Archive: Macedon Ranges Residents Secretariat [MRRS] Ltd
Last Updated 29/3/10
See also Beware of Imitations: About MRRS Ltd
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Link: Council Election Main Page
(12/3/09 - C) Rejected by voters, but Fritz Boegel makes it onto Council committee via a vote held behind closed doors, and then Council unanimously approves a contested application to expand the Clock and Beaver restaurant.
Details are sketchy but advice from Council, in response to a question put by MRRA, is that Fritz Boegel, secretary of Macedon Ranges Residents Secretariat Ltd, has been appointed to be a community representative on Council's Audit Advisory Committee.
Draft Council Minutes for the February 25 Council meeting include Item CS.5, Appointment of Community Representatives on Audit Advisory Committee. At this item, according to the Minutes say that the Officer Recommendation was to consider the matter "at the conclusion of that part of this meeting open to the public." ..."as this report concerns matters which Council considers would prejudice the Council or an (sic) person..." The motion to move behind closed doors was moved Joe Morabito, seconded Rob Guthrie and carried. There is no record in the Minutes of any resolution resulting from the sojourn in camera, and as far as MRRA is aware, neither has any public announcement been made of the appointment/s.
The next item on the agenda was CS.6, the appointment of Councillor Delegates on the Audit Advisory Committee. That is, which Councillors would be on the committee. The Mayor is automatically appointed. According to the minutes, it was moved Cr. Guthrie, seconded Cr. Relph and carried that Cr. Joe Morabito be appointed as the Councillor delegate on the committee.
Rumours that Audit Committee appointees may be of interest started filtering in, so we followed it up with Council.
Three things really stand out here.
First, in 2008 when the company, MRRS Ltd, began splashing itself over local papers claiming to be a community group, MRRA wrote to Council requesting confirmation or otherwise of any Council involvement with MRRS Ltd. The answer we received was 'none'. An election later, it seems Council now has a very definite involvement with MRRS Ltd!
Second, the secrecy surrounding Mr. Boegel's appointment. Why did Council seal itself off behind closed doors to make a decision? What was so private it couldn't be considered in public, or the outcome announced in public? Is it a case of Councillors being brave enough to 'do the deed' but not having the guts to tell anyone? Hmm? Because we wouldn't be surprised if that's what some people are going to say it looks like.
Third, Council's decision on who was appointed to the committee is not recorded in the Minutes. All that is recorded is the motion to make the decision behind doors. Yet Section 93 of the Local Government Act at subsection (6) says that "the minutes of a meeting of the Council or a special committee must - (a) contain details of the proceedings and resolutions made...". So how does what is in the Minutes (or not in the Minutes, in this case) sit with the requirements of the legislation?
We don't know which Councillors voted for the appointment (seems that's a secret too), but at a minimum a majority of 5 Councillors did. Maybe they all did! Being anonymous could be helpful - when we asked a couple of people if they had heard anything, they expressed horror at the thought of MRRS Ltd having anything to do with Council.
The appointments are, we understand, for a year. The makeup of the committee appears to be Cr.Morabito, Mr. Boegel, Mr. Barry Sutton (who may have an affiliation with the Macedon Ranges Landowners Group), Mayor Letchford, and another community representative who, as told to us, has a background in financial matters.
When we look at this, and the Kyneton pool debacle, Council definitely isn't off to a good start, is it... And we've got 4 more years of it to look forward to.
Click here to see the MRRS Ltd. file, including the current item on the application before Council for a rather large expansion of the Clock and Beaver restaurant in Macedon, in which Mr. Boegel has an interest.
NOTE: Council last night voted unanimously to approve the Clock and Beaver application to expand the venue from 20 seats to 100, and partially waive car parking requirements. We understand 9 objections were received.
Lucky Mr. Boegel, he certainly seems to have a Midas touch when it comes to Council these days!
(16/12/08 - P) A similar application this year didn't fly before the election - this time it's Wiedermann - will it now?
An application for a planning permit has been lodged with Macedon Ranges Shire Council for 34 and 40 Victoria Street, Macedon. Michael Wiedermann, a director of Macedon Ranges Residents Secretariat Ltd and a recent candidate for South Ward in the council elections, is the applicant named on Council's Greenlight planning application website. The application, for a change of use from Residential to Bed and Breakfast accommodation, increase of seat capacity to 152 for the restaurant, reduction of carparking requirements, and construction of buildings and works associated with the restaurant [Clock and Beaver] was submitted on 2 December, the day after election results for South Ward were declared.
