Editor, Bass Coast Post
November 3, 2012
SO Alan Brown’s Reform team has come and gone. Under a first-past-the-post system they would have won most of the wards in the Bass Coast Council election but we have a preferential voting system and the simplistic appeal to the hip pocket was not quite enough to convince most voters.
They didn’t get in but the re-appearance of the former Kennett government minister on the local scene had unexpected consequences. In the light of a vitriolic and sometimes unfair debate, voters decided a pox on both their houses and elected six new councillors.
As new councillor Neil Rankine, who defeated Mr Brown in his own ward, put it, “People seem to have decided it was time for a change. It wasn’t necessarily that the previous councillors did anything wrong but some of them had been there a long time.”
If nothing else, the Reform team got us talking about local government. We realised we had to decide what we actually wanted from our council: the bare necessities, at the lowest price; or to pay more and develop our collective assets -- libraries, parks, child care centres, recycling systems and home care programs.
The Bass Coast Post also owes its existence to Mr Brown and his team. When they burst onto the scene in June, promising to save us by cutting costs and staff and capping rates, I wasn’t too worried – council candidates have been promising that since time immemorial. I was concerned about the idea of a single group controlling Bass Coast. But most of all I was appalled by the local press, which greeted Mr Brown as the new Messiah rather than as an astute – and often charming – politician who generally gets what he wants.
Week after week, Mr Brown’s press releases appeared verbatim and unattributed on the news pages of the Sentinel-Times rather than where they belonged, on the letters page or in a clearly marked political advertisement. Claims – many of them erroneous – were reported as fact, with limited opportunity for the then councillors to respond to the sustained criticism.
Just one example from many: blaming the current council for a $4 million superannuation bill relating to a compulsory state government scheme that closed in 1993 was either ill-informed or malicious. You might as well blame the councillors who were elected last week.
Believing we deserved better, I set up the Bass Coast Post to try to provide a forum for more informed discussion, a place where people could debate the issues, not the personalities. I approached Mr Brown and the Reform team members, as I approached all the election candidates, to join the debate and explain the issues that were important to them. They declined. I genuinely regretted that but it also revealed that they did not wish to take part in a forum they couldn’t control.
While the election was the impetus for the Bass Coast Post, I also hoped it could become a small outpost of quality journalism in our region. We could do the backgrounders, in-depth features, profiles and columns that the local papers don’t have the time to do with the daily grind of sports and news reporting.
And so it has proved. As our readership grows week by week, so does our list of contributors. Our readers are also our writers, columnists and photographers and we are gradually building up a very good team with diverse interests. The more voices we get, the better the Post will be.
Covering the count in last week’s election, one of the most hotly contested and nail-biting in our shire’s history, also showed the potential of the Post to cover news as it happens. With willing correspondents all over the shire, we were able to let our readers know what was happening many hours before the results appeared on the Victorian Electoral Commission website and days before they appeared in the local press.
It shows what a great resource our readers are and how valuable our combined expertise and knowledge can be. In an emergency – a bushfire, a hurricane, even a tsunami, the Post could be a vital link.
Starting up the Post has also made me more optimistic about the future of journalism. I have spent most of my working life in newspapers but clearly the end of newspapers is nigh. Many of us lament that loss – but I begin to see that what replaces newspapers will have its own merits.