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Crikey is about to crank up the volume in the upcoming Melbourne City Council elections and has appointed Terry Maher to be our independent correspondent given that Stephen Mayne is running for Lord Mayor. Read on as both Maher and Mayne have their say.

Tezza’s opening MCC offering for Crikey

Although the Melbourne City Council elections are still more than a month off, the battle was starting to warm up in Lygon Street, Carlton, on Saturday morning.

Lygon Street on Saturday morning is hardly Struggletown, but the day does have its rituals for the local residents and having to battle barnstorming tyro politicians with cheesy grins and glossy brochures is not usually one of them.

Lygon Street, for all intents, purposes and posturings, is hardly the epicentre of the third tier of government. It was, until the Bracks Government in Spring Street stepped in last year to reshape Clown Hall in Swanston Street more to its own likeness, merely the main retail and cultural thoroughfare in what was then known as Universities Ward.

All four residential wards have now been abolished and the mayor and deputy mayor will be elected on one municipal-wide preferential postal ballot paper and the remaining seven councillors elected proportionally on another. In the past, the councillors elected the mayor and the deputy once the ratepayers elected them. Now it is arse about tit; the mathematics of the MCC elections have become excruciating and the politics, excruciatingly exquisite.

The new Lord Mayor may have a popular mandate to deal with the city’s ills – and the $100,000 salary that goes with it – but there is no guarantee that he/she can get any of his/her agenda past the other eight votes on council. It is a bit like electing a Prime Minister who can not control a majority on the floor of the house. Only a Labor Government could have dreamed up such a dichotomy and conundrum to truly stuff up the workings of the capital city government.

But when Bracks sacked the council last year, he had in mind that Peter McMullin would take the top job with the dual endorsement of both the ALP and the Melbourne Chamber of Commerce. Peace and happiness would break out all over City of Melbourne and there would be good feng shui between Spring Street and Swanston Street.

But he didn’t count on the indomitable Cr Kevin Chamberlin wrecking McMullin’s ALP endorsement by leading a walk-out of the party’s municipal forum last month to destroy all hope of the historic compromise that might have made Bracks’ bizarre bourgeois hypothesis work.

Now, the battle for the hearts and minds will be fought in the city’s suburban precincts and CBD boardrooms rather than the Premier’s office, ALP HQ and the Chamber’s chamber. Hence the campaign trail began at Lygon Street on Saturday morning, 05

Your correspondent had failed to discover any unusual inert or inept political activity as he went about his business that day with the butcher, the baker and the candlestick-maker (candles are still de rigeur for the Carlton dinner party). But when he went to the newsagent to take delivery of his regular half tonne of newsprint, he was almost bowled over by a phalanx of backslapping, handshaking, baby-kissing apparchiks from the Melbourne Civic Group entering the premises.

Now the Melbourne Civic Group is a name that has not been heard around Clown Hall for nearly 30 years. It was once the bastion of the Establishment and the big end of town, when people who lived in Toorak and worked in the CBD ran Melbourne City. Their mortal and moral enemies were the people who shopped in Lygon Street and Errol Street (North Melbourne) on Saturday mornings.

I think Ron Walker was the last Civic Group leader to wear the Lord Mayor’s chain and robes in the 70s, 05but it could have been a retired Toorak real estate agent who’s name escapes me. He, like most Civic Group timeservers, probably copped the job as a sinecure for years of toadying to rapacious capitalists against then rampant forces of resident action.

In those days, it was always a losing battle between the residents and the CBD ratepayers from Toorak. As they spoke for much of the City’s rate revenue, they were given a proportionate-verging-on-disproportionate share of the leather seats in the council chamber in Swanston Street. They also got to meet the Beatles at civic receptions on the red carpet inside while we residents queued for a glimpse on the bitumen outside.

Let me tell you that the new Civic Group does not look anything like the old Civic Group. Its leader is Clem Newton-Brown, the present deputy lord mayor and he doesn’t look much older than that serial electoral pest, Stephen Mayne, from the Peoples’ Party, or whatever he calls it.

Unlike Mayne, he has a day job. He’s a solicitor (editor’s correction: barrister, you fool) and he runs a cafe51 under the footbridge that goes to Southbank (Ed: what about the River taxi business?). He’s personable and articulate. He’s a member of the Liberal Party (Ed: plus Ted Baillieu’s electorate chair in Hawthorn) but we won’t hold that against him, just yet. He’s running for Lord Mayor under the slogan of “The City’s Future”. His running mate on the leadership ticket is Sue Hatch. She’s chief executive of the St John Ambulance and if his leadership boat comes in she will become deputy lord mayor, his current job, in his Civic Group administration.

