IN the absence of a public forum to meet the candidates in this month’s Derwent Valley Council by-elections, New Norfolk and Derwent Valley News has put 10 questions to the six of them. There are some obvious questions that are not on this list because they have become identified with the campaigns of individual candidates. I have endeavoured to keep this as fair as possible.
Candidates were also invited to submit a short general statement. Two did so and these will appear at the end. Readers are welcome to submit their own questions via the comments section below and these will be drawn to the candidates’ attention. Please note that under the electoral regulations your first name, surname, and town of residence must be included for publication with your question, statement or comment.
My thanks to each candidate for taking the time to answer the questions. At the time of writing, 28% of voters (2297 and counting) have already lodged their postal vote. I hope the following Q&A will help the remaining voters to make their choice for councillor and mayor in the two weeks left in the campaign. Damian Bester, Editor
1. How do you see the council’s general reputation within the community?
PHIL BINGLEY: Management have become overly bureaucratic and avoids communication with the community.
PETER BINNY: After attending council meetings and three weeks campaigning at Banjo’s New Norfolk Market listening to community concerns it is quite apparent the community has lost confidence in our council. This is exacerbated by the replacement of five councillors since the last election.
JESSICA COSGROVE: I believe that overall, the Derwent Valley Council is making wonderful progress towards gaining the confidence of residents and ratepayers. Amidst recent events within the Derwent Valley Council, I believe stability and greater community consultation is needed. The Derwent Valley Council generally governs well, they have full agendas and are making good decisions in line with their strategic plan. There are so many wonderful things happening in our region; new businesses, $9.5 million investment in health to Corumbene, our township is getting a makeover with the plan to plant an abundance of trees, tourism operators are doing great things in that space, we recently took out bronze for the Top Tourism Town Nationally and there is a lot more still to be achieved.
MICHELLE DRACOULIS: I think that the community feels a little disillusioned and is seeking stability and productive, positive engagement from their elected representatives.
TONY NICHOLSON: From the ratepayers who attended the two annual general meetings of the council. the message was frustration and concern for the future.
JULIE TRIFFETT: Generally the feeling in the community is that the council is doing OK. There is a small minority that says the council does nothing.
2. What is your view on potential council amalgamations?
PHIL BINGLEY: Yes, I would advocate for Council to have discussions with Brighton Council on the pros and cons of amalgamation. The combined population would be 26,000 (Brighton 16,000 and DV 10,000). Do we really need two GMs , two mayors, 17 councillors to look after 26,000 residents? Being able to halve these positions would save hundreds of thousands of ratepayers dollars, that could be put into the communities infrastructure without putting up Rates by one cent , e.g. improved roads , streets, footpaths, sports facilities, etc. Food for thought!
PETER BINNY: I’m personally in favour of amalgamation of councils. But we need to revisit the Munro report on amalgamations commissioned by the Southern Tasmanian Councils Authority. Before any amalgamations are considered there should be a referendum to ascertain community support for amalgamations.
JESSICA COSGROVE: I don’t believe council amalgamations would be of benefit to the Derwent Valley community. Local Government is the closest level of government to the people, and I feel that if we were to amalgamate we would lose the ability to connect and communicate on an personal basis with residents of our community.
MICHELLE DRACOULIS: I am not supportive of the idea of amalgamating the Derwent Valley Council. We have a very distinctive identity and role as a major hub that services a rural and regional community. Our priorities and needs are different to that of metropolitan Local Government Areas (LGAs) and this should be reflected with targeted governance that is elected from within the Derwent Valley community. While amalgamation brings benefits by way of a larger funding pool and access to skilled workers there is no guarantee that capital works in our region would be prioritised or that the money we contribute via rates would actually be spent on maintaining and improving infrastructure in our area. Amalgamation of other LGAs has also seen a marked decrease in elected representatives from within the less populous electorate which then sees communities governed by people not familiar with them at a grassroots level.
TONY NICHOLSON: Amalgamation of councils will come, providing boundaries are not drawn to reflect short term gain for long term pain. The 2011 proposals were not implemented.
