Helicopter View

Helicopter View

26.5.2016 The respect for democracy: Dubbo Photo News


This was an opinion piece published in Dubbo Photo News on Thursday 26 May.

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I received a phone call last week. Actually I received a lot of calls and texts and e-mails and messages and…you get the idea. One phone call stood out though. I saw the name come up on my phone. It was someone whom I had talked to often when I was the Mayor. He usually wasn’t very happy with something that was happening at Council or wasn’t convinced we were making the right decision on a variety of issues. He generally seemed fairly negative with Council – or maybe it was just with me. That was part and parcel of the role of a Councillor and as the Mayor – you took phone calls and had meetings with people regardless of their view or position on a subject. In my twelve years as a Councillor, there was not a single person I refused to meet with or take a phone call from and I personally answered every e-mail along with all the messages on social media. No big deal – it is no less than I would expect any elected official to do.

When this phone call came in it was different though. I was no longer the Mayor of this great City. I was still depressed and angry and confused about not being the Mayor but I also had to come to grips with the fact that I no longer needed to take every call and respond to every enquiry. The State Government had appointed someone to do all of that on behalf of our city. I could just wash my hands of these calls and come to grips with my new role – which was not the official representative of Dubbo nor the spokesperson for Dubbo City Council.

My finger paused over the red button on my phone. I knew the right thing to do was to push the red button and continue on having breakfast with my kids. I couldn’t do it though. My sense of civic duty was too high and, although I didn’t have the title, I still felt the basic need to help people in our community. So I hit the green button and answered the call. My head still wasn’t in a great space about the entire situation and I braced myself for this gentleman to tell me that he was happy to see us all go.

His first words amazed me when he said “I am devastated that you have all been sacked!” I almost fell off my chair. He continued on to tell me that he has had his battles with Council over the years, of which I was well and truly aware, but he felt comfort in the fact that he could have his battles with Council. In the wonderful democracy we live in, although he might not agree with the outcome, he respected the outcome because it was arrived at by a democratically elected group of people that he had full and open access to. He had the ability to put his point of view to eleven Councillors with the hope that he could convince at least six of them that his point of view was the correct one. And if he couldn’t convince the majority, then he fully respected the decision arrived at via a democratic process. He said that it didn’t mean he always liked the decision but he respected the decision. That was a critical difference. We chatted further for some time and when the call finally ended, I felt even more satisfied with what Councillors had achieved as a group together but also more disappointed about how it had ended.

A Council – and by virtue the city – performing at its absolute best with record numbers across a number of critical areas does not deserve to be amalgamated, sacked and placed under an Administrator for 485 days. It was pointed out to me in another recent conversation that just the term “Administration” conjures up negative images and will adversely impact investment in Dubbo. I have nothing personal against the person who has accepted the role of Administrator but, by his own admission, he cannot possibly hope to perform the duties of two Mayors and all the Councillors of both former Councils. The democratic processes; the representation at a myriad of events; the proactive approach of trying to attract events and businesses and flights to Dubbo and much more will all be left lacking. This attack by the State Government on the core of our democracy is abhorrent and what is it all for? I can’t actually tell you. Oh sure, I have heard the Government propaganda machine tell us that it will deliver savings and put downward pressure on rates. One of Australia’s most successful CEOs, Don Meij from Domino’s, was in Dubbo recently as part of a joint Chamber of Commerce and Council initiative and he made a very important point to the assembled audience. In business, never base your decision on opinions. Always use the facts. We are still waiting to hear the facts from the State Government but, while we have been waiting for some plausible data, the decision has been made and both Dubbo and Wellington will suffer as a result. We are resilient people and the sky will not fall in but I guarantee that this decision will have negative ramifications on Wellington’s population and Dubbo’s strong overall economic growth. There may be some masking of this impact for a time due to the strong position the most recent Council has put us in and with the Alkane mine at Toongi about to ramp up but when we could have been rocketing forward we may, instead, lurch and meander.

This isn’t what Councillors envisaged when they put themselves forward for election and then, after our first meeting after the election in September 2012, we signed a unity pledge that said, among other things, to always put Dubbo first.

When I look at that signed pledge and read the full manuscript, you can feel total assurance that every Councillor honoured the entire pledge to the very last word to the very last hour.

Unfortunately, I can’t say the State Government has put Dubbo first in the same fashion.