EIGHT fresh faces plus one with a fair degree of previous local government experience now fill the nine places in the South Gippsland Shire Council chamber, following the official declaration of the polls on Tuesday November 9, 2021.
“There is a new collegiality straight away,” said Coastal-Promontory Ward’s Mohya Davies of Foster with two terms of municipal service from 2008 to 2016, of her fellows after only a day or two of the shire’s councillor-elect transition program.
Victorian Electoral Commission (VEC) South Gippsland election manager Janine Taylor formally announced the winning candidates from a field of 24 in the Leongatha Memorial Hall last Tuesday afternoon, after the final results had first been published on the VEC website mid-morning.
The Coastal-Promontory Ward will also be represented for the next three years by Cr Sarah Gilligan of Venus Bay, and Cr Scott Rae of Foster.
In Tarwin Valley Ward are Cr John Schelling, Cr Clare Williams, and Cr Adrian Darakai, all of Leongatha.
Occupying the three Strzelecki Ward chairs around the council table are Crs Jenni Kerrie of Korumburra, Mick Felton of Nyora, and Nathan Hersey of Loch.
Six of the nine councillors-elect attended the declaration ceremony, conducted in the now familiar rather sparse COVID-Safe manner, with only a handful of relatives, friends and supporters present, alongside senior shire staff and the local Press.
Even so, there was no mistaking their broad grins and their individual yet common reactions of jubilation, relief, and perhaps a little trepidation, as well as a swiftly-established sense of collective responsibility.
Notably the Victorian Government’s newly-appointed municipal monitor Prue Digby was also there at the post-election gathering to meet the incoming councillors at the earliest possible moment at the start of her 12-month term.
As the municipal monitor, Ms Digby will support good governance and democracy during the new council’s first year and assist councillors to take ownership of a positive and inclusive culture that will restore public trust.
Shire chief executive officer Kerryn Ellis thanked poll manager Ms Taylor as the representative of the VEC and remarked that the South Gippsland poll was “certainly not a smooth election” and one that had “not been assisted by Australia Post!”
Ms Ellis was referring to the misplaced ballot papers for voters with surnames beginning with the letters A to G, and the subsequent week-long voting period extension after the VEC re-issued the ballots.
“The elections are all over now, and as [the staff of a local government] organisation we are very excited about having an elected council back,” she said.
“We are more than delighted to work with you over the next few weeks as you settle in to your new roles as councillors, and your induction starts right now!”
Ms Ellis also thanked the other candidates who put themselves up for election to the council and commented that “whether or not you win or lose, what you all gave the local community is a choice.
“I’d like to encourage all of the unsuccessful candidates to stay involved with council and community activities and to consider running again at the next election.
“I’ve been in local government for a long time and it’s great to see that local democracy is alive and well in South Gippsland,” Ms Ellis said, before inviting the councillors-elect to “join the shire’s administration team for afternoon tea.”
The new councillors were individually sworn in yesterday Tuesday November 16 and were expected to elect the Mayor and Deputy Mayor from among their number today Wednesday November 17.
They have been taking part in intensive in-person and online training sessions ever since their election on topics such as councillor and mayoral roles and duties, the Code of Conduct, the municipal meeting and briefing cycle and procedures, and Victorian Local Government Act 2020 requirements.
New Councillors speak
Venus Bay Coastal-Promontory Ward Cr Sarah Gilligan said she was “feeling really great and very excited about the team we’ve got now.
“Each one of us, the nine people on the new council, are representatives of our local communities, and I’m relieved to be getting on with it,” she said.
“I’ve got a real respect for the responsibility we’ve all been given in terms of rebuilding trust in the community, and while our individual differences are important, I know we’ve all got the same driver.”
Foster Coastal-Promontory Ward Cr Mohya Davies said of the election results that “the people have spoken.
“We’ve been put in charge of the restoration of a council that can be trusted and respected,” she said.
“Personally, I’m delighted, excited and humbled, and I already know that being elected is a huge responsibility and that all eyes will be on us as the new council.
“I’m feeling a whole sense of energy though, and there is a new collegiality straight away.
“I want to thank all of the candidates, because running for council really is a challenging and at times isolating thing to do,” Cr Davies said.
