FIRST there were the emails. Hundreds of them, from Bass Coast and further afield. Most argued that dogs should be allowed on beaches as long as they were on leads, or off leads but for longer periods. Those were the reasonable ones.
Others accused Cr Jordan Crugnale of betraying her Inverloch constituents; some told her they regretted voting for her; still others called her “a disgrace”; a few even threatened her. There were also messages from people saying they supported her but were too scared to speak out.
Then there were the news reports, in the local newspapers, on ABC Radio, and on WIN TV. The media loves dog stories, because they press so many emotional buttons.
People who had holidayed in Inverloch for years were reported saying that this summer they would go somewhere else where they could take their dogs to the beach. Inverloch accommodation owners and traders complained that the dog ban put their livelihoods at risk.
In the midst of the media blitz, someone deliberately released Cr Crugnale’s private phone number and the phone calls started.
While Cr Crugnale copped most of the flak – as the councillor who proposed the original motion for a daytime dog ban trial on Inverloch beaches this summer – council officers also received abusive emails and threats.
Former mayor Clare Le Serve said she was appalled by what she saw as intimidation, particularly of her young colleague. “It’s not acceptable in the school ground, and it’s not acceptable in the workplace, but the community seems to think they can do it.”
At Wednesday’s council meeting, when the trial daytime ban – from 8am to 8pm – was reviewed, Cr Le Serve turned to the gallery and told them some of their behaviour had been “a disgrace”. “It certainly doesn’t sway the debate for me. It only gets my back up.”
The day after the meeting, Cr Le Serve told the Post that councillors had been subjected to an abusive and intimidating email campaign designed to “pick us off”.
“It’s not acceptable to make personal attacks on councillors about what they should be doing. Some people have been so abusive. It’s disruptive and disrespectful. Terrible things were written and said. It really got out of hand.”
Cape Paterson psychologist Doris Tate warns that the psychological effects of intimidation of public figures can be devastating. “It can trigger depression. If honest people are bullied and harassed in this way, it can have a really devastating effect on people’s lives.”
She said there were parallels with the conduct of federal politics. “I think the culture of bullying is on the increase because Tony Abbott bullied Julia Gillard and it was seen as acceptable. When Tony Windsor resigned from Parliament he talked about the things his wife had to put up with on the phone. A public figure doesn’t seem to have any recourse against this sort of behaviour.”
Ms Tate said there was also a flow-on effect on the quality of our politicians. “Just as young girls who wanted to be prime minister might have reconsidered when they saw what happened to Julia Gillard, what kind of people would want to come onto the council after seeing this sort of treatment of our councillors?”
She says threats and cyberbullying are also potentially illegal. “Bullying is illegal in the workplace. Some of it could be referred to the police.”
One person who has an idea of what Cr Crugnale has gone through is former South Gippsland mayor Jennie Deane. As a councillor, she became the object of two bitter community campaigns: one to do with Korumburra’s Coal Creek historical park and one to do with rural subdivisions.
“There’s no doubt it affects you,” she says. “All councillors are in there doing their best. You know whatever you decide there are going to be lots of people against it. All of us can handle a debate on the issues but it’s very difficult when it becomes this personal hostility.”
For a long time, she avoided Korumburra. “You were walking down the street or you were in a shop and you just never knew whether someone had been part of the vitriolic hostility against you. I got to the stage where I stopped shopping there.”
She hastens to add that she did not have as hard a time as Cr Crugnale, partly because she had been a senior public servant in a “difficult” policy area, but also because fewer people used social media at the time.
“I think it’s always been difficult but it has got worse. Politicians are seen as fair game by a lot more people. In the past you had public meetings and rallies and I think it was a more focused, contained situation. Now you’ve got talkback and social media, and abusers can remain anonymous.”
She says while most people are blissfully unaware of the major decisions being made by councillors, they tend to latch on to comparatively minor, but tangible, issues such as dogs on beaches. There is also often a level of ignorance in very passionate campaigns. “More people are talking about it but it’s less informed. With Jordan’s situation, people probably haven’t even taken the trouble to find out why she did what she did.”
The Bass Coast Post did not speak to Cr Crugnale for this article. The description of the campaign against her comes from her fellow councillors and other observers.
December 15, 2013
As a member of the domestic animal management advisory committee, I attended the council meeting at the Cowes Cultural Centre on Wednesday 11th December.
There was a large contingent of people from Inverloch there to change the mind of the council regarding the new rules pertaining to dog times on beaches.
They were boisterous and rude, interjecting as councillors tried to explain the situation. The vitriol aimed at Cr Crugnale was embarrassing. It is never helpful when adult people resort to such behaviour.
Although the new set of rules for dogs was to be a trial from December 2013 to April 2014, the reaction to the proposal was intimidating, nasty and unacceptable. When the council compromised and softened the ruling, most of the contingent from Inverloch left the meeting.
Coming up on the agenda was amendment C124, relating to the Inverloch Design Framework which seeks to implement a number of changes to the Bass Coast Planning Scheme. The discussion on these issues might have been important and far-reaching –worth listening to by Inverloch residents. Not so: every dog has its day.