Melbourne’s Age newspaper is running another of its vendettas, this time against the bayside Port Phillip Council.

Age editor, Andrew Jaspan lives near the St Kilda Triangle development and has taken many opportunities to link the controversy to the likelihood that councillors will face opposition at the election, without disclosing his conflict of interest as a resident and possibly worse, has resorted to biased reporting of the council.

Also, as Crikey and Media Watch have reported previously, Mr Jaspan faces the influence and conflict of Fairfax chairman, Ron Walker as chairman of the Australian Grand Prix Corporation. The Port Phillip Council alone has called for the recommendations of the Victorian Auditor-General on the Grand Prix to be carried out. The council is therefore in direct conflict with Chairman Ron.

This week, Mr Jaspan widened his political opposition to his council by exposing a council contractor on the front page, describing her as a “white witch“, giving details of her sex life (not involving council staff) and the costs. The contractor was dismissed a year ago, yet this week Mr Jaspan ran articles on Page 1 and Page 3 of The Age, plus an editorial, tying it into the council’s forthcoming election and the St Kilda Triangle. While emphasizing the impact on some disgruntled staff, nowhere did The Age report the net outcome of the program the contractor was employed to help achieve. This looks highly selective reporting to me.

Here are the brief facts on the council’s change program: after four years, the council has gone from a perception of the “people’s republic of Port Phillip” to one where all staff are accountable and have clear and measurable performance targets to achieve better services at a better price. In an era of council costs increasing greater than CPI, this particular council achieves rate rises far below CPI yet delivers better services at a lower cost and invests greater amounts in infrastructure than most councils in the state.

Some pain was felt by staff but that is in the past. Last year the CEO put out a message of regret to staff about the extra work and the particular contractor hired. Results now show that staff are happy that they all contribute something worthwhile to the community. Measures of low rate increases, high capital investment and cost containment puts this council above the vast majority of councils in Victoria, if not Australia. Mr Jaspan and The Age have ignored what has been achieved in council’s change process; rather they focused on the cost of achieving it and the s-x life of a consultant.

Mr Jaspan has refused to publish the Mayor’s letter of reply unedited but has repeated the accusations three days in a row, in prominent positions in his paper. Not once has he balanced it with the excellent results achieved from the change process, which show the cost delivered a net benefit. This is bias at the extreme end and it is time for Mr Jaspan to reveal the conflicts that lie behind his paper’s position.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey