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CiVic - Issue 6 - April 2014

E-magazine

Index of accessible version

President's report

By Bill McArthur, MAV President

In February and March, the MAV was busy seeking input from councils about our strategic directions for the 2014-15 year.

I visited councils across the state with CEO Rob Spence and Deputy CEO Alison Lyon, gaining councillors’ feedback about priority issues facing the sector. Our Strategic Work Plan 2014-15 is now available for comment from our members.

With the state election coming up in November, advocating for programs and reforms that can make a real difference to local government and our communities is high on our agenda. We will be working with members over the coming months to finalise our log of claims to put to all parties ahead of the election.

In the State Budget, we will be seeking a recommitment to many current funding arrangements, including the Country Roads and Bridges program and the Regional Growth Fund. To do this, we will need to demonstrate our efficiency and effectiveness across our major state-funded projects.

In March, the MAV celebrated Cultural Diversity Week. Throughout the week, many councils participated in the Scanlon Foundation’s ‘A Taste of Harmony’ campaign, which celebrates diversity in Australian workplaces by encouraging colleagues to share food from their different cultural backgrounds. The MAV is proud to be an official supporter of the campaign. My MAV colleagues shared lunch inspired by the many cultural backgrounds represented in our workplace, with the spread including food from Malaysia, Greece and the Netherlands.

Cultural Diversity Week led into the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. I commend councils for your ongoing commitment to celebrating multiculturalism and working with communities to embrace diversity.

The MAV is continuing work on our broader diversity agenda, including promoting gender equity strategies and the Victorian Local Government Women’s Charter. We also continue to encourage councils to increase their employment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

With bipartisan support from the major political parties for constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, this year will provide opportunities for the MAV to actively progress the bringing together of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians.

Finally, I wish to thank the outgoing Minister for Local Government Jeanette Powell, who announced that she would not contest the state election later this year. Minister Powell has made a significant contribution to local government over a long period of time. Her time at the helm of the Aboriginal Affairs portfolio also deserves our acknowledgement. Notably, her introduction of the Indigenous Honour Roll is a proud legacy for all Victorians.

We look forward to a productive working relationship with new Minister for Local Government Tim Bull, and congratulate him on his appointment to oversee this important portfolio.

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Editor's note

By Kristi High, Editor

Hello, this is Puffafish, office of Birth, Death and Resignation.

That was the start to our year for the core team of five that puts together CiVic magazine. As a result, we pushed back our March edition to April while we re-grouped. This means CiVic will publish three times this year – April, August and December. We’ll be back with four in 2015!

It has been nice, I must admit, having a bit of extra time to put this edition together. The stories are just more great examples of the expanding breadth of work local government is involved in. The mantra of local government being roads, rates and rubbish is definitely old.

Preventing violence against women continues to gain momentum and now bullying is creeping into councils’ agendas. I was inspired by Moreland Cr Oscar Yildiz’s work as CEO of Bully Zero Foundation Australia and urge everyone to read the article on page 20 to see how you can support the not-for-profit and help them reach their aim for a bully zero Australia.

Our cover story on Aboriginal reconciliation is the first in a series. Next edition will look at Aboriginal employment in local government. We’ll also be showcasing a selection of National Reconciliation Week events, similar to this edition’s Cultural Diversity Week spread, so if you have an event to feature, please get in touch.

If you haven’t included CiVic on your media distribution list I would love to receive your news. I’m also using Facebook more to communicate about stories I’m working on, including opportunities to get your council featured in CiVic. Please like us!

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Opinion: Putting a stamp on Aussie Post

By Cr Russell Bate, Mansfield Shire

Dr William J (Bill) Raduchel, former professor of economics at Harvard and a senior executive in several major United States IT companies in the 1990s, has a favourite saying: "from 30,000 feet all water looks drinkable".

While Ahmed Fahour’s 111 Bourke Street office may not be at quite that altitude, there is no doubt that he and the government he serves would often appear to have a simplistic 30,000-foot view of the Australia Post and its operations.

Fahour’s appointment as the new CEO of Australia Post in December 2009 raised a number of questions. Principle among these was why would a man who had enjoyed a highly successful career as a banker take on such a position and what was the special skill set that he brought to the job?

It is generally suggested that Fahour’s role is to manage Australia Post through the challenges posed to the postal system by the digital world.

However, journalist Eric Johnston, in his 7 January article in the Sydney Morning Herald suggests another role for Fahour and an explanation of why a banker would be interested in leading a postal service.

Johnston points out that:

“While telcos, airlines and power stations are relatively easy business for governments to sell, postal services have long stayed in the too-hard basket. But last year’s successful $3.3 billion partial stockmarket listing of Britain’s Royal Mail now has many around the world considering the possibilities.”

The privatisation of government businesses has always had one major problem; only profitable businesses are appealing to investors. Those which provide an essential public service are usually subject to obligations that ensure that they are rarely profitable.

Australia Post is a complex government business. On the one hand it has a number of highly profitable logistics and retail businesses and on the other, an expensive postal service with declining volumes and a number of obligations to its Australian customers that are increasingly expensive to meet.

Australia Post delivers almost 100 million items every week but loses millions of dollars on this traditional mail business. These losses are currently offset by the continual growth in its other operations and last year’s $312 million profit and 18.5 per cent return on equity was clearly a healthy result.

Any move to privatisation however, certainly on the UK basis, would see a short-term windfall for the government as it sold off the profitable operations and a long-term burden to the Australian people as we continued to carry the cost of the traditional postal services.

We have already seen early indications of what such a future might hold. Pressure on rural postal agencies to increase returns to Australia Post have placed many of them in a position where they may be forced to close.

Recent proposals to reduce service levels and increase charges would indicate another approach to cutting losses.

In each and every case these measures hit regional communities and disadvantaged Australians the hardest.

In a recent ABC World Today article, ‘Welfare groups up in arms over suggestions Australia Post could charge extra for daily deliveries’ Angela Cartwright of Choice stated:

“The simple fact is many rely on Australia Post, so until the bulk of the community has switched to electronic communication, Australia Post does provide a vital essential service for many Australians.”

Angela is partially correct. What her statement ignores is that until a raft of current legislation is changed, electronic communication cannot fully serve the Australian people and Australia Post will effectively remain an essential service.

Like it or not our postal service is still recognised as one of the few legal means of delivering a considerable variety of payments, documents and returns. Certainly there are alternatives but most of these are only viable alternatives for those who live in the major population centres.

For those who live in smaller and remote rural communities or who are elderly or disadvantaged there are no such alternatives.

Whatever the future holds for Australia Post in this digital world the Australian government has an obligation to all Australians to maintain an accessible, low cost and efficient postal service.

Any attempt to privatise all or part of Australia Post must ensure that this need is met.

As to the Royal Mail listing, the model on which so much of this privatisation enthusiasm is now based, it should be noted that the British Parliament is now under attack on a variety of issues that followed their decision.

The huge increase in the price of Royal Mail shares proved that the issue was seriously undervalued and as a recent Guardian article reported:

“Today MPs on the business, innovation and skills select committee will have the chance to quiz Goldman Sachs and UBS about whether or not the advice they gave the government on the sale value of Royal Mail was sound, or so wrong that it came close to negligence.”

As the very wise women with whom I live asked when Telstra was floated, “why are we now paying for shares in something we already own?” I found that hard to answer.

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Sector connector: Us and them

By: Verne Ivars Krastins BSc (Hons), Fellow LGPro

When I started writing about local government, the hot topic in Victorian circles was community planning.

I was quite involved hands on and soon realised that there were differing views about what community planning is or what it’s for.

The reasons were varied, but I decided on three likely ones – the language of community engagement, municipal geography, and corporate culture. Things may have changed, but I’m assuming most of these lessons still apply.

The lingo

For some, community planning is what social planners and community developers do, largely in the professional realm with consultation to back up principles.

To others, it is the means by which communities are strengthened to do more of this themselves, deciding, resourcing and implementing their own futures.

These aren’t mutually exclusive, but you don’t often find the same mindset, motivation and capacity in a single person or role. The position description and reporting structure would be a nightmare to formulate.

Either way, any sort of community planning ought to start with community engagement, but here the language falls apart. On the matter of what purpose community engagement, the views of governance, community development, marketing, urban planning or even organisation development professionals differ.

Stripped down, there are two attitudes in the mix. One serves itself, the other serves its others. One seeks to pre-empt, control and regulate, and the other wants to build, encourage and facilitate.

Geography

In the metropolis, community planning is a high level exercise.

Through workshops and focus groups, local aspirations and visions are aggregated into themes and published as the Community Plan, or by a catchier title. In theory this “guides” the Council, and is used as reference for the Council Plan and its strategies.

Shires have a different dynamic going on.

The Council is better at connecting on the ground, and despite small workforces, low population densities and distance, people seem more in tune with each other and local needs. There are examples of community plans articulated down to project plan level, truly “by and for” the people, with community committees, leaders and activists running the show, Council as partner.

Cultures within

Lack of a common professional lingo or of community connectedness aren’t insurmountable alone, but corporate culture might be.

For a start, without the will there is no way. And if the will is there, you still need a mechanism.

Councillors operate in an atmosphere of power and influence, so circumstances are a factor. Anything that promotes community wellbeing is on of course, but how well does watching others get things done sit with the politics? Could go either way.

For management, adding to complexity is a potential problem. We rely on consistency, controls, and accountabilities to keep it together, and hope councillors do the filtering well.

The troops below are organised in separate teams and can’t take a whole-of-community approach anyway, not without the two cultures above enabling it.

I suppose all I’ve described is human nature.

But it’s a worthy aspiration to think that grass roots community planning can balance the “us and them” of institutional and community interests, oiling the wheels of collaboration day in, day out.

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Cycling better in Darebin

Darebin City Council is investing in an ambitious strategy it hopes will see cycling become the preferred mode of transport for trips between two and seven kilometres.

With a wide range of social and economic benefits from improved health and wellbeing to reduced traffic congestion and pollution, Darebin is prioritising cycling to become more enjoyable, safer and practical.

The strategy includes encouraging cycling for recreation, shopping and commuting; improving traffic signals and road layout; reducing vehicle speed limits; filling ‘missing links’ in the existing on and off-road cycling network; providing education and training to reduce perceived cycling risks; and working with local businesses and public transport providers to install dedicated bicycle parking facilities.

Darebin Mayor Gaetano Greco said without these changes, the community would remain car dependant.

“We know the greatest cities in the world are bike friendly but we are also responding to increasing community demand to make riding safer and more convenient,” Cr Greco said.

“Our strategy promotes cycling by joining these dots – like expanding infrastructure including off-road paths and dedicated bike lanes, installing parking facilities and way finding signage and improving road markings.

“We also encourage a cycling culture and run a lot of education and skills training to build confidence so that more people are likely to elect to ride from A to B.”

‘Shimmy’ routes established along quiet backstreets to help cyclists avoid busy main roads are being promoted throughout the municipality.

Experienced cyclists have made use of these informal backstreet bike routes to get to work, shops, school and other destinations for years.

To help more people find them, council is rolling out way finding signage and road markings. The ‘shimmy’ routes are being promoted via a video, on social media, at local bicycle shops, in local libraries and council service centres.

Some car parking bays along shopping strips and cycling routes have been converted into dedicated bicycle spaces. The spaces have room for up to ten bikes, making cycling more appealing while improving turnover for traders.

Cr Greco said research showed the average car had just 1.3 occupants, and providing dedicated parking can improve turnover.

“A case study from a neighbouring municipality found that each square metre allocated to bike parking generated $31 per hour for local businesses compared to $6 per hour per square metre for a car parking space,” he said.

Darebin is also running cycling education and skills courses in partnership with local schools and Bicycle Network Victoria.

CycleWise aims to build confidence riding on the road and overcome common concerns like car doors, tram tracks and right turns for adults.

Bike Confidence Training for Parents is another skills-based course that aims to help parents feel more confident riding with their children to school.

Bike Ed helps children in grades four to six develop the skills they need to ride safely and independently on roads and paths. It involves a mix of practical and classroom activities. Darebin funds teachers to undertake accredited training to become Bike Ed instructors.

Since 2005, Darebin has doubled the number of kilometres of bike lanes, which has seen a 130 per cent increase in cycling on some key routes. Important too is the reduced number of accidents, with the risk of being involved in a crash lowered by 33 per cent between 2007 and 2011.

A council survey at three local primary schools recently also showed half of the students said cycling was their preferred way to get to school.

Darebin’s Cycling Strategy was developed by council in partnership with local cycling reference group Darebin Bicycle Advisory Committee and neighbouring councils. Partners included Victoria Police, VicRoads, VicTrack, Parks Victoria, Melbourne Water and other authorities.

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Casey cultural precinct

Adding star power to cultural precinct

ARIA award-winning singer Guy Sebastian is helping Casey City Council promote its highly anticipated new cultural precinct.

The Adelaide-based singer, who has family ties to the municipality, arrived in Casey earlier this year to unveil the contemporary and innovative design for the $125 million Casey Cultural Precinct.

Council invited the whole community to an event for the design announcement, with entertainment provided by Mr Sebastian and comedian Ben Price proving major drawcards.

“As an Australian singer and songwriter, and someone with loads of relatives living in the area, I’m really happy to be supporting the Casey Cultural Precinct,” Mr Sebastian said.

“Given my lifelong passion for music and performing I think people in the region are really fortunate as I would have loved to have had something like this in my neighbourhood growing up.”

