Those who say that our Council should only be concerned about roads, rates and rubbish are being overtaken by current events. The new Local Government Act requires councils to do much more than fix pot holes and empty bins. And yet, these voices continue to use tactics of fear and misinformation to push a radical agenda of service cuts and the privatisation of community assets, based on their mantra of 'wasteful spending'.
So, to be fair to all, let's take a closer look at Port Phillip's responsibilites and the range of vital services it delivers; then decide whether it is spending sensibly.
A brochure distributed in our letterboxes compares the total forecasted spending in the 2019-20 budgets of several local Councils. However, as each Council has a different operating context, any conclusions drawn from such a raw comparison need be treated with caution and skepticism.
Indeed, the Victorian Auditor General has pointed out that such reporting lacks 'information about the quality of services, the outcomes achieved and how these related to councils' strategice objectives.'
Further exploration points to Port Phillip having greater responsibilities and delivering a wider range of community services than its neighbours, while continually maintaining lower average residential rates per residential property, than those of surrounding Councils.
Port Phillip has specific responsibilities which make it unique when considering suburban Councils.
It has major planning and strategic responsibilities for key development precincts including much of Southbank and Queens Road.
It has planning responsibility for the immediate community impact of Victoria’s major passenger cruise and freight terminals in Port Melbourne; and it shares planning responsibility for St Kilda Road and the Domain interchange with the City of Melbourne.
Port Phillip also has the responsibility to plan and provide the major social and physical infrastructure for an eventual population of 80,000 residents and over 60,000 workers at the largest urban renewal project in Australia – Fishermans Bend. This project should have been subject to careful planning to maximise affordable housing, jobs and preparing for climate change. However, an abrupt and reckless rezoning of Fishermans Bend by Matthew Guy, the former Liberal Planning Minister, gave massive windfall profits to developers and left Port Phillip ratepayers with skyrocketing costs for providing open spaces, community and arts centres, libraries, recreation facilities, childcare and other services (drainage and roads) that will be needed over time.
In short, Port Phillip is a local government with some significant statewide responsibilities.
But it is so much more than that.
Port Phillip provides a range of other services and programs which have been developed over many years and reflect the needs and preferences of the diverse community that makes up this municipality, including the highest reported number of homeless people among the neighbouring Councils.
Port Phillip provides and supports services such as childcare and other children’s services; invests in an energetic social housing program, owns and operates the iconic South Melbourne Market, funds extensive arts and culture programs, and runs an established sustainability program, helping residents to prepare for and take action to prevent dangerous climate change. Surrounding Councils, with the exception of Melbourne, have not been so forward leaning until recently.
Port Phillip is not homogenous – its diversity, tolerance and inclusiveness make it special in Melbourne.
Those who say that our Council should only be concerned about roads, rates and rubbish are being overtaken by current events.
The new Local Government Act requires Councils to act on climate change and all of our neighbouring Councils declared Climate Emergencies before the legislation was enacted. We can expect Bayside, Stonnington, Hobsons Bay and Glen Eira to increase their expenditure on sustainability in response to the emergency.
Glen Eira has just completed the first year of a strong social housing program.
Port Phillip has been, and continues to be, a leader in many of the services now required of local governments. That’s why so many people are drawn to live here, and that’s why we take pride in our vibrant, creative and caring community. Yet, some are using tactics of fear and misinformation to push a radical agenda of service cuts and the privatisation of community assets.
In recent months we have witnessed the fragility of privatised age care and childcare services, the importance of strong public health services, the need for more and better social housing.
With Melbourne emerging slowly out of lockdown and many residents and businesses facing great uncertainty, there has never been such a need for strong support into communities from all levels of government.