Monday, April 18, 2016
AT THE NGV’s Ian Potter Centre there’s a painting by renowned Australian artist Jan Senbergs. Entitled Geelong Capriccio, it envisages what Geelong may have looked like had we been settled first and became Victoria’s capital city.
Complete with numerous CBD skyscrapers and two bridges over the Rip, it’s an intriguing image.
As this week’s events involving the sacking of the city council unfolded, Senbergs’ abstract work came back to me. What if Geelong were Victoria’s capital? State Parliament would be domiciled here, financial behemoths would base their head offices near our spectacular waterfront, apartment living would be very common and maybe, just maybe, we wouldn’t be facing local government turmoil.
For anyone who lives in and loves Geelong, that things have come to this point is extremely disappointing. But a community of our size, diversity and complexity deserves a standard of governance of the highest order.
It was serious governance concerns that brought about the commissioners’ appointment and identified governance failures that have unfortunately now brought our council undone. Much of the commissioners’ extensive report is disturbing reading.
The State Government’s actions in response to the report generated furious debate. Much of that was initial, knee-jerk reaction to headlines rather than the report itself. Anyone with an interest in our town, in local government or indeed in the principles of governance, should take the time to actually read the report before forming an opinion.
Councillors’ good efforts in many areas have been diminished by some extremely poor behaviour. No doubt some councillors will feel like collateral damage, their reputations are tarnished and that they did not deserve this outcome. I feel for their anguish but it’s clear from the commissioners’ recommendations that they hold all councillors collectively responsible for their failure to work together.
How did we get into this mess?
Fundamentally, if people had treated other people decently, we would not be at this point.
Simple as that.
If we were not currently immersed in this “deep malaise”, we — councillors, officers and community members — would be working respectfully together focusing on employment growth and economic opportunity. We would be designing better ways to deliver community services, we would be talking about the next wave of cultural activity, and giving attention to the many other strategic areas that local councils should give focus. Such things and our long-term future should be on their agenda, nothing else.
The report has brought serious issues into stark daylight but also creates opportunities for Geelong to move positively ahead.
Our community has the opportunity to draw a deep line in the sand and focus firmly on the future.
The interim administrator, the CEO and senior council managers would be well advised to revisit and firmly re-establish Geelong council’s long-established values — integrity, respect, responsibility and innovation — which should underpin the way our council operates. These must be re-embedded and modelled in the way every aspect of business is done, each hour of each day, led from the top.
When there is an election, Geelong needs a new generation of leaders who are focused only on Geelong’s best long-term interests.
In a few months, all this will seem a sorry but past history and Geelong will draw on its inherent, extensive strengths to forge confidently ahead.