Director Casey Cultural Precinct Steve Dalton said Guy Sebastian was a well respected and trusted entertainer across all age groups.

“Engaging someone connected to arts and culture with the success, popularity and reputation of Guy Sebastian, helps our community and our stakeholders to embrace this project,” he said.

Mr Sebastian is officially supporting the development of the Casey Cultural Precinct by attending major milestones. He will also widen awareness of the project through his own communication channels such as Twitter, Facebook and other online media.

The Casey community has been asked to participate in a naming competition for the precinct, which is due to be announced later this year.

Design innovation

Following a six-month design competition that attracted over 20 submissions from around the country and internationally, Casey has unveiled a striking, engaging and functional precinct that celebrates participation, belonging and civic pride.

Covering a 1.6 hectare area near Fountain Gate Shopping Centre, the Casey Cultural Precinct will include a number of individual facilities.

Among these will be an 800-seat performing arts centre, regional art gallery, multi-purpose exhibition space, library, Civic Centre and community plaza.

Casey Mayor Geoff Ablett said the design rises from the landscape and integrates with the surrounding environment, while the iconic roof resembles soaring eagle wings that reach out to create an interactive meeting space for the community.

“The design is a fantastic outcome for the community and will be a welcoming place for everyone to come together,” he said.

With construction expected to start in 2015, Council will spend this year fine-tuning the design through further engagement with stakeholders and operators of other arts centre, theatres and galleries.

“We developed a design brief to reflect the vision and objectives adopted by council, which was supported by the community,” Director Casey Cultural Precinct Steve Dalton said.

“Now we have a design we are all excited by, it is time to document in more detail what we want each of the facilities within the cultural precinct to achieve, and how we will deliver it – from the angle of the seats in the theatre down to how wide the stage should be for visibility.”

The Casey Cultural Precinct is expected to be open in 2017.

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Showcasing our cultural councils

Councils across Victoria showed their support for Cultrual Diversity Week (15-23 March) and Harmony Day (21 March).

Flavours Festival

A highlight ofStonnington’s annual Flavours Festival was a Middle Eastern feast prepared by Masterchef finalist Samira El Khafir.

Cultural Flair

Melbourne City Council’s Community Cultural Fair at Melbourne’s Drill Hall was a colourful showcase of diverse cultural practices like turban workshops and Japanese dancers.

Fear and Faith

Manningham’s Harmony Day Celebration, themed Fear and Faith, included performances from local Baha’i, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim and Sikh communities alongside local school students.

Tour for Harmony

Twenty-four Banyule officers took part in a guided tour of the Islamic Museum of Australia.

Mitchell’s Moves

Mitchell celebrated Cultural Diversity Week with a dance-fest in Wallan that represented Indonesian, Samoan, Indian and Chinese cultures.

Piazza Fiesta

Moonee Valley’s Mediterranean Fiesta was held in a piazza style setting at a local shopping hub where locals enjoyed dancing, singing, gardening activities, cooking demonstrations and entertainment for the kids.

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The innovation club

Since the day Tony Doyle took on the role of CEO at Hindmarsh Shire, he was on a mission to create a culture of innovative thinking amongst his team.

Recognising that local sustainability is a challenge, particularly for small rural councils, Mr Doyle put his banking background and corporate approach to work and set about empowering Hindmarsh officers to question the status quo.

“Innovation means different things for different people but in the local government context it refers to the need to deliver services in a more efficient manner to reduce costs,” Mr Doyle said.

“Part of the answer is for councils to find smarter and more efficient ways to achieve service delivery.

“This will not only result in cost savings, but can also result in improved service delivery.”

Mr Doyle said the most common response to questions around why we do things the way we do, or why we do it at all, is often the same – because we’ve always done it this way.

“This paradigm thinking needs to be challenged,” he said.

“Leaders need to set the framework and encouragement goes a long way, as does a few wins.”

Hindmarsh is enjoying a few wins on its own and by working with nearby councils.

West Wimmera, Yarriambiack, Buloke, Horsham and Northern Grampians share Hindmarsh’s view on innovation for better sustainability.

Regular get-togethers between this Wimmera group of council CEOs, and some senior officers, are helping minimise duplication across the region.

“There really is no need to reinvent the wheel and a shared services model is the most tangible way to save costs,” Mr Doyle said.

Hindmarsh and West Wimmera share an Environmental Health Officer to reduce duplication of systems and reporting while both councils leverage the skills of one full-time person.

The Wimmera group of councils has also shared consultancy costs for recent strategic work such as a strategic review of IT, and developing the Municipal Early Years Plan.

Internally, Mr Doyle has led a top to bottom review of processes to make improvements to finance, customer service and infrastructure.

“If we can implement more innovative ways of working we can reduce operational costs and reinvest for better outcomes for our community,” he said.

“But, innovation only gets traction if it’s owned by everyone. I can’t tell the staff to innovate; I can only encourage them.

“That is a big part of a CEO’s role – to encourage people to think about new ways to do things through trust, empowerment and delegation.”

The feedback from Hindmarsh officers has been positive.

“The staff, I think, are excited by being given the reins in their area to make decisions,” Mr Doyle said.

The community can also play a significant role and Hindmarsh has been working closely with people in its municipality to deliver services.

Over the last 12 months the Hindmarsh community has helped upgrade a council owned and operated caravan park.

“Empowered communities can self-service and deliver many of the services traditionally delivered by council,” Mr Doyle said.

“We enjoy a high voluntary rate of people willing to work with council that is traditionally town amenity work.

“It is humbling to see half a dozen people from your community planting, trimming trees, sweeping and watering to improve the amenity.”

In response, council also lends a hand to its community in areas outside core responsibilities.

“With a little support from council, in many areas our community has become an army of helpers on town amenity projects,” Mr Doyle said.

“If there is a passion from the community to ensure their town looks as good as possible, council is more than happy, for example, to provide a ride on lawn mower to tidy it up,” Mr Doyle said.

“This is about partnerships – talking, identifying problems and working together.”

In Hindmarsh, like many other regional and rural councils, the financial future is sound for now, but long-term financial modeling shows expenses are going up greater than rate revenues can be increased.

“Unless we find ways to deliver services away from traditionally how things have been done, we can’t maintain a sustainable position,” Mr Doyle said.

“There is no one answer, there are different solutions but by empowering our staff and starting to challenge traditional ways of things being done, we will improve our operating efficiencies and enjoy a sustainable future.”

Rural Summit

Hindmarsh Shire Council hosted this year’s Rural Council Victoria annual Rural Summit in Nhill on 27 and 28 March.

