Is the Labor Party genuinely interested in advancing the cause of indigenous Australians, including giving the world’s oldest continuous culture some genuine power in government?

Bill Shorten certainly created that impression when he used his authority to do a captain’s pick to deliver Pat Dodson a Senate seat in Western Australia earlier this year.

A similar impression was created when the only Shorten faction member on Melbourne Council, Richard Foster, unveiled his re-election team to The Age on August 24.

Former Brotherhood of St Laurence CEO Nic Frances was trumpeted as his lord mayoral candidate, and indigenous woman Brooke Wandin, a direct descendant of Wurundjeri elder William Barak, was running for deputy lord mayor. These big names in the lord mayoral contest were intended to help get Foster re-elected in the separate council election.

As this comprehensive City of Melbourne report on the election process outlines, the electoral roll closed on August 26, just two days after Foster’s media launch.

What happened next is that Richard Foster nominated his council ticket team on September 19, the second last day before nominations closed on September 20. It was odd that the whole team didn’t nominate together.

Frances and Wandin then went in separately shortly before the noon deadline on September 20 and inadvertently nominated for the council election, rather than the separate leadership contest.

They say it was inadvertent, but the three bitterly fell out.

It was too late for Frances and Wandin to withdraw their nomination or switch elections, so they were locked into the council contest. But they did have two more days until noon on September 22 to settle on the order of their ticket and the group name.

They decided to reverse the order and put Wandin up first under the new banner of “An Indigenous Voice for Melbourne”.

The deadline for preferences was noon on the following Monday, September 26, and when these came out it was clear that Foster and his former running mates had badly fallen out.

Foster put Wandin and Frances at numbers 36 and 37 on his preference card, second last only to the hated Team Doyle, which returned the favour putting Foster stone-motherless last at number 44 on their ticket.

The Indigenous Voice for Melbourne wasn’t quite so vengeful, putting Foster’s female running mate Bridie Walsh at No. 14 on their ticket and Foster himself at 21. However, they did reach a favourable preference agreement with the Greens.

Foster and his Labor colleague and Town Hall roommate Jackie Watts had been the two highest-conflict councillors over the previous four years. When he wasn’t undermining Robert Doyle, Foster’s next biggest focus was causing grief for the Greens.

Since the current City of Melbourne voting system was introduced in 2001, only three councillors have been elected without running on an associated lord mayoral ticket. The first was new Labor Senator Kimberley Kitching in 2001, then I got up independently in 2012 with a primary vote of 5.6%, and now Brooke Wandin has got over the line courtesy of strong preference flows after polling 2.24%.

Richard Foster’s “Listening to Locals” ticket bombed with just 2.36%, and with little preference support he was knocked out early and then delivered a key bloc of votes to get colleague Jackie Watts elected.

The results were revealed by the VEC at 5pm Saturday, formally declared by the VEC at 10am yesterday, and the councillors are due to be sworn in tomorrow.

Lo and behold, at about 4.30pm yesterday afternoon, the Herald Sun went public with this story claiming that the Municipal Inspector was investigating Wandin’s enrolment. There were questions about Wandin’s place of residence. And, as Fairfax reports: “Under council rules, candidates must live in, own property or have a lease within Melbourne City Council’s boundaries in order to run for office.”

The Hun story has now been changed but Foster was quoted in the original version saying “it must be quite embarrassing”.

We know that Brooke Wandin and Richard Foster were both on the electoral roll at Richard Foster’s Kensington residence. “This is perfectly plausible, as the majority of voters in the City of Melbourne are not residents. Many thousands are on the roll because they rent space in the city. If the landlord turns hostile, you can rent somewhere else or be nominated to represent a business or institution that does own or occupy space in the city.

With a landlord who has turned hostile, she should be allowed to rent somewhere else and serve out her term.

Brooke Wandin lives in Healesville, right near the Coranderrk camp where the white fellas herded the Wurundjeri between 1863 and 1924. She is one of the traditional owners of the land where Town Hall sits.

Earlier this year, the City of Melbourne signed up for a new 10-year community plan, and goal 9 was called “A city with an Aboriginal focus”.

Priority 9.1 states: “Melbourne will proudly acknowledge its Aboriginal identity across all areas of the municipality and by 2026 there will be a treaty with the Kulin Nation.”

If Brooke Wandin is ruled ineligible, I will most likely be the beneficiary, as she was elected on my preferences, and her preferences also came to me before all other unsuccessful candidates.

However, I don’t want this to happen and have written to the Municipal Inspector David Wolf asking that she be allowed to rent some new space and serve out her term.

When The Age contacted Richard Foster last night, it reported that “Mr Foster said he had always been very supportive of Ms Wandin”, before he added directly: “I think the less said about ongoing investigations of this type the better.”

Having offered slim coverage on Victoria’s council elections over the past month, on Melbourne Cup eve both The Age and the Herald Sun decided that a question mark over Brooke Wandin’s enrolment was the second most important story on their respective websites.

The language was over the top talking about “shock developments” and a “crisis” at Town Hall.

Here’s hoping she turns up at Town Hall tomorrow to be formally sworn in as Melbourne’s first indigenous councillor.


*Stephen Mayne is a former City of Melbourne councillor whose preferences elected Brooke Wandin. He was not paid for this item.

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