It is a crisis and it is shared; the mistakes that have been made which have deepened this crisis are not solely the errors of one person acting alone, no matter how unencumbered politicians of Liberal persuasion view themselves to be.

_ _ _ _ _

Readers who have followed the discussion on this site since late 2016 will know I have identify various “offices” contributing to this crisis:

1. The Borough of Queenscliffe Council
2. The Returning Officer for the Council Election
3. The State Electoral Commission
4. The Victorian Parliament
5. Victoria Police
6. The Ice Police Task Force in the Geelong Region
7. The State Member for the Bellarine Electorate
8. The Liberal Party (Bellarine Peninsula Branch).

In this post I simply wish to make a point about what I consider to be the deep failure of the Liberal Party, the 8th on my list. And when we have understood their failure in this matter, we might have begun to develop a new idea of what a political party might be and how it should conduct its affairs, and be seen to conduct its affairs, in relation to LGAs in this polity. There is one step that should be taken immediately by the Liberal Party; I leave that till the end of this post.

I narrow the focus to the Liberal Party even though I believe the Borough Council seriously erred when it failed to raise an objection to the suitability of the person who is now Mayor, not only to be Mayor, but to be a Councillor. The failure to disclose party affiliation during the election campaign was bad enough, and I grant that it may have been an oversight. But to then simply do nothing when, one week later, the incumbent of the Mayoral Office is appointed President of the Bellarine Liberal Party, simply confirms the Council’s deeply disrespectful attitude to the Borough’s electors. Everyone in the Borough who has looked into it knows that the successful Candidate’s subsequent appointment as Liberal Party President disclosed an electoral deceit. By failing to address what is still a scandalous state of affairs (that, by the way, has not been redressed by the President’s subsequent resignation from the party post) the Council has undermined public trust in itself. The Council owes a public apology to the electors of the Borough.

The nomination of the Senior Sergeant in the Geelong Police – who is head of the Police Ice Task Force for the region – must have been endorsed by the Borough official who had to verify the eligibility of candidates. The State Electoral Commission must have also given approval and has still not made any public comment about the election of the said candidate and his failure to disclose his political affiliation as part of his election campaign. The Victorian Parliament, it would seem, has legislated or gazetted changes to regulations that allow serving officers of the Victoria Police to stand in local Council elections. At the very least the political parties have not helped electors know why this has been allowed. We have also heard nothing from the State member as to how the Victorian Government views the deceit as perpetrated upon the Borough’s electors. We have not heard from Victoria Police as to why it is that the Police Code of Conduct has not been violated by that failure during the election campaign. There seems here to have been a significant blurring of what constitutional jurisprudence would call “the separation of powers”, the separation between law making and law enforcement. Do not the police have a code of conduct provisions that forbid gaining office by deceit (even if it were an unintended oversight)?

There may be an explanation from these offices that will shed light on what is a complex and messy business. And yes, people in public office can make mistakes. So, can people in their running for public office but we also haven’t heard an apology yet from the elected councillor.

Electors will know that members of the police force, not least members who are front line with respect to the problems of law and order in relation to drug usage and the illicit supply thereof, are subject to peculiar tensions. But this is precisely the point at which I wish to discuss the Liberal Party contribution – what it has done and what it has failed to do. It has acted publicly in a way that simply cannot pass without comment.

A Liberal Party that was sensitive to the seeming intractable problems that pertain to the interface between drug use and law enforcement, would never seek to gain political advantage by an opportunistic blurring of the distinction between law-making and law-enforcement. If a Senior Sergeant has joined its ranks, it should welcome him and forego the temptation of using him for election purposes. Their contribution as a political party would be much better served by encouraging said new member to simply take his place among the party membership and offer his advice about public policy when it is relevant to do so. And given this particular police officer has regional responsibilities for the Victoria Police Ice Task Force, should they not be persuading him to concentrate on that very important police work, without distracting him with managing party political business?