Titled Small Communities, Big Opportunities: Facing the Future and Embracing Change, the event was attended by 150 people from throughout the state and stimulated discussions around embracing
change and creating a sustainable future for rural Victoria. Associate Professor Colin McLeod provided the Leading Innovation keynote address. During this session, Hindmarsh CEO Tony Doyle and Alpine CEO Dave Barry spoke individually about encouraging innovation within their regions that produce cost savings and increase community engagement.

Visit Rural Councils Victoria for more.

Get on the Garage Sale Trail

Registrations are open for councils to join the fastest-growing sustainability event in Australia.

Organisers of the Garage Sale Trail, a national day of simultaneous garage sales, are now planning for the fourth annual event to be held on Saturday 25 October 2014.

The Garage Sale Trail makes sustainability fun, promotes community connections, stimulates local economies and keeps unwanted goods out of landfill.

Last year more than 100 councils across Australia, and at least five state government departments, played a major role in redistributing the equivalent of 56,000 shopping trolleys of goods.

In Victoria, 24 councils participated in the campaign with around 1,600 garage sales held across the state. The amount of goods sold was enough to fill 8,000 shopping trolleys.

The event is supported by the MAV and the organisation’s President Bill McArthur said nearly 75 per cent of garage sales were held in areas where Victorian councils were involved.

“This confirms council involvement has driven community engagement,” he said,

“The feedback from sellers has been positive with many stating they will participate again this year.”

Participants have also welcomed council involvement with 97 per cent of last year’s sellers saying they want councils to get involved in the Garage Sale Trail.

Registrations for councils to become involved in the 2014 Garage Sale Trail close on 30 May 2014. Visit Garage Sale Trail for more information.

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Whittlesea walks the talk

As National Reconciliation Week 2014 approaches, it is timely to look at how local government is supporting and embracing Victoria’s Aboriginal community.

Reconciliation is a journey most Victorian councils have embraced over the past 10 years, and more than 60 per cent are already implementing a formalised strategy or approach towards working in partnership with their local Aboriginal communities.

Reconciliation Action Plans are helping councils build and strengthen relationships with traditional owners, elders and the broader Aboriginal community through facilitating meaningful discussions to hear community needs and wants.

Whittlesea City Council was an early adopter of Aboriginal reconciliation. In 2000 it adopted the Australian Declaration Towards Reconciliation and developed a draft Reconciliation Plan.

In 2001, the same year it adopted the Local Government Statement of Commitment to Reconciliation, council established the Whittlesea Reconciliation Group. A year later the Welcome to Country and Acknowledgement to Country were included at major events.

Over the next decade, Whittlesea worked hard at establishing relationships with its Aboriginal communities and Aboriginal service providers. Following an extensive 12-month consultation with its Aboriginal communities, council launched its first comprehensive three-year Reconciliation Action Plan in 2012.

“We have a diverse Aboriginal community,” explained Whittlesea Aboriginal Liaison Officer Donna Wright.

“The City of Whittlesea is located on the land of the Wurundjeri people and Aboriginal people from all over Australia and the Torres Strait live, work and raise their families here.

“Having a large Aboriginal population with a number of traditional owners means their needs are sometimes complex.”

Using tools provided by Reconciliation Australia to work in partnership with Aboriginal communities, Whittlesea’s action plan was tailored to meet its specific needs.

The Reconciliation Action Plan template provided by Reconciliation Australia includes three pillars – relationships, respect and opportunities – that are used to determine councils’ key areas of work.

“Council’s Reconciliation Action Plan Aboriginal Advisory Group assisted us in the development of our plan, which was based on five key principles – respect, self determination, equity, justice and partnerships,” Ms Wright said.

Whittlesea has successfully implemented a number of actions set out in its Reconciliation Action Plan.

With its five key principles in mind, council has committed to working with a range of local services including Aboriginal health workers, midwives and the team of hospital liaison officers at Northern Health’s newly opened Koori Maternity Clinic.

Launched during NAIDOC Week (7-14 July) last year, the maternity clinic specialises in supporting expectant mums and their babies from the local Aboriginal community.

Council’s Maternal and Child Health Coordinator Liz Bruhn has been linked-in with the clinic since October.

“Being Aboriginal myself, delivering services in a culturally sensitive way is a matter that is close to my heart,” Ms Bruhn said.

“Over the past six months we have been participating in a Koori mother’s group, in conjunction with Hume City Council, which is run by an Aboriginal health worker from the Koori Maternity Clinic.

“This is an exciting expansion of our Maternal and Child Health services,” Ms Bruhn said.

“Parents with children at the centre can see an MCH nurse at their own local venue without the need to travel out of the municipality for a culturally appropriate service.”

Council believes these partnership approaches to deliver key services for their Aboriginal communities are working well.

“Aboriginal reconciliation is being able to work in partnership with the community,” she said.

“These types of projects show our Aboriginal community that council is willing to work with the community and the traditional elders.”

MAV Aboriginal Employment Project Adviser Lidia Thorpe said some councils struggled to engage with their Aboriginal community for fear of offending them or because of past bad experiences.

“It is all about having a conversation,” she said.

“Councils may find that some Aboriginal communities can be very diverse because there are multiple players and agendas and sometimes nothing happens.

“As a sector, we need to have the confidence to push through all of that and learn from past mistakes and accept new challenges.”

Developing a nationally recognised Reconciliation Action Plan is a good place to start.

“The main principle of a Reconciliation Action Plan is engagement,” Ms Thorpe said.

“They are used all over Australia by more than 500 organisations and they are recognised by the Aboriginal community, which means it is a great tool to start having conversations to begin the journey to reconciliation.”

Reconciliation Victoria Coordinator Erin McKinnon said local government was well placed to show leadership around reconciliation regardless of the size of councils’ Aboriginal population.

“There are Aboriginal people living in all municipalities,” she said,

“But regardless of this, reconciliation is also about changing attitudes of non-Aboriginal people in the community.

“There is a lot to learn about Aboriginal culture and the shared history between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people.”

From well-developed Reconciliation Action Plans to symbolic acknowledgements like flying the Aboriginal flag or introducing the Welcome to Country and Acknowledgement to Country at events, every little bit is another step towards reconciliation.

“Feeling recognised and valued is important for self-esteem and an important social determinant of health, so councils can contribute to closing the gaps and to reconciliation through initiatives that celebrate and show respect for Aboriginal culture,” Ms McKinnon said.

National Reconciliation Week
Let’s Walk The Talk
27 May-3 June 2014

(All photos in the publication by Anthony Woodcock.)

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Art in preservation

Darebin City Council has completed a project to preserve the culturally significant Koori Mural  a famous piece of artwork that had become damaged by weather over the years.

Designed by Megan Evans in 1983 in consultation with the Aborigines Advancement League, the mural is an iconic artwork on St Georges Road, Thornbury.

As the elements have gradually taken their toll on the mural, significant material deterioration has occurred.

In 2011, Darebin commissioned a study looking at options to restore the artwork.

