Spotlight time

Spotlight time

Chairman of Dahlsens, John Dahlsen, recently penned a report a report titled Local Government: Is it broken? which he hopes promotes conversation in regards to the operations of East Gippsland Shire.

Mr Dahlsen had part one of his report published in the Bairnsdale Advertiser last Friday (page 7) and said he would welcome those interested in finding out more about his research to get in touch.

Mr Dahlsen believes it’s time to put “the spotlight on council, what the council is doing and what its budgeting processes are” after researching the council’s Draft Budget, which originally featured farm rates rises prior to a revision process being taken and a new Draft Budget being accepted at last week’s monthly council meeting.

Mr Dahlsen believes all council rates (residential, commercial and farming) should be frozen at the 2018/19 rate, regardless of Capital Improved Value increases, and that council should not be seeking government support in the short term.

“I spent some days over the Easter break going through it (Draft Budget) in great detail and I think there is a lot that is fundamentally wrong,” Mr Dahlsen said.

“I came to the conclusion the best thing to do was write it up and in the process I discussed it with Peter Nixon, who was once an administrator at council when he got staff down to 35, to get his views on it.

“Peter spent a day reading it and was terribly unimpressed and he has written a memo, which is attached to part two of my paper.

“What I’ve done, to make it more digestible, I’ve written it in two parts – part one is the conclusions I have come to; and part two is all the evidence.

“I hope if people read part one, they will ask if they can see the evidence. It’s part two where all the detail is and I welcome people to ask me to see a copy of it.”

Mr Dahlsen said he has “had nothing but encouragement from everyone” since having his findings published, saying it shows people are seeking to move the “immovable”.

“Everyone wants the spotlight on the council, everyone is concerned about the way the council operates, everyone is concerned that the council seems to be an immoveable object and you can’t influence and do anything,” he said.

“What I’ve discovered is that everyone have given up hope, they’ve had years of failing to be able to move the object.

“When someone comes along that tries to get to the bottom of it and tries to give people some hope, I’ve had a lot of encouragement.”

Mr Dahlsen does not believe he has all the answers, rather saying he hopes his findings spark discussion.

“I want to say to people ‘don’t give up hope, talk about it, talk to your friends, talk to councillors’,” he said.

“I’m trying to stimulate discussion and I don’t mind if people come back and say ‘John, I don’t agree with you about that’. I don’t claim to have the answer, I’m literally trying to get the conversation going and I hope people see it in that light, I hope we get some alternative points of view, we can generate some discussions with the council and with the individual councillors.”

Mr Dahlsen says the structure of shires must be looked at.

“One big conclusion I have come to, the powers of councillors, unlike directors of a company, are heavily restricted by the Local Government Act and Code of Conduct, and there is way to much power vested in the CEO and management,” he said.

“We should have sympathy towards our councillors because it is very difficult, it’s not easy for them to influence. This shouldn’t be seen as a go at the councillors, it’s really a go at the structure and fundamentals of shires.

“This all flows out of the Local Government Act, which is controlled by the State Government, and some of the decisions they are making on councillors is sheer hypocrisy on part of the State Government.

“Councils are meant to be democratic, like State Government is meant to be, but there are so many inroads on democracy in shires, it’s incredible.”

Along with promoting discussion, Mr Dahlsen said he would be happy to debate his findings in a public forum.

Mr Dahlsen said he has tried his best to show support for the drought-affected farming community during the past few months, however has had plans “rubbished”.

“It started when the rural crisis really hit. We had a meeting at the RSL about what we could do for farmers, and then at the football club, where my plans were rubbished by the CEO of the shire (Anthony Basford) and Darren Chester, where I had $90,000 raised from nine families ready to help farmers, a campaign was going to be launched by Dahlsens to get every business in town, and without exception everyone wants to help the farmers, I haven’t heard one person who doesn’t want to,” Mr Dahlsen said.

“Big Australian companies that operate in Bairnsdale, rare exceptions, they never contribute in a crisis. I was going to mount a campaign to contact each of these big companies operating in Bairnsdale and put the pressure on them to come good.

“That all got canned by the CEO of the shire, who said the shire would handle it.

“Not only was the $90,000 available on 24 hours notice, the benefits we would’ve got from local businesses, who are incredibly supportive of the farmers, would’ve been huge – it’s highly likely we would have raised a few million.”

East Gippsland Shire is currently accepting submissions for its revised Draft Budget and revised Council Plan until Friday, June 7.

East Gippsland Shire will then hear and consider verbal submissions at a meeting  at 1pm, on Tuesday, June 11, at the Corporate Centre, Bairnsdale.