Monday, May 7, 2007

Leader Needs to 'Shore Up' Review Coverage

Last week's edition of the Preston Leader ran with an item on the Darebin representation review under the headline 'Locals shore up support'. It described a 'tidal wave' of support for the current system, which has given the ALP's Labor Unity faction nine out of nine elected councillors in Darebin.

However, the Leader report failed to factor in the preliminary submissions when it said that only 16 out of 53 submissions supported change. While I actually have 18 of the response submissions down as supporting change, we shouldn't forget that only three of the 31 preliminary submissions supported the current system. In total, of the 84 submissions, 45 supported change, and 38 supported the status quo - one submission was unclear.

Three of the community groups supporting the current system are from the Lebanese community, of which two Darebin councillors are members. It should also be noted that councillor Stanley Chiang is president of another group submitting in support of no change - the Northern Melbourne Chinese Association.

While both these groups together represent only a combined 3.3 per cent of the Darebin population of about 128,000, they would in fact be better represented under the proportional representation system proposed by the VEC in its preliminary report.

PR reflects 75 per cent voter support in three-member wards, while the current system reflects just over 50 per cent. And while it is true that council currently includes a relatively diverse membership, they also represent a political monopoly at odds with the diversity of views held by Darebin's communities.

The Leader report also failed to note the submission by the Preston Reservoir Progress Association, choosing instead to promote a petition submitted to the VEC by a Darebin councillor. This despite the fact that council would have done better to promote actual submissions rather than collect signatures no doubt responding to an ALP pitch. Instead of doing almost nothing to promote the review process, council could have encouraged participation - especially by referring our various ethnic communities to multilingual information offered by the VEC.

Instead, council opted to mobilise support informally among those it could count on, thereby undermining the formal consultation carried out by the VEC. Unfortunately for council, so far it hasn't quite worked. In my presentation to the VEC's public hearing, I urged the VEC to maintain its stated commitment to the reasoning of submissions, and reject what it had earlier called a 'straw poll' comprising merely of numbers for and against. It is the strength of the arguments that should win the day, and that's where the ALP has fallen down.

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