Darebin Mayor Gaetano Greco said the decision to preserve the mural was a reflection of the importance council placed on its relationship with the local Indigenous community.

“Per capita, Darebin is home to the largest Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in Victoria,” Cr Greco said.

“I think it’s important we preserved this cultural monument to the resilience of Australia’s Indigenous community to long-standing injustices.”

CEO of the Aborigines Advancement League Ms Esme Bamblett said the mural had considerable historical and cultural significance.

“The mural is not only locally-significant but more broadly too – as it refers to the experiences of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, from early colonial history to the more recent struggle for social justice,” Ms Bamblett said.

The preservation work saw each panel of the intricate mural carefully removed by hand. The mural was then digitally recreated, printed and reinstalled at the same location – so that the iconic artwork will be seen by future generations.

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Officers challenge bad behaviour

Male officers from three councils in Melbourne’s south-east have taken up the challenge to fight against underlying causes of violence against women by volunteering their time to engage with other men.

Cardinia, Casey and Greater Dandenong have joined Monash Health to form the Challenge Family Violence Project.

Launched 12 months ago through funding from the Department of Justice, the project responds to the high incidence of family violence in the region – the highest in Victoria.

Challenge is a unique project that empowers men to stand up to behaviours and attitudes that are deemed to be underlying cause of violence against women. These include sexist discrimination, using degrading language towards women, and enforcing stereotypical and rigid gender roles.

Cardinia Manager Performance and Innovation Andrew Binks became leader of the Challenge Men’s Action Team after hearing that more than 20 incidents a week of family violence are reported to police each week in his municipality.

“This project is a way of tackling the issue at a root cause; its about behaviour change,” he said.

“People need to acknowledge the underlying causes of violence against women and cut it off at the source in the hope that we may reduce the high number of incidents we are currently experiencing.”

“The basic premise of what we are doing is that men do respond better to other men so we hope to have conversations that impact on positive behaviour,” he said.

“We are working closely with all areas of the organisation so that men in particular are more aware of their behaviour towards women. We also offer advice and support for people looking for more information.

“This is not about shutting people down when they talk, but educating them and hopefully changing their behaviour.”

The Men’s Action Team role is voluntary and, at Cardinia, is mostly internally focused. Members come from across the organisation and meet four times a year to plan and monitor their actions.

In November 2013, the Challenge teams from all three councils hosted the first Mayor’s White Ribbon Men’s Breakfast.

More than 100 male community leaders from across the three municipalities attended the breakfast and signed the South East Metropolitan Sub Regional Accord to prevent men’s violence against women.

Cardinia Shire Mayor Graeme Moore said by signing the accord, the men pledged their commitment to preventing violence and to challenge behaviour from others that can lead to it.

“While many anti-violence programs focus on intervention, few address the underlying causes of violence using men as agents of change,” he said.

“That’s what makes Challenge so groundbreaking. This initiative is about empowering men to stand up to behaviours and attitudes which, left unchecked, can lead to violence.

“It recognises that because men are the majority of perpetrators of this violence, it’s up to non-violent males to do all it takes to stop it.”

Currently, 20 male mentors and 70 male community leaders from Cardinia, Casey and Greater Dandenong have signed up to the project.

Casey Mayor Geoff Ablett said these leaders came from many different backgrounds and vocations including health, law enforcement, education, faith, government and business.

“All are being trained to confront behaviour which leads to violence against women,” he said.

“This project is equipping them to shake up the status quo: to go out into their workplaces and wider communities, where they have real influence, and actively challenge perceptions and mindsets that badly need to change.”

Did you know?

According to a Victorian study, over 60 per cent of women experience some form of violence at work and 75 per cent report experiencing unwelcome and unwanted sexual behaviour at work. VicHealth, 2012, Preventing violence against women in the workplace (An evidence review: summary report).

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Let's create a Bully Zero Australia

One in five people are victims of bullying in Australia and it’s not just happening in the schoolyard. Bullying is occurring everywhere regardless of place, race, age or gender  and even in local government.

CEO Bully Zero Australia Foundation Oscar Yildiz –former mayor and current councillor at Moreland City Council – is urging Victorian councils to take a stand against bullying in the workplace and within their communities.

Mr Yildiz founded the Bully Zero Australia Foundation in 2012 after meeting families that had lost their children to bullying. He forged a group of passionate individuals to establish a zero-tolerance culture to bullying. It was launched by then-Prime Minister Julia Gillard in March 2013.

Celebrating its 12-month anniversary, Bully Zero coordinated the National Day of Action Against Bullying and Violence on 21 March 2014 in partnership with Best Enemies.

Throughout the country 4,300 wrist bands and 5,600 lapel pins were handed out along with 2,000 water bottles, 3,000 erasers, and hundreds of pens, rulers, caps and t-shirts.

If that wasn’t enough to make their presence felt, Bully Zero launched the 48-hour Digital Detox to deliver evidenced-based programs to schools, workplaces, sporting clubs and communities.

Around the country, thousands of people including Victorian mayors, councillors and local government officers, took a stand against cyberbullying by switching off their networking channels – Facebook, Twitter, email, Instagram and text messages – for 48 hours. Even Federal Opposition Leader Bill Shorten took part for 24 hours.

The 48-hour Digital Detox encouraged Australians to take the pledge and raise awareness about cyberbullying while raising funds for schools, workplaces and organisations.

It is reported that last year almost 300 parents buried their children who suicided, and bullying was a factor in almost 80 per cent of cases. Many of these children and adolescents were victims of cyberbullying defined as teasing and being made fun of on Facebook, spreading rumours online, sending unwanted messages via text, or threats and defamation through social media channels.

The Bully Zero Foundation has a 24-hour hotline to help anyone experiencing any form of bullying, and has saved the lives of at least a dozen young people over the past year.

“My real passion is to save lives,” Mr Yildiz said.

“If I can help do this by answering the phone to someone in need at 3am or midnight, then that is what I will continue to do.”

The purpose of the Bully Zero Foundation is to ensure all Australians live fulfilling lives free from all forms of bullying.

The national statistics are frightening, with one in five people living in Australia experiencing bullying sometime during their lifetime.

“Local government is like any other workplace and there is bullying occurring among councillors, administration staff, directors or managers,” he said.

“In the social media realm, adults are as guilty as the young.

“Much of it comes down to language choices. We need to stop and think about what we are writing and how it might make the reader feel.”

Taking time to acknowledge our recipient better through greetings, kindness, respect and common courtesy is one way to avoid making someone feel uneasy when communicating with them.

“Everyone’s perception to the written word, in particular, is different and we need to change how we address that,” Cr Yildiz said,
“We all know what verbal and physical bullying is but anything that makes someone feel uncomfortable via a message on a Facebook profile, a Twitter message or text – that sinking feeling of not wanting to respond or open an email because you know what the response will be – those thoughts and feelings constitute bullying.