I would also suggest that the Liberal Party, as part of their adherence to appropriate constitutional and jural principles, should positively discourage any police officer, and especially senior police officers, that have become members of their party, from trying to gain election to local councils while still serving – even if as in our case regulations do not prohibit it. It should be part of their party’s overall political philosophy that law enforcement should not be blurred with law-making. And that’s the principle they have seriously violated by their effort to piggy-back on the (compromised) election of one of their members. Instead, they opportunistically tried to add to that important police officer’s load by trying to engineer him into the front-line of an attempt to unseat the sitting member (who is police minister) at the next State election.

Their actions actually show a party unfit for public office. And let’s have no more ambiguous nonsense that LGAs should be apolitical!

Let’s hear the truth from the Liberal Party in an acknowledging its own contribution to the deceit that was perpetrated in the Borough election and that as a party it is committed to truthfulness at all levels of our public governance!

Remarkably this disreputable political party, which has treated one of its own paid-up members in such questionable ways, is proposing next week to hold a “law and order” forum nearby in Drysdale. The advertising invites us to “come and have our say”. “Only the Liberals will make Victoria safe again”.

Of course there is a “law and order” problem facing us. But the Liberal Party’s wheeling and dealing speaks too loudly of a political ethic that borders on wall-to-wall disrespect, and that is not irrelevant to the ethos that spawns law and order concerns – there is the Liberal Party’s disrespect for the separation of powers principle that one might have thought was part of the Liberal’s view of public governance; there is in this sorry saga elements of disrespect for the Victoria Police, disrespect for the integrity and good standing of the Borough of Queenscliff. There is the Liberal Party’s continual ducking and weaving when it comes to speaking truthfully.

The Liberal Party has completely avoided dealing with the flawed LGA election in 2016 that had significant consequences for one of its own members. As I said, that failure may have been the Candidate’s  mistake, but if it were a mistake to fail to mention party membership, why should the party reward him with the regional party presidency and thereby further compromise the Borough Council’s standing?

As long as this Liberal Party fiasco continues (see p.2), such actions as we have recently witnessed in the Bellarine Peninsula from them simply suggest that they are beating the “law and order” drum to distract attention from their party’s lack of political principles, from their party’s persistent pragmatic manoeuvring, a failure as a party to be seen in the inadequate support and advise rendered to a new member, and a total failure to insist upon a measure of political discipline by one of its prominent members who, as a senior police officer, is obviously keen to make a contribution to life across the Bellarine.

The electors of the Borough of Queenscliffe deserve a full and frank apology from the Liberal Party for their unscrupulous destabilising of local government.

In a further post, “Local Government, Public Justice and Community Health Care“, we will discuss how this same deep political crisis has manifested itself in the ongoing regional dispute following the vandalisation of innovative and creative local initiatives in aged care. This series of posts aims to explore the complexity of local politics and indicate how it is being shaped by legislative and political developments further afield, beyond any one LGA’s area.

BCW 10 June 2017.

 

 

Local Government, Public Justice and the “Separation of Powers”

How can a serving policeman stand for public office. When did that change to our system of public governance come in? Why? 

Last time Nurturing Justice discussed the current “constitutional crisis” which has enveloped the Queenscliffe Borough Council. The term “constitutional crisis” may appear to some readers to be too strong, somewhat sensationalistic. Part of the crisis, I would maintain, is that though everyone knows that the election was compromised by the electioneering deceit of the candidate who won the most votes and subsequently became the Mayor, there has been only concern among electors that the election was compromised and among Councillors, State Government politicians and major parties it would seem that things just go on as usual. And that only deepens the crisis; our Borough’s constitutional crisis includes a widespread malaise and even if there is some concern about what has transpired in the Borough’s coffee shops, there is little evidence of a political effort to find a remedy.

As I pointed out last time, those who consider that local politics must be “above politics” will simply continue to see the Borough’s “situation” in such a-political terms. They probably won’t even see it as a “crisis” at all. The Liberal Party continue to ignore the impact of the crisis upon their own standing in the State electorate of Bellarine.