“Now it’s up to us as the elected, a diverse group of people with deep roots in their respective communities, to honour the commitments we’ve made.”
Foster Coastal-Promontory Ward Cr Scott Rae said he was “very excited” and now he’s “very busy as it’s a big process learning how to be a councillor and there’s a lot to take in.
“I’m happy to have been elected, I’m happy to be here, and I’m happy to be doing great things on behalf of the community,” he said.
“Everyone [the new councillors] is wonderful, and I’m very happy with the group,” Cr Rae said.
“I’m on the farm but my time is my own and I’m well aware of what being a councillor will require, and very happy to be part of it.”
Leongatha Tarwin Valley Ward Cr Clare Williams said she was “really excited as the news came in that I’d been elected, and as soon as I met the other councillors-elect I knew we’d be hitting the ground running.
“The diversity among us is great and having so many different perspectives is what’s going to make this new council effective and strong.
“I believe we were all elected for a reason, and it certainly seems as though we are all team players,” she said.
“I want to see progression throughout the South Gippsland Shire for the benefit of everyone in the community.”
Leongatha Tarwin Valley Ward Cr John Schelling said his first feeling after learning he had been elected was “relief that all of the work we’ve done has come to fruition.
“I’m very thankful to my family and friends for their support, and to the ratepayers and residents for their what amounts to confidence,” he said.
“I’ve found a liking for democracy through all of this, as I had not a lot of faith in how the system works before now.
“I’m interested in taking the council to the people and in restoring their trust, and I’m really hoping that with the gender and age balance as well as the diversity of the people we now have, we’ll be able to achieve that goal,” Cr Schelling said.
“I am conscious of the task ahead of us, and I’ve already got confidence in our ability to work together.”
Leongatha Tarwin Valley Ward Cr Adrian Darakai said he felt “excited and elated” after being voted in as a councillor.
“I’m also very pleased to know that local communities are also glad to have a fresh council,” he said.
“I believe we now have a very healthy and functioning team of people with different ages, gender, interests and political leanings who together will provide excellent representation.
“There is a perfect balance among the councillors; no-one is an extremist in any way, and everyone is willing to work together,” Cr Darakai said.
“We’re also all acutely aware of the community expectations placed on us in the light of the previous council to restore confidence and trust.”
Korumburra Strzelecki Ward Cr Jenni Keerie said “it’s been really exciting” right from the moment she decided to run and through the campaign period, then being elected and becoming part of the new council.
“You feel you’ve got a chance to do something important with the community behind you,” she said.
“The community was clearly feeling ready for change, and this new council represents their choice after we put ourselves out there.
“I’m ready and willing, and I also know what the challenge is going to be, as the community has put their faith and hope in us for the next three years,” Cr Keerie said.
“We are all busy people and we want to be fully prepared for our new roles as councillors and ready for the decisions we are going to be asked to make, while being respectful of everyone’s time and each other.”
Loch Strzelecki Ward Cr Nathan Hersey said he was “feeling very honoured that people would put their trust in me.
“I will work to serve them and to repair and rebuild after the previous council,” he said.
“It’s a big job ahead of the new council and I’m fully aware of the time commitment that is involved having worked for two government cabinet ministers before.
“I have a great deal of respect for the local community and I’ll always be accessible and available,” Cr Hersey said.
“I’m heartened after meeting the other councillors to learn that everybody has a good level of respect for each other and that we all know we’ve got to be realistic about what you’re agreeing to,” he said.
“Straight out from the start we’ve already begun to develop good working relationships.”
Nyora Strzelecki Ward Cr Mick Felton said he was “very excited and happy to be elected to the council.
“I’m glad to be used to processing a lot of information because during this first week we’ve all been leaving [the new councillor transition sessions] with a full head!
“I think we all believe we’ve got a good, strong team, and its members are all here for the right reason,” he said.
“We’ve all got huge smiles on our faces when we get together, and we’ve off to a good start which, we’re all determined, is going to continue.”
New Council’s first meeting
The new South Gippsland Shire Council’s first open ordinary meeting is scheduled to start at 1 pm on Wednesday November 24, 2021 in the Leongatha municipal chamber if the COVID situation allows, otherwise the meeting will be held virtually.
See the full South Gippsland Shire Council election results at vec.vic.gov.