This application follows on another lodged last year (on behalf of MRRS Ltd director Fritz Boegel?) for an expansion to 40 seats was withdrawn last September (coincidentally, just before the 'election period' began).
We've heard the theory behind this application is that the facility will HOLD 152 people, so should have a permit for it (although we suspect this may be more like 152 people can be CRAMMED into the facility). The previous permit for the Patchwork Cafe which used to occupy this site allowed, we believe, some 20 people.
Not only is this permit ramping up the number of people allowed, but it also wants to reduce car parking requirements. Poor old Macedon, with its handful of shops, could be jam packed with cars, if this application gets the nod from Council...
Then there's the Bed and Breakfast element: conversion from residential?? Strange, bed and breakfast is usually no permit needed - as long as it occurs in a house that residents live in, and it's not for more than 6 people. Or is something else being proposed here...
(28/11/08 - C) "Progress is inevitable" - Fritz Boegel, Director of MRRS and South Ward candidate
Click http://www.theage.com.au/action/printArticle?id=309356 to see the article, under NATIONAL news.
If Messrs. Jeske and Wiedermann are included (both directors of MRRS Ltd), the number of known MRRS affiliated candidates comes to 10. There are five in South ward (Boegel, Elliott, Shepherd, Jeske and Wiedermann), three in West ward (Peeler, Drago and Wilson), two in East ward (Nothard and Hackett), and on top of that, there's the mystery person who was going to be an MRRS candidate (the 'missing' man) in the East ward.
Of course, now, the question on the tips of everyone's lips is, how the hell did a company run for council, and there is likely to be some very strong calls for a "Please Explain" to the State government, along with calls for a review of legislation. And after hearing of some farcical events in other municipalities, ours won't be the only voice singing "Whatever Happened to Open, Accountable Council Elections" from the hymn book of democracy.
The hot rumour around Macedon Ranges is that MRRS Ltd have been found in breach of the Local Government Act, after putting Vote 1 against the names of all of its candidates shown on the MRRS Ltd caravans. In our book, that's directing people to vote informally, and with respect to the electorate, we hope anyone who voted for MRRS Ltd did exactly what the company told them to do! We hear a Vote 1, 2, 3 'ticket' scenario in another municipality has seen some voters put 1, 2, 3 on their ballot papers, and nothing else. That's an informal vote and won't be counted. Bit of an own goal, really. Mmm... would it be poetic justice if the same thing happened to MRRS Ltd?
(25/11/08 - C) And the guarantee is worth... what? Bah, humbug and buyer beware! If anyone had any balls here, the offer would be "money back if the product doesn't work"
In what seems a last desperate attempt to draw voters into thinking candidates with an affiliation with Macedon Ranges Residents Secretariat Ltd are independents, the company has taken out more colour advertising, this time painting itself as apparently the only honourable, honest option in the field, and offering a written guarantee of a better council. It seems a very company thing to do, but perhaps that's because MRRS Ltd is a company.
At these elections, a company – Macedon Ranges Residents Secretariat Ltd – is running candidates in what seems to be an attempt to take over Council. It seems to have promoted affiliated candidates in each ward in the same way, using the same political party-style caravan technique, using the same liveries for various electoral material, and painting affiliated candidates via abundant literature, signage and newspaper ads as a 'team'. Of independents. Of 'fair go' independents. Of well-funded 'fair go' independents. And as a group called "Ratepayers and Residents of Macedon Ranges Shire". But not MRRS Ltd.
MRRS Ltd appears to aspire to running Council as a business with a board of directors, who will apparently determine planning strategy. It appears that the company has a 50 – 100 year plan for Macedon Ranges which seems to support 5 acre subdivision in rural areas potentially including Mount Macedon; commercial development at the Memorial Cross; pokies; geo-thermal energy production; less heritage protection; and a Macedon Ranges without Statement of Planning Policy No. 8.
The company’s philosophy seems to be that Macedon Ranges must populate and develop to survive, and grow to protect against some form of invasion. Apparently new towns of 20,000 - 30,000 are to be created supported by industrial development to create jobs for locals.
