Wednesday, March 28, 2007

PPP for Northcote?

Today's edition of The Melbourne Times carried my letter calling on Victorian Housing Minister, Richard Wynne, to rule out a public–private partnership on a Northcote public housing site set for redevelopment in 2008. Here it is:

Judging by the community reaction to the panel report on the Carlton public housing redevelopment, current and future public tenants of Northcote's Roberts Street flats have little to hope for.

Minister Wynne has been silent on whether the site is destined for a public–private partnership (PPP). If this approach were adopted, it would open the gates to a Carlton-style scenario of inappropriate ratios of private to public housing, albeit on a smaller scale. There is also the question of the impact of the redevelopment on the neighbouring park.

After such a long history of neglect and delay regarding this site, I call on Minister Wynne to come clean on Roberts Street Northcote, to rule out a PPP, and to safeguard the adjacent park from development. The current housing site should be retained for the public benefit, and that means aged housing integrated within the community to help address the heavy public waiting lists for accommodation. We don't need another public gift to private developers.
The same issue carried the surprise announcement by Wynne that the numbers to be accommodated on the Carlton site would mark an increase of 250 on the current population, albeit housed in the same number of units as originally planned (246, see 'Surprise rise in resident numbers for Carlton estate', p. 13).

While this development was welcomed by the representative for the Carlton Local Area Network, Steve Dobson, the central criticism of the development remains valid. The public units on the site will be massively outnumbered by private units in the face of long waiting lists for public housing in inner-city areas. And this on public land that should be retained for public benefit. Wynne's announcement, while some relief to residents, is tokenism.

It will be interesting to note developments at Roberts Street, Northcote, on the future fate of which I understand residents are meeting today.

Watch this site for updates. Comments and questions are welcome here, or you can send me an email.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Darebin keeps lid on representation review

The City of Darebin has played down the current council representation review in its online and print communications with residents. This despite the fact that the council and the community have a massive stake in the outcome, which will determine the future number of councillors and wards in the municipality.

Late last week, I received the March issue of Darebin News in the mail. Despite a message from the Mayor, councillor Marlene Kairouz, touting the council's efforts to consult with residents, and a 'dates for your diary' page stretching through to October, twenty full-colour A4 pages contained not a single mention of the review.

Surprised by the newsletter, I searched the council's website and found only a single item about the review – a 9 March media release setting out Council's predictable quest to retain nine single-councillor wards occupied by nine ALP Labor Unity faction members. There was no link to the council submission [but it's been published by the VEC], or to the Victorian Electoral Commission's website for the review. Apart from that, there was no coverage of the issue I could find in Darebin's communications, even though the review will determine how residents are represented following the 2008 council elections.

If council can devote substantial resources to communicating with the community – from print newsletters, to the website and even podcasts – then it seems more than appropriate that the representation review, as a vital issue concerning all Darebin residents, should be covered in depth. When that doesn't happen, council is open to the accusation that it is seeking to play down the issue in an effort to protect the vested interests of its councillors, who would be challenged and quite possibly replaced if the review resulted in elections for multi-councillor wards in Darebin.

I can't wait for the April edition of Darebin News, which will no doubt land in my letter-box sometime around 24 April, the deadline for response submissions to the VEC's preliminary findings – judging by the March edition of Darebin's newsletter, it seems doubtful the review will receive much coverage as the last chance for public input quietly slips by.

Readers can keep track of the review at the Victorian Electoral Commission website, where they can also read all the preliminary submissions. The VEC's preliminary findings will be published on 3 April.

Watch this site for updates. Comments and questions are welcome here, or you can send me an email.

How do you want to be represented on council?

Residents of the City of Darebin and anyone interested in local democracy have been asked to make submissions on the future shape of the Darebin council. A representation review for the municipality is currently being carried out by the Victorian Electoral Commission, which will report on preliminary submissions on 3 April.

It's important to keep track of the review because there will be an opportunity to make further submissions on this report that will potentially shape your local council and influence just how well it represents your interests and those of the broader community.

Currently there are nine single-councillor wards in Darebin, each held by a member of the ALP's Labor Unity faction.

While the City of Darebin has understandably argued to keep this unrepresentative status quo, many of the preliminary submissions have instead argued for multi-councillor wards to more broadly represent the interests of Darebin residents.

If this were achieved, the result would be a council that included a range of views with strong support in the community. A popular suggested model has been to move to three wards each represented by three councillors. Councillors would be elected by proportional representation, which would mean election would come not via a majority, but through substantial support indicated by a minimum quota of votes.

Rucker ward's Councillor Steven Tsitas has voiced his opposition to this proposal, stating that proportional representation allows a role for 'marginal players in democracy'. This neglects the fact that some councillors, himself included, were elected not through an outright majority, but with the support of preferences from minor candidates. This has sometimes meant that candidates with the highest level of support from first-preference votes actually fail to get elected.

An additional problem with the current system is that, all too often, ALP candidates are supported by a string of factionally aligned candidates whose only role is to direct their preferences, not to be elected in their own right. In Darebin, there have been as many as 18 candidates contesting a single ward.

Further updates on the progress of the review will be published here, and I encourage you to participate in shaping local democracy.

Comments and questions are welcome here, or send me an email. If you are interested, you can also read my review submission.