The Liberal Party machine is so politically incompetent – it is almost as if this is the distinctive characteristic of their political contribution to the entire system of Government at all levels; it is a persistent feature of their political contribution that they continue on, despite the scandals as if being blind that their own party’s crisis is part of their own party’s ongoing political contribution. They do not see themselves as part of the ongoing structural crisis in public governance in which they have been instrumental since 1974. They do not see their party in this way possibly because too many people are members who simply see the party as a path-way to their own status enhancement in the community. They do not seem to appreciate that their too-smart-by-half strategic attempt to use the Queenscliffe Mayor for their own electoral advantage had to back-fire.

As for the Mayor, or more accurately the person who occupies that office, he may well have resigned his Presidency of the Bellarine Liberal Party because of  potential “conflict of interest”. But what “conflict of interest” was it? Was it not because he is a Senior Sergeant in the police force and such a Presidency means he has to face an Opposition going ballistic over law and order issues. He has shown no sign whatsoever of appreciating the deeper “conflict of interest” between his public duties as a policeman and his standing as a Council candidate! To raise this will probably meet the same old “that is a cheap shot” accusation (his words to me in a phone-call in relation to my Geelong Advertiser letter) but the issue is not about “personalities”. To imply that it is, is a red herring.

The issue is about the constitutional presumption of a separation of powers in our system of public governance. The arm of law making is separated from that of law enforcement. To say it once again, the question is: how is it that a Senior Sergeant can be allowed to stand for public office in an LGA election?

Now what is obvious here is that the Liberal Party’s political opponents, the Labor Party,  have not actually drawn attention to this issue. They should have. Their silence is appalling. We should not thank them for their failure to speak up and explain. And so we have many people in the Borough, and across the State electorate (within which the Borough is located), now bemused and confused by this situation. Resident after resident continue to put it in these terms:

I would have thought that a serving policeman cannot stand for public office. When did that change come in? Why?

With that question on the lips of many, many citizens another dimension of our national political crisis is disclosed. I am referring to the fact that the citizens no longer know how our system of Public Governance has changed. We no longer know basic facts about the system for which we remain responsible and accountable. We have not been adequately informed about how the regulations governing our hard-working, even over-worked, law-enforcement officers, have been tweaked to allow “community involvement” to include standing for public office in an LGA.

And why are we ignorant? Here we confront again the brokenness of our public governance – and the major political parties have to take responsibility for this. They continue to stave off bankruptcy by fighting yet another election with all the electoral rubbish they send into our letter-boxes – paid for with public funds – they have the hide to convene raucous and inflammatory public meetings stirring up public fears about law and order as if their own time in Government has nothing to do with what they are complaining about and try to blame their opponents. And yet their involvement in political education is non-existent at local levels. Political understanding of how our system is formed withers. The lack of political education programmes at local levels by these bloated electoral machines tell us their operations are designed to keep us ignorant. And at the same time we will hear hollow talk about the responsibilities of electors to whom the elected members are supposedly accountable.

This is another root of our deep political crisis. We are dealing with the consequences of a way of “doing politics” that has dissolved the primary accountability of those elected to their electors. Public governance, at all levels in our Federated Commonwealth, is being swept along by a politically ignorant, populist and elitist class lurching to an unbridled authoritarianism. We may sneer at what has engulfed the American polity in recent times. But one root of our own political crisis is the political viewpoint among Australian citizens that local government has been, is and always should be, above politics.

As the current Mayor tried to tell us during the election last year: “I am not a politician!” This is nonsensical. And much of our political crisis starts on our own front door step because we refuse to acknowledge our own responsibilities for the way we are governed, and instead give free reign to such political nonsense.

In a further post, “Local Government, Public Justice and Community Health Care“, we will discuss how this same deep political crisis has manifested itself in the ongoing regional dispute following the vandalisation of innovative and creative local initiatives in aged care. This series of posts aims to explore the complexity of local politics and indicate how it is being shaped by legislative and political developments further afield, beyond any one LGA’s area. But first we will pinpoint with greater precision the very serious misuse of political power by the Liberal Party in the above-mentioned crisis.

