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Minister appoints South Gippsland Shire Council panel

• South Gippsland Shire Council’s Victoria Government-appointed panel of administrators are pictured on their first day in the job on Wednesday July 24, 2019. From left is Rick Brown, panel chair Julie Eisenbise and Christian Zahra AM.

VICTORIANLocal Government Minister Adem Somyurek has appointed a panel of three administrators to run the South Gippsland Shire Council following the council’s dismissal for poor governance in June 2019. 

The council’s interim administrator Julie Eisenbise continues as the panel’s chair, with former McMillan now Monash MHR and Wunan Foundation head Christian Zahra AM, and former Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology Council member and strategic policy consultant Rick Brown as her colleagues.

Mr Somyurek announced the Governor in Council- approved panel late on Tuesday July 23, 2019, which will now act as the council until the next election for the council is held in October 2021. 

The three administrators were sworn in by shire acting chief executive officer Bryan Sword before each signed the councillor code of conduct as required by the Local Government Act 1989at a ceremony held in the council chambers at Leongatha on Wednesday morning July 24, 2019.

Mr Sword said he was “pleased that the ratepayers and residents of South Gippsland Shire now have some certainty about Council governance.

“I know that the organisation is looking forward to working with the three administrators and achieving some great outcomes for South Gippsland.”

Immediately after the ceremony the panel embarked on its first round of official duties, including presiding over the scheduled open public presentation session and then the open ordinary council meeting held the same afternoon.

Mr Somyurek’s statement on the appointment said “the panel will be stepping in to restore good governance to the South Gippsland Shire Council.”

It continued saying “these appointments build on the Government’s efforts to restore the highest standards of integrity to councils across the state, ensuring Victorian communities get the level of service they deserve.”

 “The appointment of the administrators is about returning good governance to the people of South Gippsland, Mr Somyurek said. 

“We’ve acted swiftly to rebuild this council and deliver the highest standards of conduct, transparency and integrity to the local community,” he said. 

“The administrators will work as a team to ensure that the council is focused on governing in the best interests of the local community and providing first class services.” 

The Victorian Government dismissed the South Gippsland Shire Council in June 2019 on the Commission of Inquiry’s recommendation.

The inquiry found that a high level of councillor conflict had impaired the council’s performance of its role, its decision-making and its reputation within the community. 

New panel chair Ms Eisenbise, a former Manningham City Council mayor, was one of the three commissioners conducting the inquiry, alongside commission chair and former Supreme Court judge the Hon. Frank Vincent AO QC and senior public servant John Watson.

Ms Eisenbise was made an interim administrator in June to act in place of the council while the full panel was being established. 

Mr Somyurek’s statement concluded saying “the two-year appointment period will allow the administrators to properly embed best practice within council to ensure it is functioning to its full capacity by [October] 2021.” 

Administrator Mr Zahra grew up in Traralgon and was the federal Member for McMillan now Monash between October 1998 and October 2004 and currently is a public policy and strategy expert with experience in rural and regional development.

Among other roles Mr Zahra was Parliamentary Secretary to the Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development. He holds a Bachelor of Economics, a Master of Assessment and Evaluation and has been a Fellow of the Australian Institute of Company Directors since 2011.

n June 2018, Mr Zahra was made a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) for “significant service to rural and regional development, to the advancement of Indigenous welfare, and to the Australian Parliament”.

At last Wednesday’s open council meeting Mr Zahra said he was “looking forward to serving the people of South Gippsland” and that he would “always be acting in the best interests of the local community.

“I know this community and I’ve always been impressed by how local people put the community first in everything they do,” he said.

“I will try to partner with the community, and I welcome this opportunity to serve.”

Administrator Mr Brown was a member of the RMIT Council for 13 years and director of the university’s commercial company, and since 2009 has been a consultant providing policy and strategic advice.

He was an adviser to former Mildura MLA Russell Savage and to former federal government ministers Nick Minchin and Kevin Andrews.

Mr Brown told those at the council meeting last Wednesday that he had “travelled extensively around the world” and that he was also “quite familiar with Gippsland.

“I consider South Gippsland to be God’s own country, and where there’s a hill, there’s a view,” he said.

“Like the other administrators here, I hope I can join with you and help to instil in the community a sense of confidence and cohesion during the time we are here.” Mr Brown said “I hope we’ll all be able to say that South Gippsland is a little better for our having been involved in it.”

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