Derwent Valley local council
Derwent Valley, Tasmania (Image: Facebook)

On the surface, Derwent Valley in south-central Tasmania seems like a peaceful place, with tranquil towns, lush greenery and serene sights. But inside the local government it’s another story. Police are regularly called to attend council meetings, the council had to answer questions over a mass poisoning of geese, and a councillor has been bullied out of her position. 

Rachel Power, elected to Derwent Valley Council last year, announced her resignation on ABC radio yesterday morning after enduring relentless attacks on social media. Faces of local politicians had been photoshopped onto less-than-flattering pictures, and insults had been spread across social platforms.

It comes just weeks after council staff signed a letter calling to ban Mayor Ben Shaw from council chambers for screenshotting messages and sharing them on Facebook. Two weeks before the letter, Shaw publicly apologised to Tasmanian Governor Kate Warner’s husband for text messages accusing him of misappropriating funds. Shaw claimed the text messages were “doctored”.

The letter was sent to council general manager Greg Winton, who only recently resumed his role. Winton stepped aside during an investigation into the council-ordered culling of more than a dozen geese at a public park. There had been complaints about too much bird poo — 14 geese, two ducks and several plovers (protected birds in the state) were killed. Councillors say the incident has caused such a rift that the community risks turning on one another.

Police have been called to four council meetings this year alone, with at least two assault charges filed. But Derwent Valley isn’t alone in its problems with local governance; in next-door Glenorchy, an entire council was sacked in 2017 for spending money in a way that benefited councillors. Police have been called to council meetings in George Town, Tasmania, over plans to build a library and childcare centre; to a meeting in Melbourne’s inner-east over the potential closure of a tennis club and cafe; and to Burnside, South Australia, after a former mayor refused to leave the chambers. 

It seems no matter how big or small, scandals are the lifeblood of politics.

Peter Fray

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