Friday, April 27, 2007

Darebin media release shows timing is everything

Like the only other media release issued this year regarding the council representation review, the City of Darebin's latest appears to have been published on council's website well after the claimed date of its distribution to the media. The web page states that it was last updated on 27 April, but it is hard not conclude that it was in fact first published there on that date, even if it was actually forwarded to the media as stated under the headline, on 24 April.

Why should this matter? Timing, as they say, is everything. The release was likely published online too late to alert website visitors of the deadline for response submissions to the Victorian Electoral Commission's preliminary report [3MB download, PDF] - as it happens, 5.00pm Tuesday 24 April. Council spin doctors also know that any actual media coverage will only appear next week.

It was a similar story with council's 9 March release, likely to have been published on council's website on the 'last updated' date of 15 March, conveniently after the VEC's deadline for preliminary submissions from the public on Tuesday 13 March. In that case, any media coverage generated in local papers was unlikely to influence public submissions, as local papers tend not to appear until at least ... you guessed it, Tuesday.

If that isn't bad enough, both releases focused not on the opportunity for the public to participate, which their timing in any case precluded, but on council propaganda for retaining the voting system that has seen council totally dominated by the Labor Unity faction of the ALP - namely majority preferential voting for nine single-councillor wards, a system prone to dummy candidates.

Now, in a submission recently published on the VEC website, Councillor Peter Stephenson has argued that there was insufficient time for consultation. It's really a bit rich when council has gone out of its way to keep the lid on the review process for fear of submissions arguing for democratic change to the council's structure - change that has been endorsed in the VEC's preliminary report as its preferred option of three three-councillor wards elected by proportional representation.

Not to be outdone, Councillor Chris Kelly has forwarded a submission including a petition of more than 1000 signatures of people supposedly against the VEC's recommendation for change and for the retention of the unrepresentative status quo. Given the Councillor's vested interest in retaining that status quo and the opportunity squandered by council to promote more actual submissions from the community, the VEC should reject such petitions out of hand as undermining the legitimate consultation process.

The VEC and the public can never be assured of what the signatories understood about the process or what was presented to them in that regard, and we will never be able to see the reasons they might have put forward had they made written submissions to the review. This is exactly the kind of 'straw poll' that the VEC stated it would not undertake in conducting the review, further stating that it would examine the arguments and reasoning of the positions put forward. I trust it will stick to that commitment, despite heavy pressure from the likes of former Preston MLA, Michael Leighton, and current MP, Robin Scott.

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