“Making fun of someone’s religion, background, the way they look, can all be classified as bullying.“

Moonee Valley City Council is a Bully Zero Australia Foundation Charity partner, and recently Cr Narelle Sharpe, former Mayor, joined the Foundation’s nine-member board.

“Moonee Valley fully supports Bully Zero, firstly because it is located within our municipality but more importantly it is a very worthwhile cause,” Cr Sharpe said.

“Our council did not have a strong focus on bullying and we saw a partnership with Bully Zero as a great opportunity to leverage the anti-bullying message within our youth services team.”

Bully Zero is promoted at most Moonee Valley youth events including the annual Step Off, a popular dance competition that attracted more than 1,500 young people last year. A Bully Zero award was also handed out at a recent film competition.

“Councils are generally involved in so many aspects of community life and unfortunately bullying and cyberbullying is gaining momentum,” Cr Sharpe said.

“So, anything councils can do to encourage an anti-bullying culture is worthwhile.”

Bully Zero Australia Foundation offers councils a unique opportunity to engage with various initiatives and programs. Volunteers are also available to meet with councils and assist in developing a tailored workplace bullying policy.

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Breaking the cycle of living rough

Melbourne City Council will use the findings of a report into homelessness to develop its next strategy for assisting people to find pathways out of sleeping rough.

The Living Rough in Melbourne report is a research initiative exploring pathways of rough sleeping and chronicles experiences of those who are long-term homeless.

The findings provide an insight into the complex social, economic and health challenges faced by people sleeping rough.

Thirty-five participants took part in the research program, including 24 who were transient for more than five years, seven for more than 10 years, and four for more than 20 years.

Melbourne City Councillor Richard Foster, Chair of the People City Portfolio, said the Living Rough in Melbourne Report was vital to understanding the complexities of homelessness.

“There are some glimmers of hope in this report,” Cr Foster said.

“The support services of Melbourne were described by a participant as ‘far and away the best’ available, but we know that we can and must do more.”

Some of the ideas from participants about how council could assist included access to lockers, a casual job pool, access to day beds and a 24-hour centre where people could sleep safely or have a shower.

“The reasons people end up homeless or sleeping rough are complex and varied, and navigating the way out of homelessness can prove difficult,” Cr Foster said.

“That’s why assisting those who are looking to transition into stable accommodation must become a priority.”

Melbourne Lord Mayor Robert Doyle said there are people whose lives have been defined by disadvantage.

“Throughout their lives, many of the participants had experienced violence, sexual abuse, poverty, neglect, incarceration and exposure to drugs or alcohol from a young age,” Lord Mayor Doyle said.

“We must always remember that there are some Melburnians who have never had a fair go, who for reasons beyond their control, have found themselves without a place to call home. We need to continue to work to break the cycle.”

View the Living Rough Melbourne report on the Melbourne City Council website.

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Tour ignites clean energy ideas

Surf Coast Shire Councillor Eve Fisher has returned from the United States and Europe ready to lobby for better legislation around community renewable energy generation, and plans to share her research with councils.

The passionate environmentalist was the 2013 recipient of the MAV Local Government Fellowship and used the $12,000 award grant to explore community renewable energy generation in the US cities of Portland and Seattle, Colorado, Canada, Germany and Denmark as part of a 12-week study tour.

With a belief that renewable energy is the obvious answer for climate change, Cr Fisher is focusing her work towards empowering grass roots organisations to create opportunities that will generate their own energy.

After 35 interviews, Cr Fisher has 40 hours of recordings that will help develop a toolbox of ideas that can be implemented by councils and community organisations.

“I had the privilege of meeting with so many inspiring people,” she said.

“From Ron Binz, who was nominated by (US President) Barrack Obama as Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairman, to community leaders lobbying for legislative change, to individuals developing their own unique models for generating energy.”

Meeting so many people who share her passion about clean energy has Cr Fisher very clear about being someone who helps the community.

“I want to put together this toolbox of ideas to show communities with different demographics what is available to them from what I’ve learnt overseas,” she said.

“This could include forming a co-op for greenfield sites for wind or solar farms, where councils could supply the land for community-owned farms.”

But, first things first, and in this case it is tackling legislation and regulations unique to renewable energy.

“Legislation in Victoria makes it hard for renewable energy projects,” Cr Fisher said.

“The wind turbine exclusion zone is one example.

“Wind and solar power is already cheaper than electricity from new fossil fuel production but, at the moment, any single person can veto a wind farm decision.”

Cr Fisher also wants a community renewable energy feed-in tariff, which is essential for groups at a local level wanting to generate their own clean energy.

“Here (in Victoria), if you want to become an energy generator, you need to get a power purchase agreement from a power transmitter – like Powercor,” Cr Fisher said.

“The problem with this is the community can’t attract funding from co-op investors because they don’t know what the rate of return will be so it becomes a catch-22 situation that ties up all community projects because you can’t get a price on clean power.”

Cr Fisher plans to lobby the state government, through the MAV, and work with organisations like Friends of the Earth’s Yes 2 Renewables program for change in legislation.

“I would like to have an open dialogue with councils where we can discuss the potential of community renewable energy and start lobbying for community renewable energy feed-in tariffs and exclusions for wind farms,” she said.

“There are also so many local jobs available if we can attract renewables manufacturers to our regions – we have the workforce and the infrastructure,” she said.

Cr Fisher is available to speak with councils about community renewable energy projects. Email EFisher@surfcoast.vic.gov.au.

Applications for the 2014 MAV Local Government Fellowship close 5pm on 2 May.

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In brief

A healthier Wyndham

Wyndham City has become the first Victorian council to be recognised by the Healthy Workplaces Achievement Program for promoting staff health, wellbeing and safety.

The program, part of the state and federally funded Healthy Together Victoria initiative, provides employers with free advice and support to improve workplace health.

“By participating in the Healthy Workplaces Achievement Program, we are boosting staff health and improving productivity, which means better service and value for the Wyndham community,” said Mayor Bob Fairclough.

In 2013, council conducted free WorkSafe workplace health checks, which showed that staff would benefit from better nutrition, increased physical activity and improved mental wellbeing. Council then adopted a health promoting workplace policy.

Healthy food options for staff and community events are now being served, and more information about better nutrition has been developed.

Physical activity programs like boxing and yoga have been introduced, positive wellbeing habits are being promoted, and staff are offered flexible working conditions.

Black Saturday memorials

Several memorial sites will be developed across Murrindindi Shire to commemorate the 2009 bushfires.

Two large memorials will be built in Marysville and Kinglake and smaller ones in the townships of Narbethong, Castella/Toolangi, Kinglake townships, and in Flowerdale.

Murrindindi Mayor Margaret Rae said the important decision to endorse the locations would now allow council to seek design concepts.