Not quite a 'shared' vision, is it? Or even local government, as most of us know it. It's difficult to see where democracy will come into it. It seems to MRRA, which has to date borne much of the brunt of MRRS Ltd's aggressive and single-minded assault on Macedon Ranges Shire, that the company is quintessentially 'smoke and mirrors' and is being dishonest with the electorate. If, as MRRS Ltd's latest claim says, it has an 'open for inspection' policy, then surely the opportunity to come clean with voters about MRRS Ltd and its agenda would have been taken up long before now. Arrogant and confident too - there are reports that new signs have been appended to at least one of the MRRS Ltd caravans inviting residents to meet their 'councillors'. As there are still 3 days of voting left, shouldn't that have read 'candidates'?
Please… If you haven't yet voted:
Question, and think very, very carefully before you vote.
Every vote will determine what Macedon Ranges’ future will be. There are clear differences.
At this election, keep it community, and keep it rural.
Your vote and preferences really do count. Click here to see MRRA's Candidate Star Ratings.
(19/11/08 - M) Where's all the money coming from? Is 'Fair Go' a clue?
This week's local newspapers are again graced by full page, full colour ads featuring MRRS Ltd affiliates, this time claiming to be 'Fair Go independents'.
The ads feature 8 Council election candidates - Boegel, Elliott and Shepherd (South ward), Peeler, Drago and Wilson (West ward) and Hackett and Nothard (East ward), leaving no doubt that all are part of the same 'team'.
There are also two other 'team' players in South ward that are not shown in the ad - Wiedermann and Jeske, both directors of MRRS Ltd - and all five MRRS Ltd South ward candidates are reportedly sporting the same text on one side of their handouts that implies that the candidate named on the other side is part of a 'group' called "Ratepayers and Residents of the Macedon Ranges Shire".
MRRA has also raised the question of whether Morabito in East ward is affiliated.
An intriguing feature of the full page, full colour ads is the reference to 'fair go', which residents may remember was the catch-cry of land holders and real estate agents who participated in some meetings, the first initiated in 2005 by Keatings Real Estate of Woodend. The purpose of the meetings seemed to be to pressure Councillors into allowing landowners to subdivide and put houses on lots in rural zoned land. The meetings attracted like-minded people from outside Macedon Ranges Shire, and it was from these meetings that the Macedon Ranges Landowners [MRLO] group was born. See MRRA's reports on these meetings.
MRLO recently sent a letter to all candidates, which includes the following:
"It has been our view, despite some understandable reservations, that the Macedon Ranges Landowners Committee should refrain from seeking to hector or bully the Council, not to say individual Councilors, in advancing the interests of our constituents."
The letter seems to announce that MRLO is a player in this election and, based on past performances, that its aims and methods of operating don't seem to have changed.
MRRA's candidate survey picked up those candidates who support more development/subdivision in rural land, with several nominating 5 acres as a 'good' size. This seems to correspond with the aspirations of the Macedon Ranges Landowners group, as embodied in a motion from 30 May 2007, calling for no permits for houses on rural lots of 1.6ha or more.
Is MRRS Ltd 'affiliated with or supported by' Macedon Ranges Landowners group and real estate agents? Is that where the money - the buckets of money - coming from? Who is paying the bills?
After checking advertising rates for local papers, we estimate that this week's ads alone would have cost MRRS Ltd around $10,000 (and these certainly aren't the only full page ads that have appeared). In comparison, our Association's total spending on newspaper ads and printing costs has been a fraction of that amount - it's all we could afford.
It's not just the money. It's the whole tenor of the campaign. Independents? There seems to be a cashed-up 'ticket' running here, and the published 'ticket' still doesn't disclose all affiliated candidates that are running. But preferencing seems to.
What type of democracy do we have if it turns out that 'big money' can buy it, and use it for its own purposes?
As always, we welcome comment. Send us your thoughts on email@example.com
Do you think MRRS Ltd has been open and honest with the electorate?
Do you think candidates affiliated with a company should be able to run for council, and not have to identify the company or declare that interest?
(16/11/08 - C) Have two MRRS Ltd affiliates slipped under MRRA's radar?
