[By Sue Bolton] One of the big items of discussion at the July 10 council meeting was over Mayor Oscar Yildiz’s plan for an overseas trip. The mayor is planning a month-long trip to Europe, in which he plans to visit Ireland, Turkey, Denmark and Macedonia. It’s a personal trip which he has been planning and which he will pay for. Councillors were asked to support him doing official duties in the municipality of Drogheda in Ireland, the late Jill Meagher’s hometown.
The next thing, councillors were asked to support the council buying $700 worth of corporate gifts to give to mayors in Turkey, Denmark, Macedonia and Drogheda. While I can see a logic in developing a link between Jill Meagher’s hometown and Moreland and support the mayor in making this link, I don’t support the council paying for corporate gifts to deliver to mayors in whichever cities that our mayor decides to visit on his personal trip. The boundary lines between an “official”and an “unofficial” trip have been blurred. If the council is going to be funding, or part-funding or buying corporate gifts, then the council should be involved in deciding which councils to visit and the purpose of those visits.
I’m not even keeen on the culture of corporations and governments and councils exchanging meaningless and expensive corporate gifts which will then be displayed in some cabinet somewhere. Because the council was excluded from any decision-making regarding the nature of the trip and the councils to be visited, on principle I voted against any council money being spent on corporate gifts for this trip.
Fire services levy
I attended the United Firefighters Union rally in support of their enterprise bargaining campaign and to call on the state government to spend all of the fire services levy on fire protection. Currently, the Country Fire Authority and the Metropolitan Fire Brigade are building up a cash surplus by banking around $157 million annually and not spending it all on fire protection. I also found out from the union that under the first year of the scheme, the state government only pays for a small proportion of the CFA and MFB budgets. The legislation doesn’t show what the government will do after 2014 when it might cut its contribution altogether and increase the levy.
The firefighters union has also demonstrated that the fire levy is inequitable, in the same way that council rates are inequitable. Councils should take a stand against what the state government is doing for two reasons: (1) They need to take a stand against neoliberal cutbacks to public services like the fire service and the ambulance service; and (2) the state government has forced local councils to collect the fire services levy by adding it to residents’ rates bills.
I moved a motion at the council meeting that calls on the state government to restore the CFA & MFB budgets; implement the Bushfire Royal Commission recommendations immediately and guarantee that it will not cut its contribution to the fire services and replace that contribution with an increase in the fire services levy. The motion was carried.
For a fuller report on the fire levy issue see Gov’t not using fire levy for fire protection.