One group just wants to go it alone; the other is hell-bent on saving the Inverloch tip. Yet the Phillip Island Progress Association and the Bass Coast Ratepayers and Residents Association have formed an unlikely alliance that appears to have one common aim: getting rid of the current Bass Coast councillors and the CEO.
Voting preference cards for the two organisations are almost identical, except for a token switch of the top two and bottom two candidates in each ward.
Phillip Island Progress Association (PIPA) president Stephen Fullarton (ranked number one candidate in the Island Ward on the PIPA list and number two on the BCRRA list) insists there is no link between the two groups, beyond the fact that some members of PIPA are also members of BCRRA and that they have common complaints.
“Chiefly dissatisfaction with Paul Buckley [council CEO]. There’s that many millions spent on consultants because of the engagement of senior management who have no experience.”
He said that while four of the candidates in the Island Ward – himself, Pamela Rothfield (ranked number two on the PIPA list and one on the BCRRA list), Ruth Partridge and Rodney Spottiswood – were members of PIPA (also known as Stand Alone), it was not a political group. “We don’t have candidates. I’m standing as an independent person and so is Pam.”
At the other end of the shire, in the Bunurong Ward (largely Wonthaggi and Inverloch), six of the nine candidates have links to the Bass Coast Ratepayers and Residents Association (BCRRA). Dissatisfaction with the council had been brewing all year but the association was formed only about three months ago after the council decided to close the Inverloch transfer station.
BCRRA president Kevin Griffin told the Post several candidates were members of the group but it was not running candidates as such. Asked how many of the Bunurong candidates had links with BCRRA, he said “Certainly the top five” [on the BCRRA list]. They obviously share common interests in trying to improve the council of the past four years.”
However, when the Post approached candidates, all denied being members of the BCRRA. Several said they had gone to the meeting at which the BCRRA was formed, and several attended last Sunday’s Last Straw rally in Inverloch.
Mohan De Run, listed at number two on the BCRRA list, said he attended early meetings of the BCRRA but did not become a member. “I didn’t want to get into a conflict of interest situation,” he said. “If you are on the council, you could have to stand aside.”
Like Mr Fullarton, Mr Griffin denied there was any affiliation between BCRRA and PIPA. Asked why the voting cards were almost identical he said, “Both groups have identified the strengths of the candidates. We have looked at skills, strengths, involvement in the community. Their analysis aligned with our analysis.”
Both the BCRRA and PIPA lists rank four of the five councillors seeking re-election at the bottom of their lists. The sole exception, Cr Clare le Serve, is listed third in Western Port Ward by both groups.
Mr Griffin rejected the Post’s suggestion that the main objective seemed to be to get rid of the current councillors. He said the ranking was an assessment of candidates’ abilities, based on a six-page BCRRA questionnaire, candidate statements and other material. The questionnaire was sent to 15 new candidates who provided email addresses, but not to current councillors “because we’re satisfied we know their skills and ability”.
Mr Griffin also denied that the BCRRA wanted to get rid of the council CEO Paul Buckley. “It will be up to the new councillors to manage the CEO for the next four years. We will work with whoever.”
Does he see the CEO as a problem? “I believe there are difficulties with the level of remuneration being paid to Paul Buckley and his senior managers.”
At early meetings of the council critics who eventually formed BCRRA they decided to flood the election with so many candidates that at least some would be elected. But the sheer numbers created complications when it came to drawing up the BCRRA’s preference list.
The BCRRA’s “Last Straw” rally in Inverloch last weekend, which drew about 150 people, didn’t go quite to script when two candidates angrily accosted Mr Griffin about the list, which had been published that week in the Sentinel Times.
Peter Dalmau, a former Woorayl Shire councillor, was fuming at being ranked sixth on the list. He told the Post a couple of the committee members had told him they had nothing to do with drawing up the list, that it was “Kevin’s list”.
Brett Tessari, a strong and popular local candidate, was bitterly disappointed to be listed at number five. He said Mr Griffin was acting "like a kingmaker".
Even Max Wells, listed at number three, wasn’t thrilled with the release of the list. “I think the BCRRA has been well meaning but it might have been high-jacked a little.”
He said he was there on the day the BCRRA formed, and agreed with many of their concerns, but was not a member. He also had concerns with a six-page questionnaire sent out by BCRRA which asked candidates to pledge to certain actions, including reopening the Inverloch transfer station.
“I filled out their questionnaire but I sent it back with a rider at the start that while I agree with the principle of the things they’re trying to do I wouldn’t pledge to anything. I’m going to be my own person and represent the community and not allow any particular group to overly influence me.”
At number four on the BCRRA list is Julian Brown, a son of former state Liberal leader Alan Brown, a Wonthaggi mayor from 1974-77, who ran a group ticket at the 2012 Bass Coast council election, fielding candidates in all seven wards. Only two of the candidates were elected, not including Mr Brown.
Mr Brown Snr was quiet for a couple of years after the election defeat but has spent the past two years fulminating against the current council in the local newspapers. Earlier this year he hosted a meeting of business people to “shake up the council”. He advised potential candidates not to announce their intentions too early for fear that “they will be targeted by sitting Councillors and their cronies”.
Asked about Mr Brown’s involvement of with BCRRA, Mr Griffin said “We’ve tried to get Alan involved. He declined to join as a member and he declined to speak at our rally. If he decided to join, he would be a valuable member.”
Mr Brown did attend Sunday’s Last Straw rally, along with another former Liberal MP, Ross Smith, a Bass Coast councillor from 2008-2012, who addressed the crowd and derided the performance of the current councillors.
The BCRRA concerns – the Inverloch tip, dogs on beaches, the Wonthaggi information centre – seem a world away from the concerns of the Phillip Island Progress Association, which was formed to re-establish a Phillip Island shire independent of Bass Coast.
PIPA president Stephen Fullarton told the Post he was “a genuine Phillip Island person”. “I’m the third generation here and very proud of what we have on the island. But I don’t know anyone who’s not embarrassed by the state of the island. The position of the island under Bass Coast is just a disgrace. I’m determined to turn that around.”
A former Phillip Island Shire councillor before amalgamation, he takes a dim view of new arrivals who oppose PIPA’s aims, referring particularly to another island candidate, Michael Whelan.
“To be quite brutally honest, we have people who have just retired down here who then want to show us plebs how to do things,” Mr Fullarton said. “They jump on every committee but they don’t know the community. They never experienced what we had before amalgamation.”
Mr Whelan, who has lived on the island for seven years and had a holiday house at Surf Beach for 25 years, responded to the jibe with a song called The Phillip Island Song, which he has published on YouTube. It includes the lines:
“We formed a progress association
To take us back in time.
Things were good back then,
The island was all mine.
Newcomers to the island
Should keep out of our face.
We want them to buy our land
But respect we own the place.”
Postal voting packs for the Bass Coast Shire Council election were sent out last week. Votes must be returned by October 21.
Thanks so much BCP – an insightful article which has greatly assisted my appreciation of who’s who and where they are coming from.
Anne Paul, Ventnor