BCW  9.6.17

Proportionality and (Local Government) Politics (1)

This post is a continuation of material first raised on the 8th December 2016 “Electoral Mayhem on our Front Doorstep”.

My general reflection on political responsibility has had to confront a strange anomaly. So many of the people I talk to have said, quite openly, that they no longer want to discuss politics – they usually mean by this that they have given up listening to news bulletins or reading the newspapers – and yet at the same time there is this general sense of a growing nationalist political sentiment at home as much as elsewhere around the globe. My concern is with what will happen when some of the root causes of this serious political malaise are laid bear and made public. Does not the act of making the results of this analysis public through this blog (yes this blog too!) simply add fuel to the nationalist fire?

Below readers can find my initial effort to identify an intractable problem that has emerged in the local government of the tiny Queenscliffe Borough where I live. The more I reflect upon the problems that have emerged, the more the ambiguities and contradictions stand out. We seem politically incapable of rejecting political deceit when it is staring us in the face.

I am therefore wondering about how this contribution should be made to properly and justly open up this political problem as it needs to be discussed. This series of posts is oriented by the “principle of proportionality”. I have come to consider this principle even though it is usually referred to as part of arguments setting forth criteria that need to be scrupulously adhered to for the waging of a “just war”. To rephrase the conventional wording of that criterion would read:

   … the principle of proportionality applied to just political debate would mean observing the principle that the costs of exposing deep and complex structural issues do not exceed the good that is intended and that the means employed in argument are consistent with the end being sought.

I shall explain further why I have deferred to this “proportionality principle” as my analysis is unfurled below. But to put the issue succinctly: can a just political exposé of the deceit perpetrated during the last council election (see 8th December blog linked above) and its consequences be set forth which points the way to appropriate resolution?

The serious issues raised in the December 8th post have still not been publicly addressed by the Borough Council. In fact, the Council’s silence on the matter in no way allays concerns of electors that the electoral process has been seriously compromised. The legitimacy of the Council itself is now in doubt. There is a serious, erosion of public trust in the Council, and this is made all the more difficult by the fact that the integrity of local government across the State, if not across the entire nation, is under a serious cloud. And it is more than likely that the confusion that reigns in the minds of electors is also to be found among the Borough’s councillors.

To recap: in the Borough of Queenscliffe election of 2017 the candidate who subsequently received most first preference votes and became Mayor failed to disclose his political affiliation during the election campaign. His political affiliation became evident a week after being sworn in as Mayor when it was revealed that he had been elected as the Chairman of the Bellarine Liberal Party. The announcement of his Chairmanship was in terms of him being the best person to lead the Liberal campaign to challenge and defeat the sitting Labor member at the next election. The fact that the sitting State member of Parliament for this state electorate is also Police Minister adds further complexity to this issue. And we must not avoid mentioning that this person who holds the positions of Mayor and Chairman of the regional Liberal Party is also a senior police officer with the important task of heading up a police task force to investigate the serious drug usage (ice) among the region’s youth. On top of this he is the proprietor of a local restaurant and is regularly seen on site running the operation.

This post, as a follow-up to the previous post, has been provoked by a Council request for submissions on a proposed pay rise for the Mayor. This increase has already been endorsed by the Council.

A local media report on the question of the pay rise deepens the problem faced by Council and the Borough’s electors. The article quotes the Mayor as saying that the pay rise is justified because of his own personal loss of  earnings. The incumbent’s personal financial situation cannot justify the pay rise. His personal loss of earnings from his police work are not actually germane to the issue under discussion: how should a Mayor be justly remunerated? The fact that he has not been able to work in his restaurant and has had to put on staff is likewise a non sequitur. If he did not know about these constraints upon his earning ability before becoming a candidate, let alone after being asked to assume the Mayoral office by the vote of his fellow councillors, then one can justifiably ask whether he has the appropriate level of understanding necessary to properly carry out the demands of the position as it is currently constituted. If a public office needs structural reform the time to say so is before and during an election campaign, not after one has been successful in winning office. There is, among electors the considered view that the Mayoral task requires the incumbent to work at it in a full-time capacity. But our system of local governance is still beholden to a complex and demanding way of operating that assumes it is a part-time job at best, and that the payment for services is actually more like an honorarium than a salary.