The Melbourne Civic Group is run by Gary Morgan out of the Collins Street office of Roy Morgan Research. One of the tenants in the building is Carlton Football Club president, John Elliott. There is no sign of Elliott’s involvement in the MCC elections but former journalist and publisher, Dulcie Boiling, is on the Melbourne Civic Group Committee. Morgan and Boiling will probably stand for councillor positions. (Ed: Now that’s a good story if true!)

Cr Newton-Brown became deputy lord mayor last year when Cr Wellington Lee had a deep and divisive falling out with The Right Honourable the Lord Mayor, Cr Peter Costigan, over some trivial issue of travel expenses and access to the chauffeur-driven Bentley. Being an old journo, no one was ever going to get the taxi dockets or the Bentley off Cr Costigan. Journalists are trained from an early age how to creatively craft their expenses. Cr Lee is a chemist by training and merely wrote a scrip. Goodbye Cr Lee, hello Cr Newton-Brown.

He was, I might add, the popular choice to replace Cr Lee as deputy and has evidently been dutiful and diligent in the role. He is certainly forceful in presenting himself.

Back at the Lygon Street newsagency, Cr Newton-Brown is the first swallow of Swanston Street’s sudden electoral Spring to introduce himself to the proprietors and customers and ask for a helping hand in this arduous campaign to get the Lord Mayor’s chain and gown and the soft seat in the back of the Bentley on the way to and from home and those ghastly civic receptions.

“As I am the first to ask, may I put up my poster in your window?” he pleads. “No,” say the proprietors firmly, “if we let all the candidates put posters in our window, we would have to put up people we don’t like and we would not have a window anymore”.

“Fair enough,” says the Neutron Bomb, as his entourage slip next door to the holistic vegan greengrocer who, I already know, is still far too busy mourning the loss of his ephemeral Nepali royal family to contemplate the temporal life of a self-serving, serving City councillor. The distraught merchant of greens gives in to the persistent poster pusher but the Civic Group juggernaut finds a much tougher customer with the Baker’s Delight hot bread shop franchise next door to that.

By this time, your correspondent has leapfrogged the Civic Group bandwagon and sought refuge in Jimmy Watson’s. There he warns the proprietor, Allan Watson, of the approaching locusts from the Civic Group who are banging drums and bedecked in bunting (your correspondent always gets a little carried away when he visits Watson’s).

Old Man Watson, like his father Jimmy, is a thorough gentleman and is the calm in the eye of the storm in the face of this fiendish onslaught by the Civic Group on our Saturday morning constitutional. Not only is Allan Watson a serial Melbourne City Councillor, he’s been Lord Mayor of the City of Melbourne before and has also been sacked by a State Government (Kennett) before and is still coming back again to have another go at the top job.

By way of explanation for this aberrant behaviour, he points to a recently hung painting of Don Quixote tilting at a windmill. It is subtitled “Allan Watson running for Council”. It is a recurring theme for this old soldier. His handbill says Allan Watson “will provide leadership, experience, accessibility and efficiency”. Even the refuge has become a den of political municipal intrigue. I test his accessibility and efficiency by ordering another drink.

Then enters the Neutron Bomb with his whistlestop entourage. There is a lot of “hello maaate” going on in the backroom but the Civic Group leave without fixing a poster to the Watson’s window. Allan mumbles something about wrongs from the past and never forgiving but best wishes, 05

Two men going for the one position (OK, two if you count the deputy – but Allan Watson hasn’t got one yet) is never going to be much more than a how’s your father-type conversation. Sure, they could swap preferences but everyone is walking on quicksand at this stage of the proceedings.

Your correspondent is much more open to suggestion than the former Cr Watson (especially after a few drinks) and, on the way out, he has a quick chat with Cr Newton-Brown and snaps up one of his cheaply-printed Polaroid posters when all he wanted was a glossy brochure. However, what the poster gives this newly empowered Melbourne Citizen is Cr Newton Brown’s website of www.melbournecivicgroup.roymorgan.com.