West Ward: When MRRA interviewed West ward candidate Joan Drago as part of our candidate survey, like other candidates surveyed, she was asked if she was affiliated with or supported by MRRS Ltd. Ms Drago said she wasn't. MRRA accepted her statement at face value and did not identify her as affiliated with MRRS Ltd. However, Ms Drago is swapping preferences with candidates (Wilson, Peeler) who told MRRA they were affiliated with MRRS Ltd. In addition, Ms Drago is listed with Peeler and Wilson on MRRS Ltd's West ward caravan, and shares the MRRS Ltd signage "livery". We now believe Ms Drago should have been identified as having an affiliation with MRRS Ltd.
When MRRA invited East ward candidate Joe Morabito to participate in its candidate survey, Mr. Morabito responded by saying he would answer our questions if MRRA answered his in front of the editors of local newspapers. As Mr. Morabito, not MRRA, is a candidate, MRRA declined to accede to Mr. Morabito's demands, and he was listed in MRRA's Star Ratings as 'did not participate in survey'. Mr. Morabito advised MRRA he would be brutal, would go hard against anyone who bad-mouthed him.
MRRA does not appreciate bullying nor does it consider putting facts before the public to be 'bad-mouthing'.
Mr. Morabito is swapping preferences with MRRS Ltd affiliates, and as with Ms Drago, seems to share MRRS Ltd signage "livery".
Our apologies for any offensiveness in these signs - several at Riddells Creek (where these photographs were taken) have been defaced.
The East ward MRRS Ltd caravan, however, shows only two candidates, with a third space left blank. There are unconfirmed reports of a disagreement amongst MRRS Ltd affiliates.
MRRA's question to Mr. Morabito is: Are you the MRRS Ltd "missing man"?
Another Complaint To MRRA
(14/11/08 - C) 'Deceptive and misleading' this time
MRRA has received a complaint from Mr. Brian Wilson, a candidate in West ward, as follows:
"I refer to material published on your website, within local newspapers and distributed through printed matter which identifies me as a member of an organisation noted as 'MRRS Ltd.'
As previously stated to your Ms Christine Pruneau during a telephone conversation, prior to your publications, I am not a member of this organisation.
The material and subsequent allegations are therefore wilfully misleading and deceptive.
I demand immediate withdrawal and recall of the material and publication of an appropriate apology accordingly."
As with our response to an earlier complaint from Mr. Gerry Shepherd, MRRA agrees Mr. Wilson has a point with any use of the term 'member', and if we have used such a term in relation to him, we would certainly apologise. Macedon Ranges Residents Secretariat Ltd, being a public company, can't and doesn't have 'members' in the way grass-roots community groups do.
Affiliation seems to be a different matter.
In response to MRRA's candidate survey question "Are you affiliated with or supported by MRRS Ltd or the Macedon Ranges Landowners group?", Mr Wilson said "MRRS". That is the response recorded on the survey sheet during the interview, and we stand by it.
The MRRS Ltd Circus Comes To Town
(14/11/08 - C) Rootin', tootin', in-your-face and OTT? flags, big top, flyers, badges, trailers, posters, signs, caravans, colour-everything and lollies for kiddies. Crikey - seems the only things missing are the fat lady, sword swallower, calliope and clowns!!
The MRRS Ltd "Fair Go" Tent and the Vote 111 caravan in Gisborne. Apparently they are full of "independents" (see sign at rear)... Fair Go? Fair Go? Isn't that the slogan the Macedon Ranges Landowners group and real estate agents use to yell about getting houses on rural zoned land? This photo was taken before MRRS Ltd were apparently asked to move on - the story doing the rounds is it seems no permission had been given to park there.
Yes, you could be forgiven for thinking there's a presidential election on instead of a more humble Council one when the MRRS Ltd circus pulled into Gisborne recently. It seems no expense whatsoever has been spared trying to sell the message to voters that this company is fair dinkum / ridgee-didge / grass-roots / independent / community. Sky writing wouldn't surprise. The Australian flag is... um... a nice touch. Yep, definitely impressive even if no-one can work out why it's there...
Mmm... anyone else think a bit of plush red carpet (or better yet, an afghan rug!!) could do wonders pulling the overall colour scheme together?