But how are electors to respond to such a meeting? Council has effectively put a question mark against its own legitimacy by failing to address the election deceit. Electors – citizens and residents – would be quite within their rights if they refused to attend since the meeting is not being held to discuss the deceit but a matter that is made all the more complex because of the deceit.

This is why such a meeting in this context is highly problematic. The Borough of Queenscliffe is already too tiny to justify more than a part-time Council, let alone a full-time Mayor. The proposed new Mayoral pay-rate is $61,642 a rise of $7000 well above CPI increases. But the underlying assumption here, is that people who are elected to the Council should expect to be able to maintain the wealthy life-style to which they have become accustomed and therefore we have the bland assumption that this Mayor can hold onto and fulfil his Council responsibilities while deriving an income from his restaurant, as well being paid at Senior Officer rates for his work in the police force. And at the back of all this is his Chairmanship of the Bellarine Liberal Party that apparently sees no problem with such conduct of local government affairs.

Moreover, the Liberal Party would seem to endorse the view that it is quite appropriate for its members to refrain to acknowledging their membership of the party when they stand for public office at the Local Government level.

Well then, this gives some context for the ongoing unwillingness of the Council to publicly address the other, more basic problem. To convene a meeting to discuss the Mayor’s salary is simply a further avoidance of the issue. There is every indication that any discussion that focuses on the Mayoral payment will “keep to the topic” and avoid looking carefully at the the erosion in the public trust which this and every other local council requires for effective representative governance. But the problematic facing the Council has everything to do with the conduct of the last election, the conduct of the candidate who received the highest number of first preference votes, and the council’s own election of this person to the Mayoral Office.

Just as the the role of Borough Councillor is different from that of members of the Ice Task Force convened by Victoria Police! And are we to simply allow the role of a Borough Councillor, let alone that of the Mayor, to merge with the Liberal Party’s electoral programme for the next state election?

We here are considering the public conduct of a senior police officer. He did not disclose his political party affiliation in his election campaigning. After being elected it took the public announcement by the Bellarine Liberal Party that he had been appointed its Chairman to alert electors to the fact that he was a member of this political party.

So what did those police senior to this officer in Victoria Police have to say about this? Does this not reflect poorly on the ethical standards that are to be upheld by those entrusted with the State’s law enforcement?

And what are we to say about the Liberal Party’s seeming turning a blind eye to its new Chairman’s failure to disclose his party membership to electors during the election campaign? Have they simply flagged through that as a deceit that was necessary to ensure election? He got away with it and attracted the highest number of first preferences, so is not this the kind of political candidate Liberal Party supports and applauds? Apparently the Liberal Party by its silence on its Chairman public conduct wants the country’s citizens to believe that success, however achieved, is basic to its political philosophy!

Then there is the failure of the other (4) elected Councillors, their unwillingness to object to his election, let alone raising objections to his remaining in the Mayoral office when a week later the Bellarine Liberal Party made its appointment. Does not the Council’s unwillingness to object to this councillor’s election leave electors in doubt as to the legitimacy of the Council itself?

The political question is: how do we NOW raise such questions since to do so is also to call into question

  1. police standards concerned with policemen working two jobs – let alone that of a high-ranking police officer mandated with a crucial public interest issue across the Bellarine i.e. ice usage, let alone him being chairman of a political party and taking aim at the Crown’s Police Minister;

  2. police standards with respect to scrupulous maintenance of public rectitude in the face of an elected councillor who is also a policemen who deceived the electorate;

  3. policy development under the supervision of the Police Minister in the State Parliament (we need public discussion of how this state of affairs in which one public officer is allowed to occupy a variety of public and political responsibilities at the same time in understood by the act of Parliament that governs such public service including the police force);

  4. the failure of other political parties to make good their public standing in order to raise questions about the modus operandi of their Liberal Party opponents;

  5. the Liberal Party’s flagging through such a declension from the high standards of scrupulous rectitude demanded for public office hitherto associated with Alfred Deakin (see attached speech pp.29-31).

  6. the manner in which the Victorian Electoral Commission does its work and oversees such matters and why it has failed to act on the matter that has been public knowledge for months.

  7. the fitness for office of all councillors along with all those employed to advise them.

And all of those questions can be asked and should be asked to avoid any too easy narrowing of blame upon Council for its particular contribution to this erosion of public trust in its work – sure Council has been seriously neglectful of its public trust duty but it is a neglectfulness that functions in a context of public governance and a political context much wider than the Borough of Queenscliffe.

Perhaps it is not just the lack of Council action that has seriously undermined itself but to raise such questions as I have done is to put a serious questions against the future of the Borough of Queenscliffe as an LGA in its own right. Once again the Liberal Party reveals itself as the dogged opponent of genuine and principled public justice, the harbinger of a revolution of self-interest. But then of course, its major Tweedledee opponent is not so far behind and is in constant catch-up mode.

This matter is not going to go away. it will not be easily resolved. The discussion will continue in subsequent posts.

Bruce C Wearne
Point Lonsdale
7.3.17

Electoral Mayhem on our Front Doorstep

Early in the morning of 8 December 2016 I was the recipient of an initially cheery:

“Hi Bruce this is ____ _____. How are you today?” phone-call.

When someone on the phone, in an unexpected call, asks me “How am I today?” I am immediately on my guard. In this case it  was the recently appointed Mayor of our tiny Borough with its 3,000 voters, who wanted to talk with me about the letter that had, that morning, been published in the regional daily newspaper(see below). I immediately said that I was not prepared to talk with him over the phone on this matter, he then seemed to get agitated, talking on and saying that I had indulged in what was a “cheap shot”. I told him he was welcome to visit me later in the day to explain this criticism when others would also be at my place. I was not going to talk over the phone on this matter and I was not going to discuss it with him one-on-one.

“Thanks for ringing and good morning!”

This was my letter as published today by the Geelong Advertiser

From the Advertiser’s article last Friday, we learn that the recently appointed  Mayor of the Borough of Queenscliffe has now taken on the “top job” in the Bellarine  Liberal Party. This candidate now continues to tell us what he asserted during the campaign, that rather than being a politician he simply “looks to the future”. So why were electors not informed of his future intention, even if it was only then a remote possibility, during the election campaign itself? And perhaps more importantly, why does the Liberal Party allow itself to look so deceitfully furtive as the “behind the scenes” player, keeping its intentions from display until after the election? How will the new Mayor, and his political crew, explain why they haven’t been profoundly disrespectful to Borough electors and Bellarine voters? I guess we will be provided with the usual flapdoodle, but they should grow wise about the difficult task of LGA public governance and realise that a community’s civic trust is not advanced by “hidden hand” trickiness.

He did not turn up. And perhaps that’s not so bad. But clearly the fellow was rattled by the letter and clearly the issue is front and centre in our current political crisis.

Readers may note that my letter to the Geelong Advertiser is couched in terms that refer to offices and office-bearers rather than “personally”. This is because we are dealing with a political issue of some complexity that pertains to the duties of an elected public officer. In my view this is “good practise” when dealing with public life and especially when political questions are raised about the legitimacy of some or other policy or procedure.

Any person elected to public office remains accountable to the electors that they now represent – even those who did not support the election of this person. And while an elected official should be able to discuss political matters with his/her electors, it does not follow that electors will necessarily feel free to discuss one-on-one with an elected official. We should not be surprised if some citizens are somewhat ill at ease in discussion with public officers, particularly with those who have been elected. They may, for some reason, lack the confidence to raise issues with the elected person, especially if it is to be in a one-on-one exchange. They may also have a lack of trust that their views will be understood, let alone heeded, and this may be due to what they have experienced on previous occasions. And mere election to office does not necessarily mean that the elected poerson is able to discuss political matters in an open and frank exchange.