JULIE TRIFFETT: I agree if amalgamations would deliver good outcomes and savings to the community. However, I think that resource sharing is a better outcome.
3. What do you think needs to happen to improve council roads?
PHIL BINGLEY: The Councillors need to make all Council roads and streets their number one infrastructure priority with an appropriate annual budget allocation that will deliver first rate roads and streets. This I believe is a core non-discretionary responsibility of Council. Spending $100,000s on a new snazzy council logo and banners in the High St with the letters “D” and “V” is no substitute for well maintained roads and streets throughout the municipality.
PETER BINNY: Many of the council’s roads are in good condition, but there needs to be better planning and supervision of sealing and maintenance programs to improve efficiency and standard of serviceability of deficient roads.
JESSICA COSGROVE: There is a lot of work to be done in the infrastructure space, particularly with the current conditions of some roads in the Derwent Valley Municipality. We need to make sure that we ensure that grant money is obtained from both State and Federal Governments to fund infrastructure upgrades, as our rate base is generally low in comparison to the large area of land we cover. We must make sure that those grants are used in the most effective and sustainable way and work closely with the federal government to make sure we get it right to meet the needs of our growing and evolving community. This can also be achieved by careful budget planning to ensure we are acting inline with the Derwent Valley Council’s Strategic plan and by having well-planned and supported infrastructure to meet the growing demands of the region.
MICHELLE DRACOULIS: A callout should be made for community feedback on council roads, as many issues are not immediately visible or relate to specific times of day or the weather. These issues should be noted and addressed. Moving forward there should be an ongoing policy of preventative maintenance for all council assets including roads. This would ensure that repairs are done while issues and wear are still minor and would be cheaper than the alternative of replacing assets that have gone on to fail.
TONY NICHOLSON: The Derwent Valley Council has an extensive network of sealed and unsealed roads. Therefore, the Road Hierarchy Plan needs regular review in line with economic development and quality assurance of work carried out.
JULIE TRIFFETT: To apply for as many grants as possible to facilitate road maintenance. Collect data, plan and budget each year for on-going improvement. Continue to work towards the Roads Plan.
4. Is there a need to lift the standard that councillors operate at, and if so, what would you do?
PHIL BINGLEY: Yes, If elected mayor I would expect as a minimum that all Councillors attend the monthly council meetings. To this end I would have on the first page of the monthly council agenda an attendance record showing each councillor’s attendance over the last 12 months.
PETER BINNY: Yes Yes Yes! Firstly I would lobby the Local Government Office to lift the number of councillors to nine at the next election in October 2022. All present councillors live within about 5 kilometres of the Council Chambers. There is no representation from outlying areas. There should be a diversity in representation and sufficient councillors to actually debate the issues and not just rubber stamp administration reports. All councillors should ask themselves “Why am I on council and what can I achieve as a councillor or do I just turn up to collect the allowance”. There have been too many absences from meetings especially when councillors know 12 months in advance when meetings are scheduled.
JESSICA COSGROVE: I believe there is a need to gain some stability within the Derwent Valley Council, we have a diverse group of elected members, each with their own unique strengths and qualities and I believe moving forward there will be positive change.
MICHELLE DRACOULIS: We have a good group of dedicated representatives who would be better supported in their roles if they were delegated to engage in community events, meetings and forums. I would encourage councillors to speak up when issues and motions are tabled and I would promote a culture of safety and inclusion.
TONY NICHOLSON: There is a need to lift the standard that councillors operate at, to maintain community respect for the office they have been elected to. While generational change is ongoing, civility and courtesy are a mainstay of society, along with understanding their roles through the Local Government Act and Regulations.
JULIE TRIFFETT: People who nominate for public office, do so because they have something to offer, or that they want to give back to the community. The community needs to have confidence in their elected members, knowing that they have done their research regarding agendas, reading, debating, and attending workshops, meetings and functions. The community likes to see their councillors out and about. I would encourage and support councillors to be their best, as they are representing the people of the Derwent Valley.