“We respect that this has been a process that has been community-driven, and now that we have direction in terms of locations we can now start to talk to community groups and agencies where preferred sites have been requested,” Cr Rae said.

“We will continue to engage with the community and working group as we embark on securing proposed sites or looking at alternatives for those areas that may not be suitable or arrangements cannot be entered into.”

The memorials are expected to be completed by the end of the year.

Dandenong’s Great Bin Swap

Residents in Greater Dandenong will receive new bins from July as part of a council campaign to reduce the amount of waste sent to landfill.

The Great Bin Swap campaign will run between July and September, allowing residents to choose their new waste, recycling and garden bins.

As part of the new bin rollout residents will be asked to think about the size of bin that best suits their needs. They will also be encouraged to think about how small changes to how they dispose of their rubbish can reduce the amount of waste sent to landfill. The smaller the bin size residents select, the lower the cost.

Greater Dandenong Mayor Jim Memeti said the new bins would encourage residents to reduce the amount of waste sent to landfill and bring council in line with Australian Waste Management Standards.

“Our population and waste is growing and it is time for all of us to look at ways we can improve the way we recycle,” he said.

As part of the Great Bin Swap, council will also be educating residents on ways they can improve their recycling behaviours.

Pay-by-phone parking

Melbourne City Council has become the first Victorian council to introduce pay-by-phone technology for parking.

Melbourne Cr Cathy Oke said mobile phones and smartphones are a part of modern life, and pay-by-phone parking was the way of the future.

“It removes the inconvenience of having to carry change to feed meters and ticket machines and will allow people to get an SMS reminder when their time is about to expire, reducing their chance of getting a fine for overstaying,” she said.

The rollout of pay-by-phone parking is expected to begin in April.

Yarra’s new art fund

Yarra Council has established a fund to help local artists and arts organisations meet the rising costs of pursuing creative practices in the inner-city.

The Room to Create Fund is an account set up with the Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation, which kicked in $200,000 to get the fund rolling, and will generate grants annually through accrued interest.

Mayor Jackie Fristacky said the new fund offered a sustainable model, unique in its focus on providing incentives to help pay for infrastructure.

“By growing the fund through philanthropy, we can tap into a perpetual pool of money that will help pay for basic but essential things like studio fit-outs, rent, sound-proofing in music venues, technical production and upgrades,” she said.

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Events

April

Indonesian Film Festival

Date: 24-30 April
Venue: Australian Centre For The Moving Image (ACMI), 2 Swanston Street, Melbourne
Description: Renowned as the largest celebration of Indonesian street culture held in Australia, the Indonesian Film Festival showcases an eclectic range of art house cinema from a country known for its striking beauty and rich cultures.
Need more? See: Indonesian Film Festival.

Daylesford Macedon Produce Harvest Festival

Date: 25 April-5 May
Venue: Daylesford, various locations
Description: This event centres on the harvest of Central Victoria. Showcasing the region’s abundant food and wine it celebrates the best producers, farmers, provedores, restaurateurs and vignerons. Over 10 days, indulge in all that is great about this region.
Need more? See: Daylesford Macedon Produce.

May

Australian Antiques and Art Dealers Melbourne

Date: 8-11 May
Venue: Royal Exhibition Building, Nicholson Street, Carlton
Description: This showcase of the best of art and antiques from around the country is more than just a gathering of goods, it is a gathering of minds. Dealers, collectors, academics, enthusiasts and the purely curious attend to wander through the collection of art, furniture, jewellery and other artefacts.
Need more? See: Australian Antiques and Art Dealers Association.

Stonnington Jazz 2014

Date: 15-25 May
Venue: Whittlesea Community Garden, Laurel Street, Whittlesea
Description: Listed as one of Australia’s Top seven jazz festivals by Time Out magazine, Stonnington Jazz showcases emerging artists and some of the most acclaimed jazz musicians this country has to offer. For 11 days, music lovers will descend upon some of Stonnington’s most iconic venues transformed into intimate jazz settings to enjoy the spectrum of styles the jazz genre encompasses.
Need more? See: City of Stonnington.

June

Scarf Festival

Date: 6 June-7 September
Venue: Echuca Moama, various locations
Description: The annual Scarf Festival is a textile exhibition of original handcrafted scarfs from school kids to beginner crafters to accomplished artisans from Australia and overseas. Every style will be on display from crocheted to knitted, woven to dyed, even origami.
Need more? See: Geelong Australia.

Fun4Kids

Date: 29 June-6 July
Venue: Warrnambool
Description: Enjoy 15 incredible zones of kids’ entertainment and activities including interactive workshops, games and entertainment from Australia and around the world – on two state-of-the-art performance stages.
Need more? See: Fun4Kids Festival.

July

Building & Renovating Expo

Date: 4-6 July
Venue: Melbourne Exhibition Centre, Southbank
Description: The expo of choice for renovators, builders and home owners interested in improving appearance, performance and energy efficiency of their home or commercial property.
Need more? See: Build and Renovating Expo.

Royal Melbourne Alpaca Show

Date: 12-13 July
Venue: Melbourne Showgrounds, Ascot Vale
Description: Victoria’s major ‘age championship’ show benchmarking alpacas from south east Australia. This event is a great opportunity to check out these animals, meet breeders and learn more about the quality of alpaca fleece.
Need more? See: Royal Melbourne Alpaca Show.

Evolution over 120 internet years

By Shane Scanlan, Principal of Mediation Communications – producer of the CiVic app

In 1997, I created the first municipal website in Victoria by converting a printed community guide to HTML for Stonnington City Council.

The guide was hosted at Vicnet, a division of the State Library of Victoria established to open up the possibilities of the new and emerging online world to Victorians.

So much has changed in that time, it’s hard to believe that this happened only 17 years ago.

Councils have online divisions these days but back then there was no concept of how the Internet could possibly be relevant to local government.

As it was at the state level, it was the municipal librarians who started the ball rolling.

This was a logical place for the revolution to start. After all, the World Wide Web was a vast repository of information. It was known as the ‘information superhighway’, although no one really knew what that meant.

I wrote a piece early on for the Australian Municipal Journal trying to explain what the web might mean for councils. It would be interesting to see that now. I wonder how accurate it turned out to be?

It was a time of innocence. Businesses had not cottoned on to it and marketers were yet to grasp the opportunity.

Viruses, malware and other malicious activities were unheard of. Even spam was in its infancy.

I recall that it was staff at the Stonnington Library which championed my suggestion to convert the community guide and make it available online. Back then, libraries owned the community information space.

It was a time when ‘comms’ meant phones, faxes and other tele-communications machines and (some) councils had public relations (PR) officers (but very few would have had more than one).

It was the PR officers who would ultimately encourage, direct and guide the rest of their organisations into embracing the online revolution (despite the turf wars with the IT departments).

