Reportback on June 14 council meeting

[By Sue Bolton] Some of the issues discussed at the June 14 Moreland council meeting were:

Providing parks/open space close to home
Moreland residents living in the areas which are experiencing the biggest burden of development have been pushing for the Moreland council to be more proactive about purchasing land for parks and open space. The council currently collects funds from developers for open space The June council meeting discussed a report called “A Park Close to Home: A Framework to Fill Open Space Gaps” The report identified open space gaps and proposed a method for identifying which areas council needs to prioritise purchasing open space. The report The report was deferred to the next meeting.

Impacts of car stackers
Increasingly, developers are including car stackers in their applications. There is a need for regulation of car stackers, especially around noise. Councillors voted for planning applications with car stackers to be assessed against compliance with the Environment Protection (Residential Notes) Regulations 2008 and to strengthen local laws around car stackers.

Emergency relief service saved in Coburg
The main provider of emergency relief in Moreland is provided by the Coburg Community Information Centre. This is a fully volunteer-run service which distributes food vouchers, petrol vouchers, public transport tickets, help with accessing pharmacy supplies and offers no interest loans. 
Typically, these services are funded by the federal government to provide emergency relief, with local councils covering the rent, utilites and administration

Moreland council used to cover the centre’s rent, utilities and administration costs but the support has reduced dramatically over the last 10 years.. The centre was due to lose all funding from Moreland council at the end of June, leaving it with no funding source for rent, utilities and administration. I moved a motion for council to fund the centre to provide security for the service for the next 12 months and to work out a plan for ongoing support for the service. The motion passed. This is a vital service for our community.

Allard Park landscape plan
Council voted to prepare a landscape plan for the Allard Park sporting precinct, including refurbishment of the ground. This is welcome news for the North Brunswick Junior Football Club because there are big boggy patches in the ground, the ground and the path around it is poorly lit, and there is no barrier between the spectators and the players.

Level crossing removals on the Upfield Line
The first level crossing removal on the Upfield Line at Camp Road Campbelfield is due in 2017-2018. Preliminary work is to be carried out on removing the level crossings at Bell St and Moreland Rd, Coburg but the work won’t be done until 2019. With the removal of the Camp Rd level crossing we are likely to see increased frequency of trains on the Upfield Line.

Moreland council voted to fund an independent technical feasibility study of the options of elevated rail and lowered rail along the Upfield rail line through the Brunswick and Coburg Activity Centres. The idea is to use the outcomes to put a case to the state government to remove level crossings along the whole of the line, from Coburg to Brunswick.

The state government has been holding consultation sessions with the Indigenous community about Treaty. Coming out of the campaign to save the Ballerrt Mooroop Aboriginal school site in order to create a First Nations community hub, there has been support for the Moreland council to take a stronger position in support of Treaty. I put up a motion for council to work with the Wurundjeri Council to organise a Treaty Forum and to facilitate Treaty Circles in the local area. Unfortunately the motion was amended to delay these actions until the Reconciliation Advisory Committee has further discussion in two months’ time and to have further discussion with the Wurundjeri before making a definite commitment to the forum. The proposal for the Treaty forum and the Treaty Circles was initiated by First Nations elders (including from the Wurundjeri) and the reconciliation committee was enthusiastic so the delay isn’t necessary.

Public toilets in Coburg
The ongoing saga of getting adequate public toilet facilities hasn’t been resolved. At the previous council meeting I moved a motion which had been agreed to by two of the other north-east ward councillors, Annalivia Carli-Hannan and Natalie Abboud, after discussion with local residents. The motion included three main components – an immediate solution of opening the Coburg Library Meeting Room toilets, building a new public toilet block near the Coburg Mall, and refurbishing and expanding the internal Coburg Library toilets. Abboud amended the motion to exclude everything except for immediately opening the Coburg Library Meeting Room toilets, but only to be accessed via the library when the library was open.