5. How do you see the role of mayor?
PHIL BINGLEY: Spokesperson for the council , they should be approachable at all times to the residents.
PETER BINNY: The functions of the mayor are set out in the Local Government Act. Clearly the mayor is to act as the community leader and to lead the council and councillors in carrying out their functions. Also to see that community expectations are met in a timely and sustainable manner.
JESSICA COSGROVE: The position of mayor should be considered an honourable one in which the elected reprehensive is proud and passionate to represent the incredible Derwent Valley region. The Derwent Valley community deserve a mayor that will lead us through both good times and challenging times. A mayor should heavily promote with pride all of the things that make our community unquestionably great, and advocate for improvements across all areas too. The Mayor should be relatable and approachable when speaking to members of our community, have solid community relationships, and you invest in working to make the lives of those who call the Derwent Valley home better. The role of mayor is stipulated in the Local Government Act (1993) – Section 226.
MICHELLE DRACOULIS: The role of mayor is a role of leadership and representation. Leadership by example and by design. By this I mean well thought out and respectful leadership that is carried out in consultation with community and genuinely represents the decisions made by council. A mayor should advocate for the needs of their electorate at both a State and Federal level and speak for the community in times of adversity and challenge.
TONY NICHOLSON: The mayoral role is to represent the community and council with dignity and respect, be it local or intergovernmental.
JULIE TRIFFETT: a) Supporting and mentoring councillors; b) Attending meetings, events; c) Fulfilling legislative and statutory obligations; d) Listening to the community; e) Advocating for the community; f) Connecting the community and operational staff; g) Spokesperson for the Derwent Valley.
6. What skills or qualifications do you have that are relevant to the position of mayor?
PHIL BINGLEY: Before retirement, I had 39 years of Local Government experience. I worked over that period with many general managers, mayors and councillors. I worked for good councils, bad councils and ordinary councils. This experience has well and truly equipped me to be a councillor and mayor.
PETER BINNY: I have 13 years previous experience on council, acted as deputy mayor and as acting mayor. I have been a licensed land surveyor for 45 years and have a professional and personal understanding of land development, subdivision design, servicing, valuation procedures and council functions. I have founded two successful small businesses. I have been an exporter to multiple countries as well as distribution all over Australia.
JESSICA COSGROVE: The greatest skills I bring to the position is life and work experience. Over the past three years since I’ve served on council, I have demonstrated my commitment, professionalism, and proved I am inclusive leader. I have shown credibility, courage, and compassion, especially during challenging times of adversity such as floods, bushfires and most recently the Coronavirus Pandemic. In my personal life, I am a mother of three boys, two of whom attend local schools. My youngest is on the autism spectrum and I genuinely know the struggles “real” people can face. I am committed to supporting families within our community and helping create an abundance of opportunities for them. Due to my leadership style, I display a more “servant” leadership style rather than the usual authoritarian leader, as the role of elected members is to work for the people of our community, and no-one should be forgotten. I have proved my commitment and dedication to the Derwent Valley Council over the past three years, being one of only three remaining from the original elected group. I have a good sense of business and tourism entirely separate which benefits council as I run a tourism business – the New Norfolk Market – which is my main source of income. An independent consultant recently conducted a study and found the market contributes approximately $1.61 million to the local economy, attracts over 90,000 visitors per year, and has created 19 local jobs. Despite the challenges and all the pressures that come with operating an event business during these unprecedented COVID-19 times, the New Norfolk Market continues to thrive. Under my leadership, the market directly benefits our local community and has achieved positive social, educational, tourism, wellbeing, and regional economic outcomes. The market has enabled me to demonstrate my commitment to the region by supporting many areas of our community, such as by fundraising for various community organisations, causes and charities, and also has raised awareness of a variety of regional matters. With local government experience, I have gained immense growth both professionally and personally. I have proved my credibility, courage, compassion, and commitment, especially during challenging times of adversity. I have a sound knowledge of politics and governance, I am a ratepayer, I am passionate and most importantly I am invested in helping our community move forward. I have over a decade of professional experience working intermittently for both private and public sectors, including local Government, various state Government departments, the Legislative Council, and the former Premier’s Office. In saying that, I am no longer directly affiliated with any political party as I believe that has no place in Local Government level. I purely am invested in the best interests of our community. I have strong interpersonal skills and am a highly resilient leader, I have faced challenges during my time as Deputy Mayor and have rose above them and resolved them efficiently. My passion, commitment, and determination to grow our region has given me the ability to handle any challenges in a calm and professional manner. I am a very proud and passionate member of the Derwent Valley community and the genuine love I have for our beautiful region is what motivates me. I work hard because I am determined to create a better future for my young family and for all those who call the Derwent Valley home.
