MOUNT BEST and Toora North residents are set to have their way and join the Coastal-Promontory Ward of South Gippsland Shire Council.
That is a key recommendation from the review of electoral representation carried out recently by the Victorian Electoral Commission (VEC). The final report, which came out last week, recommended that South Gippsland Shire Council continue to consist of nine councillors from three three-councillor wards (Coastal-Promontory, Tarwin Valley and Strzelecki) with minor changes to current ward boundaries.
The local Government Act 1989 requires the VEC to conduct an electoral representation review of each municipality in Victoria at least every 12 years. In its reviews, the VEC considers the number of councillors in a municipality, whether a municipality should be subdivided into wards or not, and if it is subdivided where the ward boundaries should be and how many councillors should be in each ward.
Mt Best resident Meryl Agars is delighted with the recommendation, which accords with the view put forward in her submission and to her is an example of democracy at work.
“I feel we have much more in common with the townships of Coastal-Promontory Ward, such as Toora and Foster, than with Tarwin Valley Ward, which includes Mirboo North and Leongatha,” she said. “We tend to go to the shops and make use of the services – such as the pool – at Toora or Foster and are part of the community groups, such as Toora Heritage Pear Orchard, in that ward.”
She said that the Tarwin Valley Ward councillors, especially Cr David Lewis, had done their best to represent the interests of the Mt Best community, but she had long felt that Mt Best belonged in the coastal district. She canvassed her neighbours at Mt Best and found there was overwhelming support for a shift in ward boundaries.
Ms Agars was one of only a handful of shire residents who participated in the review process, although anyone was welcome to contribute. She and three other residents of Mt Best went along to the public information session held by the VEC in Foster last November. Another session was held at Korumburra the same day.
“It’s no good complaining if you then don’t put your views forward,” said Ms Agars, who was praised by the VEC representatives for her detailed submission.
In its preliminary report, the VEC noted that of the six submissions it received, four suggested a change was needed to shift the areas of Mount Best and Toora North from Tarwin Valley Ward into Coastal-Promontory Ward to better reflect the ties of the communities.
“All four submitters suggested that shifting the boundary between Tarwin Valley and Coastal-Promontory Wards to run along Grand Ridge Road would be a more suitable boundary that reflects geographic communities of interest,” noted the report.
In other submissions, the Proportional Representation Society supported the retention of the current structure of three three-councillor wards, suggesting that this electoral structure would provide equity and parity to voters throughout the Shire, and a local resident suggested there was a lack of rural representation on the Council and an apparent concentration on town matters.
Following the release of the preliminary report, a public hearing was held in Council Chambers on the evening of March 19.
Council’s Manager Governance, Luke Anthony, and Councillor Mohya Davies spoke on behalf of Council. They expressed their support for the proposed changes that shift the Mount Best and Toora North areas into the Coastal-Promontory Ward.
Cr Davies also elaborated on Council’s recommendation to unite residents of the Fish Creek area in one ward. She submitted that Fish Creek has strong community ties with Foster and other coastal communities of Coastal-Promontory Ward. She also suggested that the neighbouring areas of Tarwin Lower, Middle Tarwin and Buffalo could be shifted to Coastal-Promontory Ward.
The VEC, however, ultimately decided not to recommend shifting the ward boundary around Fish Creek. In the absence of public input on Council’s suggestion, it looked at the last review and found that public opinion was mixed as to where Fish Creek belonged – Strzelecki Ward or Coastal-Promontory Ward or even Tarwin Valley Ward. It recommended Fish Creek remain in Strzelecki Ward.
The report is being sent to the Minister for Local Government, The Hon. Jeanette Powell, for her consideration. If the Minister endorses the recommendation, changes will be put in place for the next South Gippsland Shire Council general election to be held on October 27 this year. The report can be viewed on the VEC website or at Council offices in Leongatha.