We understand there's one of these 'three-ringers' in each ward. With a spending frenzy like this, doesn't it make you wonder what type of financial management MRRS Ltd would bring to Council? Is this the type of frivolous, wasteful, self-serving, whacking-a-walnut-with-a-sledgehammer stuff our rates would be spent on?
Surely MRRS Ltd must have splurged close to a six figure sum by now? Whatever, it's a lot (and you don't have to be a Rhodes' scholar to work out it's more than other candidates are spending). Seems the company thinks there's enough to gain by running a mega-budget like this to get there. Is it just us, or is there something party political about it? Then again, looking at the mistakes that are being made, perhaps not. Clue: there's a fairly obvious clanger in the above photo. See if you can pick what it is...
For anyone who genuinely loves this place the way it is, what MRRS Ltd apparently has in mind is chilling. And after the 'Fair Go' slogan bobbing up, we have to ask are the Landowners group and real estate agents also involved?
From what we've been able to pick up about this public company's aims, it apparently has a 50 to 100 year 'long-term' plan for Macedon Ranges, some features of which would appear to be:
· running Council as a business with a board of directors that can hire and fire staff;
· Councillors writing planning strategy;
· very substantial population growth and development (apparently in part to protect Macedon Ranges from invasion);
· substantial industrial growth to provide jobs for locals;
· widespread 5 acre subdivision of rural areas and potentially Mt. Macedon;
· commercial development at the Mt. Macedon Memorial Cross;
· creation of new towns;
· energy production, e.g. geothermal that's apparently 1 km beneath us;
· general support for pokies, and possibly the Braemar extension and 1,000 lot subdivision in Woodend; and
· an apparent aversion to heritage protection and to Statement of Planning Policy No. 8.
Our concern is that if this is what MRRS Ltd. is really about, voters aren't being told about it.
MRRA believes that what appears to be the MRRS Ltd vision for Macedon Ranges isn't one that most want or share. Let's hope that the circus and its followers are soon forced to pack up and move on...
Affiliate of MRRS Ltd Not Happy With MRRA
(10/11/08 - C) Says being called a 'member' of MRRS Ltd defames him, will take matter further
In a late night phone call, Mr. Gerry Shepherd of Bullengarook, has said MRRA called him a 'member' of MRRS Ltd, and that such a description defames him.
MRRA agrees he has a point with any use of the term 'member', and if we have used such a term in relation to him, we would certainly apologise. After all, it would be a dummkopf mistake to make, because of course Macedon Ranges Residents Secretariat Ltd, being a public company, can't and doesn't have 'members' in the way grass-roots community groups do.
Affiliation seems to be a different matter.
In response to MRRA's candidate survey question "Are you affiliated with or supported by MRRS Ltd or the Macedon Ranges Landowners group?", Mr Shepherd indicated an affiliation with MRRS Ltd, and added that his philosophy was similar to theirs, and in his later complaint, stressed his response to the survey was 'like-minded' (but not 'member').
MRRA notes that on the side of MRRS Ltd's South ward caravan, Mr. Shepherd's name is listed with Mr. Fritz Boegel's and Mrs. Deborah Elliott's (Mr. Boegel being a director of MRRS Ltd, and Mrs. Elliott the partner of a director of MRRS Ltd). Some might call this arrangement 'running a ticket' of candidates, where candidates are usually from the same 'stable'.
On the back of the caravan, Mr Shepherd is identified as part of "our team".
These three candidates (all five MRRS Ltd South ward affiliates it seems) have published flyers which have pretty much the same content on the reverse side, which seems to claim these candidates are part of a 'group of local people' called "Ratepayers and Residents of the Macedon Ranges Shire". An admirable level of togetherness!
And which group is that, exactly? MRRA has lodged an official complaint against the use of "Ratepayers and Residents of the Macedon Ranges Shire" as the name of a 'group' on these flyers. We say it is misleading and deceptive, in that it is not the name of the public company with which these candidates are affiliated (i.e. Macedon Ranges Residents Secretariat Ltd), that it seems an attempt to confuse voters into thinking that the 'group' is us, MRRA Inc, and that both of these factors may deceptively and misleadingly influence people when they vote.