In this respect the current Mayor, puts himself at a severe disadvantage when he says that he is not a politician. There will be those who say, “But we all know what he means by that!” but in fact we do not. It is an obfuscation. In fact, even if he had no intention of doing so, it sends a message that he does not wish to engage in discussions that he terms political. As stated, this is a very unfortunate political position to take not only because a Mayoral office is a political office, but because it implies an unwillingness to engage in any discussion with those with whom he has political differences. Is he now only prepared to enter into discussion with those who politically disagree with him on his terms? The standpoint is unsustainable.

As I interpret it, we are dealing with a public officer, who is also an elected public officer, who is like many of us when it comes to clearly distinguishing between the various responsibilities we retain, both public and private. Hence, my heightened concern that any such contentious political discussion – which could so easily involve profound political disagreements – be properly managed. This is not just a matter of the relationships “the other guy” has with other people. It is also a matter anyone, like myself, has with “others”.

Clearly the letter rattled him, but in fact it said less, and was less critical, than an article “How many hats can a mayor wear?” in the Queenscliff Herald (December 2016 p.3). That article effectively asks how many more public hats we in the Borough are now expected to indulge during the time of this Mayor’s incumbancy.

But then, let’s not reduce this problem to that of but one elected councillor. Nothwithstanding his repeated statement that he is “not a politician”, there are indeed various public layers and kinds of political responsibility that need to be kept in view here.

This man with his many roles was nominated for Council. Presumably, his nomination was declared valid by the designated Council officer and by the Victorian Electoral Commision which oversaw the election. This is the first point that needs careful examination.

Some are clearly not at ease with a serving senior police office – whatever his duties may be – standing for (another) public office. It seems he remainins as a senior seargent holding significant duties in a vitally important police taskforce.

So the question is: since when were serving public servants such as police officers allowed to stand for other elected public service (and hence political) positions?

The fact that now the incumbent of the Mayoral office is also heading up the Bellarine Liberal Party’s attempt to defeat the Labor incumbent in the next State election – who also just so happens to be Police Minister in the current State Government – simply renders the complexity even more intractable.

Actually, it is not certain that the member is going to represent the the electorate for which she has been a Member of Parliament for some years. I may be wrong but has she not signalled her intention of stepping down?

Clearly, both major political “sides” (the Liberal-National Coalition and Labor) know well enough, I guess, the legislation and the legal grounds for a serving police officer to be able to stand for Local Government as well as the conditions that may pertain to this dual responsibility. But the problem for these parties now is that the electors, in general, do not know because they have not been adequately informed.

The recent Council election was held with this uncertainty in evidence among electors. Many were, in fact, uncertain about the legitimacy of a serving police officer’s candidacy. It may turn out to be legal – the VEC did endorse his candidature after all – but some are convinced that a serious error or series of errors has been made in order to make this possible.

Despite the Candidate, who is now Mayor and President of the Bellarine Liberal Party, saying that he is not a politician – which as we have said is a statement that will be very difficult to justify – the matter is indeed a public and political one. It needs to be resolved publicly and politically. I have told him that if I were to talk with him to explain the kinds of issues that I have raised here, it would have to be face-to-face with at least one other person present. And it is not going to be resolved merely by his statement that he has at all times acted in good faith.

It is now indeed a sticky mess and it has not been made any easier by the fact that the Council has voted to make him the Mayor, even with the hats he was already wearing before the opportunistic and over-reaching Liberal Party appointment was announced. Will not that Council decision now have to be revisited? It should be.

It will interesting to see if the Liberal Party is capable of understanding how it has contributed to this sticky political mess. It is a problem not just for the Borough Council, and for the compromised position of the Liberal Party but a problem for Borough electors and we anticipate this having an impact upon the manner in which citizens across the region understand party politics from here on.

It certainly suggests that the kind of political mayhem that has brought a completely unsuitable person to become President-elect in the USA, which we, in this country, have been quick to condemn, is closer to our front doorstep than we might have thought.

BCW

8.12.16.