As 2014 draws to a close, the highlights of MRI’s advocacy findings are:
- The no end saga to Monash Council’s continuous increase of rates by 6%, which is more than double current CPI. What is scary is the Council’s media propaganda assumes its community is stupid (attend a Council listening post session or attend a Council meeting , you will experience this first hand) and some Councillors continue to manipulate statistics to claim Monash offers one of the lowest rates rise. When you vote for new Councillors in 2016, choose those who are resolved to lowering rates while optimising relevant services and have professional and organisation management skills.
- Budget games remain elusive in Monash city. Our Council has slashed away at least $23.5 million this year as unrestricted cash, which was reduced from an original planned surplus of $27.7 million. Not only we have a variance of $4.2 million within less than 6 months, it was planned to increase to $44.5 million by 2016/17 (2014/15 Budget, page 44, 57). Yet our Council cries poor. However in their 2014/15 budget update, they are compelled by legislation to report the true financial status – ie declaring their long term financial position has improved remarkably (primarily because of the sale of Council’s two aged care facilities and some marginal cost saving effort). Note they use the term “long term”, so that they can cry poor short term – this is the language of manipulative media The small attempt to investigate efficiency improvements is because one Councillor (the only one) has a professional skills in finance and has directed Council Finance officers to investigate budget downsizing. The 2013/14 Mayor took ownership and claim/plagiarize as one of his achievements. The positive is that there is untapped budget downsizing capacity in Council, which means there are opportunities for optimising rates to reduce to CPI or lower. Furthermore, the 2013 ALCEG report on strengthening Local Government revenue for the 21st century, also verified that Victorian Councils have not explored or optimise their capacity to reduce expenses (hence rates) through efficient improvements and service level reviews. There are 2 barriers against this responsible budget/rates improvement initiative:
- Many Monash Councillors lacks financial management (especially budget planning) literacy (VLGA (page 20), 2014) and cannot lead Council Officers to downsize;
- Strong political resolve to keep high rates increase to maintain legacy high salaries for executive staff (Herald Sun, 2009; Mojo, 2012; Herald Sun, 2013 and 2014 ) and provide plenty of money to make Councillors look good in their achievements and support some of their state or federal political ambition’s profile building and training (Australian Parliament Report, 2011).
- Councillors addressing more of their personal aka political ambitions in their roles, than to truly serve in the interests of their community. The federal and state elections were evidence to that. We had two Councillors run for the federal election. Three Councillors participate as state candidates. We also saw manipulation of local decision making positioning (over the sale of Hangover St car-park) to win votes in Oakleigh, still leaving the people of Oakleigh without resolving their escalating car parking and crying poor while delaying the construction of Atkinson St car-park, which is only a partial and short term solution. The current push for not selling Hanover St car-park is a short term decoy for state election purpose, as the 4 years budget plan assumes the sale of Hangover St to finance other capital expenditure in activity centres, especially Glen Waverley. The very Councillors who are voting to not sell Hanover St are the ones who pushed strongly for its sale during the last one to two terms – it is all in the public meeting minute records. MRI representatives were invited to a traders; meeting but were quickly “kicked out” by Council officers for sharing insights about the Hanover St / Atkinson car parking matters and Council’s unrestricted cash reserves.
- Lacking good governance in conduct, decision making and community engagement continues to grow. During meetings, debating about the person rather than the issues continue to increase, especially when Mayors are now given discretionary powers to control meeting conducts. We continue to see a legacy bullying culture and groupthink dominance in how Monash Councillors present themselves during Council meetings; poor decision making that is emotionally oriented, lacks evidence and impact analysis; implementation and KPI outcomes accountability. Inappropriate conduct continues, taking a new height when the new Mayor personally recently threatened the MRI President in Council office venue that he has been investigated and police checked. This conduct and action represent a complete failure of good governance, as the Mayor has not asked for the MRI President for consent to be checked and in doing so he has breached the Federal Government Laws concerning the ‘Privacy and Data Protection Act 2014’ and irresponsibly exposed Council to unwarranted legal liability risk.
- There is grapevine talk of unfair procurement oligopoly practices involved in the street lighting bulk purchasing arrangement offered by the Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV) and its partner, Ironbark Sustainability. Prior to Monash Council making the final decision to go ahead, one of the suppliers was in court over copyright violation allegations and Council is aware of the choice of street-lighting technology provided in the MAV/Ironbark offer is one of old technology and lesser value giving in terms of energy saving. The decision making did not consider the total cost of ownership aspects, when they claimed that LED streetlights are too expensive to implement. Another flaw is that Council procure the old fluorescent streetlight technology and pass asset ownership to its energy supplier, which would result in Council to pay remaining depreciated capital value when they decide to refresh streetlight technology in the future. The 2013/14 Mayor is a paid Board member of the MAV and his partner works in MAV, a point not raised as a conflict of interest when the streetlight decision making occurred.
Initiating issues prevailing in 2015 will include:
- Rate increases – whether ALP Councillors would go against Daniel Andrew’s clause to increase rates above CPI and whether Daniel Andrew’s capped Council rates policy allows for a big escape clause for tyrannical Councils to call for exceptions and keep pushing for higher rates.
- Unknown defined benefits liability – there is no report of Council’s exposure to defined superannuation benefits liability managed by Vision Super. As financial markets shiver in more uncertain global economic conditions, what is the risk that MAV is exposing Councils and our rates money to? Our ex Mayor is one of Vision Super Trustee Directors since 2009 and his role is supposing to ensure Vision Super is managed properly in the best interests of all members – and yet we had the last defined $12+million benefits liability blowout.
- Monash Housing Strategy, which forces Councillors and Planners’ viewpoints that the city will support higher density development that will change the liveability landscape and conditions for every present and future ratepayers, residents and business operators. They are not canvassing for higher levels of community engagement (the Council website’s search engine does not locate it, one has to use the Internet to locate the plan – that says a lot about limiting public accessibility) and Glen Waverley will be the worst off, as the first decision to support a 15 storey tower complex permit sets in. The risk of Council decisions linking to group and self interests will be hard to ascertain, but are very real and unmonitored present and future exposures in city planning and permit approval decision making.
- Increase targeted and publicized propaganda profiling of Mayor and some Councillors’ achievements, to build traceable profiles for the 2016 Council election.
MRI will continue to monitor and advance its advocacy to lower rates, monitoring and reporting good governance performance in Council and explore new territories in collaborative community partnerships and development. We will start issuing quarterly newsletters to inform ratepayers, residents and business operators about the truth in Council matters. We are also expanding our collaboration networks and use of social media, to strengthen our collaborative advocacy and achievement capacity. Watch this space in 2015.
We wish you and your families and friends a wonderful merry Christmas and a joyous happy new year.
Happy Festive Cheerio from your MRI Team