Then there are the MRRS Ltd preferences... All five MRRS Ltd affiliates in South ward (Boegel, Shepherd, Jeske, Elliott, Wiedermann) are swapping preferences, and have identical preferences in the last 8 spots on all of their ballot papers (i.e. 8 Helen Relph, 9 Christine Roussiyan, 10 Russell Mowatt, 11 Angela Cassar, 12 John Letchford, 13 Rob Guthrie, and 14 Brian Whitefield). Now that's teamwork!
In summing up, we agree Mr. Shepherd is not a member of Macedon Ranges Residents Secretariat Ltd, but we believe there is sufficient evidence available to allow a conclusion to be drawn that he's affiliated. What do you think?
MRRS Ltd Makes Its Move - South Ward Swamped By Company's Candidates
(3/11/08 - C) And we think we know why...
When candidate nominations for the Council election closed last week, it became obvious that there is a concerted attempt being made by MRRS Ltd (the Secretariat company) and "like-minded" people to take over Council.
In South Ward, three of the company's directors - Fritz Boegel, Michael Wiedermann, and Ewald Jeske, and Deborah Elliott, the wife of Les Elliott, another director - are running for MRRS Ltd, as well as Gerry Shepherd from Bullengarook.
There are two known MRRS Ltd candidates in East ward - Eric Nothard and Graham Hackett - and two known MRRS Ltd candidates in West ward: Len Peeler and Brian Wilson. Click here to see all the candidates.
We will have more information on MRRS Ltd and the election shortly. Watch for it...
The Secretariat Ltd's Long-Awaited Survey
(29/9/08 - P) But the company's results don't tell us anything we didn't already know
Residents will have noticed the full page, full colour ad in last week's papers (how could you miss it?) announcing the results of the "survey" sent to all households a couple of months ago, and which angered many residents.
The results from this survey say almost the same thing about our Council as the 2008 Community Satisfaction Survey conducted by the State government in March this year.
Mmm... the more things change the more they stay the same.
These results confirm (yet again) that:
Planning is a fundamental problem (it has been for years), and
The things that attract people to the Shire (and are also priorities for almost all current residents) are (rural) lifestyle and the environment. And that's what community surveys going back 35 years have said as well, along with PROTECT IT.
All we need now is for someone to connect the dots that planning 'as is' isn't delivering for lifestyles or environment...
Simple, isn't it...
If we don't start getting planning right, lifestyles and environment lose.
Thanks for that, MRRS Ltd... We'll add this to our pile of documentary evidence of community views that want Macedon Ranges to stay rural.
PS We notice that once again MRRS Ltd. has failed to identify itself as a company. Isn't that against the law?
The Egg Man Cometh: Macedon Ranges Residents Secretariat Ltd Director With Scientific Research Interests Turns Out To Be 'The Mt. Macedon Egg Man'
(10/8/08 - M) Les Elliot was proponent of failed 2001 application for 'Research Centre' to keep 220 chickens in a Mt. Macedon conservation zone
Recent claims that Les Elliot, a director of the public company, Macedon Ranges Residents Secretariat Ltd, had scientific research interests started a few memory bells ringing. A quick search of MRRA's archives confirmed it.
In 2001 Mr. Elliot was the proponent of an application to construct a 12 x 18 metre shed on his property at 50 Waterfalls Road, Mt. Macedon to house up to 220 chickens for the purpose of producing pathogen free eggs. Problem was, it was in an Environmental Rural Zone, and the use applied for (Research and Development Centre) was prohibited in the zone. So the name was changed to Research Centre, which wasn't prohibited. The only problem was that (a) the applicant's submission to Council actually stated no research would be conducted, and (b) the industrial-scale chicken keeping was intensive animal husbandry and prohibited in the zone. There was stiff opposition from local residents.
The proponent lodged an appeal with VCAT on the basis that Council had failed to make a decision within the prescribed time. Council finally refused the application as a prohibited use. The appeal was withdrawn from VCAT, but not before works to construct a driveway proposed as part of the application were undertaken without a permit having been issued.
Hmm... As it seems Mr. Elliot still has an interest in 'scientific research', could this mean - if MRRS Ltd gets control of the the next Council - the application for the egg farm will make a comeback? Is this what MRRS Ltd is all about?
We know another director of MRRS Ltd is associated with a fairly outrageous planning application that Council is apparently being urged to approve... Ah, but that's a story for another day.