The early PR officers formed a self-help group in the early 1990s known as the Local Government PR Network. Some of the pioneers included Robyn Harcourt, Michele Purtle and (the other) Shane Scanlon.

I was able to support and assist the group via my publishing activities for the Municipal Association of Victoria.

I registered a domain for the group (prnetwork.com.au), built a couple of websites and established a very successful email group which is only now being retired.

Individuals within the group funded the hosting and other real costs associated with these activities by passing the hat around a number of times over the journey.

Some years ago, about 20 members each contributed $100 but Mediation Communications has mostly absorbed these costs and I have moderated the group email as a labour of love for many, many years.

Late last year I received an email from a stranger saying my services were no longer required and that other arrangements were being made with LGPro.

The timing of this sacking is good as Vicnet hosted the mailing list and this organisation is winding up its public hosting activities anyway.

In 17 years, online communications have gone from a novelty activity to mainstream channels of dialogue with local communities. A recent article in this journal by CiVic columnist Verne Krastins (another early PR Network pioneer) spoke of virtual government in the future.

They say that Internet years are like dog years – one Internet year is the equivalent to seven years of evolution in the non-digital space. So, 119 years sounds a more reasonable time frame to explain the online revolution.

Trends have come and gone. Web 2.0 was supposed to be bigger than the web itself but spammers have largely ruined the opportunity. Standards were supposed to unite the online world and, while CSS3 and HTML5 have achieved this for the web in general, the major global players (Facebook, Google, Apple etc) are hell-bent on creating exclusive kingdoms that result in further and ongoing fragmentation, particularly in the app space.

Online marketers are chasing their tails and social media experts are looking particularly naked.

One thing hasn’t changed though … there’s always something new.

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Arts centre in full swing

The redeveloped Hawthorn Arts Centre is casting its spell over arts lovers from all over the state.

In its premiere season, audiences have been captivated by its diverse offerings, which include pianist David Helfgott, on whose life story the Oscar winning biopic Shine was based, and more recently Australian chanteuse Rhonda Burchmore with her show Cry Me a River: The World of Julie London.

After a $17.9 million, 16-month renovation, the official re-opening of the former Hawthorn Town Hall attracted almost 3,000 people in a weekend of events and celebrations in October 2013.

Boroondara City Council plans to make Hawthorn Arts Centre a hub for the local community’s artistic and cultural life, and an important feature on Melbourne’s artistic landscape.

“The response from local community members and people who travelled from further afield has been overwhelmingly positive,” said Boroondara Mayor Coral Ross.

“The renovation of the former Hawthorn Town Hall has transformed the grand dame of Hawthorn into Melbourne’s leading lady of the arts.”

The redeveloped facility has successfully enhanced the original architectural heritage of the former town hall while providing a flexible, high quality contemporary facility. It features a 400-seat Main Hall performance space, meeting and conference spaces, community art workshop rehearsal spaces, artist studios, the Town Hall Gallery, a café, and a gallery retail space.

“Council believes a facility of this standard will attract leading artists and performers to Boroondara, while also providing a professional and accessible space for emerging artists,” Cr Ross said.

The first exhibition in the expanded Town Hall Gallery, Marker: 10 years of the Town Hall Gallery Collection, showcased the gallery’s works acquired over the last decade, including art pieces by John Brack and Fred Williams.

Its latest exhibition, Fixation, was part of the Melbourne Fashion Festival’s cultural program and proved to be the most successful to date. Drawing 3,000 people to the gallery, the exhibition explored society’s obsession with fashion and featured a roll-call of international artists including Ariana Page Russell and Kitty N. Wong.

The arts centre also has a community project wall that offers emerging artists and community groups a professional exhibition space.

Open every day, upcoming performances include the Melbourne Ballet Company and Melbourne Chamber Orchestra.

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Five minutes with ... Mayor Fiona McAllister, Yarra Ranges

You’re not originally from the Yarra Ranges, so what was it that drew you to the region?

I’m originally a small town girl growing up in a New Zealand town of similar size to the Yarra Ranges. My husband and I both always wanted to live in the bush but stay near Melbourne and the Yarra Valley is the perfect place to do this.

Having worked ‘around’ local government as a consultant to councils and as a Manager at the MAV what compelled you to run for council?

Over the last 17 years of working with local government I have met so many wonderful, and often inspiring, councillors who have made such a difference in their communities. Several of these have become good friends – including my good friend Max O’Shea who is an ex MAV Board member. These individuals have really shown me both how important it is to have good representation at the local level and also how rewarding it can be (and of course how frustrating it can be J). So, this planted the seed initially. Then of course a few things happened in my community that made me decide to put my money where my mouth was so to speak and here I am.

How have the years of experience in local government helped shape you as a councillor?

I think having a good working knowledge of local government and understanding of governance and good governance made a huge difference to my level of understanding in the first year. Also, having worked with most councils across Victoria means I have seen things done in very different ways, which has been really useful. Knowing that there are always different solutions or ways of responding to issues and opportunities gives me the courage and insight to question and challenge. It also gives me the networks so it is easy to pick up the phone and ask other councillors that I know how they do things which I think is critical to being a successful councillor.

What are the issues that drive you to serve the Yarra Ranges community?

That is a big question as there are so many! If I had to pick my top five I would say: planning reform to make legislation, processes and organisational response as applicant friendly as possible; effective and meaningful community engagement in all we do; fiscal responsibility and ensuring the right spending priorities are identified; bushfire protection and resources; and maintaining and increasing state funding for essential services, in particular libraries.

Your business centres on assisting other councils. How involved in this are you at the moment?

When I was a councillor, I was still consulting a few days a week which was a bit challenging on top of my 30-plus hours on council and my busy family life. Interestingly, being a councillor has added a new dimension to my consulting knowledge and it has been great being able to apply this. Now I am the Mayor, I am limiting the consulting work to a few days a month, as my council workload is nearly 60 hours some weeks. With three children, and another on the way, trying to maintain some work/life balance is pretty critical.

You are very involved in your local community, from the CFA to charity work and then there are advisory groups and committees how do you prioritise all of this work with council, running your business and raising a family?

Great question and some weeks I’m not sure I do manage this. I have an incredibly supportive husband who does all the cooking and puts up with the five evenings a week at home with the children and I definitely couldn’t do it without him. I take my husband and/or children to the fun stuff when I can and sometimes I just have to say ‘no’, which most people completely understand. I have to say my children generally think it is wonderful and have often said ‘we get to do really good stuff now you are on council’. I also have a great carer to look after our one-year-old son when needed.

Outside Yarra Ranges, where is your favourite place in Victoria?

Having grown up near the sea in New Zealand I have to say that Venus Bay in Gippsland is a favourite spot as it is like a little bit of the untouched NZ coastline where we get away from things in summer.