There he learns all sorts of good things about the Civic Group’s strategy for what he sees as an un-winnable election where you elect a head and then try to match it with a pre-existing body. He is particularly impressed about Cr Newton-Brown’s proposal to run a separate slate of Civic Group resident candidates for the councillors ballot as well as a slate of Civic Group business candidates for the same positions.

This, he thinks, is what the mathematicians and the derivatives traders call a contango. You try to corner the odds and the market by spreading your risk while maximising your return. The Liberal and National parties call it a coalition.

But it also means that the Civic Group will have to come up with at least 14 candidates for the two slates on the councillors ballot to give the Newton-Brown/Hatch team some lungs to breath with.

On my way home, I note that the Civic Group have managed to erect 10 posters on the western side of Lygon Street between Elgin and Grattan. One had already been ripped down. I feel it’s going to be a long campaign, 05

Who’s next?

Ends

Now, that’s enough of Terry’s independent observations. This is our election platform with details of the candidates on the People Power ticket.

A FRESH YOUNG APPROACH FOR MELBOURNE

The People Power ticket for Melbourne City Council is the youngest and most diverse and offers a fresh and co-operative approach to City Politics.

Lord Mayoral candidate Stephen Mayne has a background in shareholder activism, business journalism and politics. Stephen is a long-time East Melbourne resident and city worker who is now a self-employed publisher.

Deputy Lord Mayoral candidate Vern Hughes works in North Melbourne and is the co-founder of the fledgling People Power party. He has a 20-year history working in the voluntary, welfare and church sectors.

Heading the council ticket is Greg Hoy, a journalist and foreign correspondent of 15 years standing who since 1992 has run The River Bar and Grill at Southgate – Melbourne’s largest seafood restaurant.

Supporting him is Port Melbourne architect Richard Brew who is passionate about streamlining the planning process and improving the quality and amenity of Melbourne’s urban design.

This diverse team has a vision for Melbourne to achieve greater international recognition as a sophisticated yet safe city, that marries world class heritage and a bold young style. This should be our trademark.

The Town Hall’s finances have never been stronger and we are coming to the end of a multi-billion investment program in civic infrastructure. Now it just needs the people, promotion and services to capitalise on the magnificent facilities on offer.

For the first time in history there is net migration to Melbourne from interstate and the challenge is to promote this growing interest – and the vitality of our city’s heart, with policies such as the following :

* City of Melbourne has the strongest balance sheet of any council in Australia and can responsibly afford to turn some of it’s $120 million cash stockpile to ratepayers with a sustainable cut in rates of between 10 and 20 per cent. (Thanks mostly to the $230 million from sale of its electricity business in 1996)

* Shift the focus of spending from vast capital projects, bricks and mortar and council administration to funding aesthetic renewal programs designed to both accentuate and promote the city’s style, diversity and sophistication.

* Better service the growing apartment market with improved street lighting, security, car parking, parks and communal facilities. Facilitate further apartment developments with a greater focus on quality, architectural consistency, body corporate entitlements and sustainability, to build on our architectural legacy.

* Pro-actively develop more sporting, social, family and community clubs for the growing residential market extending garden areas wherever possible, improving external programs such as youth services, with a concerted appeal to our youth to help make Melbourne a place of peace.

* An intergrated approach to Festivals, the arts, Major Events and other leisure programs to better cross promote and project the City’s talent.

* To create a cooperative or collaborative environment, to position Melbourne as the European Capital of Australasia. A healthy, romantic and pulsing city, with a flourishing co-existance of residential, tourist and business activities. A charming old city, with an energetic young heart.

* Attract more businesses to Melbourne which has not had a new office tower finished since 1993 but remains internationally competitive for regional headquarters and retailers.

The People Power ticket is aiming to win four of the nine positions on council but appreciates the need to co-operate with other stakeholders inside and outside the council.

We will be very strong on ethics and accountability. Expense allowances and travel will be cut and that which remains will be fully disclosed on the council website.

The four of us are passionate about our city but bring a diverse mix of skills and an eagerness to work co-operately with fellow councillors to establish a sense of unity of purpose.

For further information: Vern Hughes: 0425 722 890: [email protected]

Footnote: Former Australian soccer goal keeper and Melbourne businessman Jack Reilly was originally slated to head the People Power council ticket but discovered he was ineligible because his city apartment is owned by his wife so he is not on the electoral role.

Peter Fray

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