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Councillors' Poor Judgement Calls

I’ve just watched a cringe-worthy display of sour grapes by two of my local councillors who’ve insinuated that a local community advisory group -comprised of elected residents- was undemocratic, ignorant or incompetent, because the Councillors disagreed with the group’s report.

It was another low political watermark in the sorry saga of Melbourne Victory’s proposal to build a soccer training ground at Footscray Park.

It began in 2016 when Maribyrnong City Council signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Melbourne Victory to explore the feasibility of Melbourne Victory building a training academy somewhere in the council area.

In mid 2018, Victory announced it had secured $10m in state government funding to build the Academy at Footscray park.

But residents didn’t notice until Council called for public consultation on an updated Footscray Park Masterplan in April 2019.

And then the proverbial went flying in all directions.

Because for residents, the updated plan had appeared out of nowhere.

Maribyrnong residents had been extensively consulted on the original Footscray Park Masterplan, which had been presented to Council and adopted. And soccer training facilities had never been mentioned. And did not appear on the Masterplan that was on Council’s website.

When residents noticed the consultation process for an updated Masterplan in April 2019 and began asking questions, alarm bells started ringing. And the Masterplan disappeared from the Council website.

Residents then discovered Melbourne Victory had been publicly promoting the new training facilities at Footscray Park since 2018, including posting photos of Councillors side by side with MPs and Melbourne Victory executives.

More research uncovered political links between Melbourne Victory and the state government and Victoria University. And that there had been more PR conducted by both VU and MV before April 2019.

This indicated to some residents that decisions had already been made and consultation was going to be a farce. That pretty much set the tone for the remainder of the process.

Soccer at Footscray Park became a divisive issue in the community.

There were protests outside Council meetings with placards and chanting. Council meetings were disrupted. Council meetings were cancelled. Facebook groups became polarising portals for bitter rivals. Train stations, parks and supermarkets became positions for petitions. And residents made flyers, knocked on doors and held BBQs.

By the time the July Council meeting arrived, instead of concluding the community consultation and presenting an Officer’s report to adopt the updated Masterplan, Council instead acknowledged it had failed to consult properly before re-drafting the Masterplan.

The Council meeting deferred the vote on the updated Masterplan and decided to appoint a community advisory group.

Even the voting process for appointing members of the community advisory group became a debacle and some sporting groups who had been appointed by Council pulled out of the process, when all 5 of the successful residential candidates were opposed to the soccer facilities.

And thus, to last night, the 26th of November 2019.

The City Development Special Committee met to vote on the report from the Community Advisory Group.

The two dissenting Councillors, who obviously knew they were on the ‘losing’ side decided to make their displeasure known. And that’s OK. But the way in which they did it, was not.

Councillor Martin Zakharov, until recently the Mayor, told the meeting the community advisory group report “had so many obvious, hopefully not deliberate, flaws….” and “it’s unfortunate that an advisory body to Council would actually have, I’m hoping, not deliberate, but definite errors in its report…”

My interpretation is that because Councillor Zakharov disagrees with the Advisory Group report the residents on it are either ignorant, incompetent or corrupt.

Councillor Megan Bridger-Darling told the meeting , “..I would have liked to see far more involvement from groups that were not part of the terms of reference and I don’t feel the community itself was represented. I realise we (Council) set the rules and you guys played by them, but it is very notable that all 5 members were part of the Save Footscray Group..”

She was also concerned that the Officer recommendation to reject the updated Masterplan had been shaped by the report of the advisory group.

So, she wants to see the views of residents or groups who’ve deliberately pulled out of a process taken into account. And the residents who did take part in the process didn’t represent the community. And the Council staff should not have used the Community Advisory Group report as the basis for their recommendations to the Committee.

This is a very avant-garde interpretation of how democracy should work.

Despite the ravings of their two dissenting colleagues the majority of Councillors voted to accept all the recommendations from the Community Advisory Group’s Report.

It’s now up to the decision-makers at Melbourne Victory to decide how sporting they are going to be.

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