Political Donations, Sponsorship And Influence
(16/7/08 - SG) How do we know if our politicians, councillors or decisions have been bought? The short answer is, we don't.
We need look no further than New South Wales and the Wollongong scandal for confirmation that money can buy governments and decisions, particularly planning decisions. Yet NSW has an Independent Commission Against Corruption [ICAC], something we don't have in Victoria.
So how bad is it in Victoria, where accountability in any form no longer seems to kick up as one of the State's strong points?
In the past week, 3 articles have appeared in the Age newspaper - shocking and revealing stuff. Written by veteran journos Royce Millar and Kenneth Davidson, the articles snap the spotlight onto Victoria's lack of an ICAC, lack of accountability, and shifting views on and stubborn political denial that there's a problem when it comes to who is paying who in politics. From these articles, it seems Victoria's Premier sees political donations not as potentially corrupting influences but just part of a healthy democracy. Like kissing babies, perhaps?
You can access the Age articles by clicking the following links:
In a healthy democracy, influence cannot be bought, Royce Millar, The Age, 7/7/08
Money is the root of all Political evil, Kenneth Davidson, The Age, 10/7/08
A Little Bit of Give and Take, Royce Millar, The Age 16/7/08
In the first article, Millar takes the discussion to the next logical step, and raises the issue of political donations and sponsorship in local government. And what a good discussion it is.
Anyone who thinks buying influence doesn't happen in local government should think again. It's bad enough if it's happening at Federal and State levels, but in those arenas there is more scrutiny and access so potentially more public pressure, and more chance of being caught.
In comparison, it can go almost unseen and undetected at local government level. A nod, a wink, a quiet word; rarely anything as crude as a brown paper bag or a pair of white shoes. Delivering 'favours for mates' can be something as subtle as promising to vote for what another Councillor wants if they'll vote for you this time, overlooking a conflict of interest, or orchestrating noisy albeit minority support for pet projects. These are just some of the ways private agendas can be delivered.
Millar raises an interesting point: while Councillors have to declare donations received during an election campaign, they don't have to declare them until well after the election. Their sponsors remain anonymous when you go to vote. It's all a secret, until they start to vote.
MRRA finds it a very relevant subject, given the recent invention of Macedon Ranges Residents' Secretariat Limited, a company representing development interests, possibly even political party interests, that seems intent on trying to confuse the Macedon Ranges' community into thinking it's us, MRRA Inc - i.e. a 'good guy' acting in the interests of the wider community - to the point of even pinching most of our name! Flattering, but...
MRRA estimates that to date, MRRS Ltd may have spent something in the order of well over $10,000 launching itself and its agenda (the latest effort being a survey sent to all households in the Shire, replete with reply paid envelopes - who could afford that!!!). Not to mention the individual numbering on each "ballot paper" (survey form) which must have cost a fortune to print. But wait, there's more! No, not a free set of knives, but MRRS Ltd is even giving away an expensive free meal - and free transport to and from home - to tempt residents into playing its game. And the feeling in our water is that neither the 'spend' nor the 'big sell' is over yet...
What could be worth that type of investment by business, development and real estate interests? And who exactly are all those interests?What do they want? Will all be revealed anytime soon?
Which leads us to the next question. Is the long-term objective of MRRS Ltd to get people elected onto council who will do what MRRS Ltd wants? Is that why MRRS Ltd says on its survey form, "MRRS offers assistance to potential candidates prior to elections and post elections, when elected..."? [our emphasis]
And how does MRRS Ltd's invitation to residents to become members work? MRRS Ltd has already publicly stated its recruitment will be through hand-picked secondment of like-minded people by its directors. In any event, don't you usually have to buy shares to be a 'member' of a company? MRRS Ltd is a public company, so do residents need a stock broker to become a 'member'?
Crickey, it's all too convoluted and complicated for us, but then MRRA is just a grass-roots community group used to its members joining up normally - they make a written application and pay an annual fee.
The grubby world of buying political influence is one where decisions are consistently made to serve self- and vested interests. Merit and 'public good' doesn't come into it. Is there really that much at stake? You betcha. There's big, big money in buying governments and influence (look no further than Wollongong, for example), and in stacking Councils with 'like-minded' mates to ensure favourable outcomes. Under the right conditions, it can spread like a an aggressive cancer. Does Macedon Ranges have the disease?