In the end, councillors voted for a motion which definitively ruled out opening the Coburg Meeting Room toilets and refurbishment of the library toilets. However it did include one small victory and that was to replace the current automatic toilets with a regular toilet block of three unisex pans. This is a net increase of one toilet cubicle so it isn’t a full solution to the lack of facilities, especially as Coburg has the least public toilet facilities of any of the larger Moreland shopping centres. One resident described the council as lacking empathy for not responding to the needs of residents on this issue.

Construction management
Residents who live next door to construction sites have no end of problems such as arriving home to find the adjourning fence having been pulled down in their absence, loads of earth and building materials blocking footpaths, being parked in so being late for work, noise earlier than allowed under EPA guidelines, and a myriad of other issues. Often the issues cross council departments. Council voted to amend the Local Laws to enable a Construction Management Plan (CMP) to be required as is the case for other councils. To enable a council officer team to be able to enforce the construction management team. Hopefully this will make it easier for residents to just have to deal with one team of council officers rather than multiple council departments to resolve problems.

Moreland Heritage Action Plan
A Heritage Action Plan was adopted by council, setting out a process for the further identification, conservation and management of the City’s heritage. This is a positive step. Unfortunately it won’t stop the wholesaled destruction of heritage at Pentridge. All of the promises about saving Pentridge heritage when the prison was sold off to developers have been shown to be hot air.

Councillor attendance at meetings
The majority of councillors voted for staff to set up a website to record the attendance of councillors at council meetings, Urban Planning Committee meetings, advisory groups, councillor briefings and planning briefings. I have no problem with having publicly available information about councillors’ attendance at council meetings and Urban Planning Committee meetings. I tried to amend the motion so that the councillor briefings would be advertised and available for the public to attend as observers. I couldn’t get a seconder for this amendment so I voted against the motion.

Councillor briefings, which are held behind closed doors, are voluntary to attend. While these meetings can provide some useful information, sometimes councillors can make up their minds on the basis of these briefings and not be open to new information from the public. They can lead to a tendency for council meetings being seen as a mere rubber stamp. There can also be a closed loop of councillors primarily discussing council issues between themselves and the council officers. Sometimes outside organisations attend these meetings to brief councillors but members of the public aren’t allowed to attend. I am against any tendency to entrench these behind closed door briefings at the expense of open public council meetings.

Asylum seekers
I moved a motion for council to call on the federal immigration minister to revoke the October 1 deadline for asylum seekers to apply for refugee status or face forced deportation. There is a large group of asylum seekers around Australia who have not been allowed to apply for asylum until this year. The forms are 65 pages long and very legalistic. Asylum seekers need legal support to complete the forms because there is no right of appeal if they make a mistake on the form because they haven’t understood one of the legalistic questions. There are a number of asylum seeker families in Moreland who face deportation if they can’t get legal support to fill in their forms in time unless the immigration minister cancels the unrealistic deadline. The motion was carried unamimously.

Laneways used by developers
I moved a motion for a count to be made of the number of bluestone laneways being used by developers for access to developments, and to do a cost analysis about the use of laneways rather than streets for access to developments. I moved the motion because many residents have become worried about the very narrow laneways being used for access to developments. The issues include that the laneways will have a shorter lifespan because of the extra vehicle use. None of the councillors were prepared to second the motion so it lapsed.

Support for LGBTI community
A motion was passed to re-affirm council support for marriage equality regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status; to fly the Rainbow Flag continuously until marriage equality becomes law in Australia (except when the flag poles are required for flying other flags); and to sign the safe schools coalition’s supporter pledge to be an official supporter organisation of safe schools coalition. I added an amendment to include a review of processes and procedures for transgender people

Making Rental Fair campaign
Council voted to support the Make Renting Fair Campaign which calls on the state government to improve the rights of tenants to more secure tenure against discrimination, more privacy, preventing unreasonable evictions; rejecting harsh lease terms. I managed to amend the motion to include a cap on rent increases as exists in many countries overseas.