MICHELLE DRACOULIS: I am an excellent communicator and believe in consultation even on issues in which I am well versed. I have served on multiple committees over nearly three decades and am experienced in participating in structured meeting environments. I currently sit on the national board of an end-of-life support organisation, ‘Heartfelt’; the New Norfolk High School Association; and the board of Derwent Valley Arts. I am also a media director of the national Rethink Addiction campaign. These roles and positions have seen me work closely with fellow committee members to publicly present a variety of messages and deliver real-world outcomes.
TONY NICHOLSON: Having had 14 years prior experience in local government that included being mayor, my skills from the wool industry, and being employed in state government for 37 years that involved dealing with people on a day to day basis, other state and federal departments and also accruing knowledge of legislation.
JULIE TRIFFETT: I have a background in community nursing, and I am inclusive, have a sense of humor, sense of fair play, good listening skills, good negotiating skills, respectful to others, will be available to the community, and a people-person.
7. Is there a role for the council in attracting new businesses to the municipality, particularly retailers?
PHIL BINGLEY: If elected councillor and mayor I believe it is imperative that I always consult with stakeholders. In relation to attracting new retail businesses to the municipality, I would consult with established retail business owners as to their thoughts/recommendations on how council could best attract new retail businesses to the municipality.
PETER BINNY: Yes. Council could offer two years rate remission to new businesses to start up in the CBD or other areas.
JESSICA COSGROVE: Absolutely! Local businesses are essential for the growth and development of our economy; by working closely with our local business community Council can create a better environment for businesses who invest in our region. Attracting investors into our region is one of my priorities as there is a real need for increased retail outlets. An investment prospectus would be a vital advocacy document to help encourage businesses to invest in the Derwent Valley, this document would highlight the very best of our growing region and list the reasons as to why business should invest in the Derwent Valley. Working closely with the local business community and helping drive shop-local marketing and tourist campaigns would go a long way in helping support the local economy. High Street is currently having improvements made to the streetscape; having a nicer environment and accessibility for customers to shop will assist in supporting the business economy and encouraging businesses to
MICHELLE DRACOULIS: There is a role for the council in attracting new business to the region. The world now does much of it’s interaction online and a strong positive virtual presence is vital in lifting the profile of the Derwent Valley and wooing new business and industry. This means having easily accessible information and an appreciable connection to the community.
TONY NICHOLSON: Council has a role in attracting visitors to the municipality, working through commerce and industry bodies.
JULIE TRIFFETT: Council can encourage relationships with businesses, industry and tourism operators, participate in forums, become a member of statewide bodies, advertise, and advocate strongly for the Derwent Valley at every opportunity. Continue with, and update the Strategic Plan and other pertinent documents.
8. How would you have handled the situation in relation to Special Committees?
PHIL BINGLEY: This is a case of “putting the cart before the horse”. Council made a decision to sack all the volunteers “en masse” from their Special Committees without first having in place an agreed “Volunteer Policy” and clarity on how the proposed “Advisory Groups” would work. If I had been mayor I would have insisted that council have in place a Volunteer Policy and the proposed Advisory Groups, and consensus with the volunteers on the Special Committees on how they wished to go forward. My hope is that council rescinds its decision of 25th November 2021 to de-establish all of the Special Committees at the upcoming February Council meeting and resolves to note the Review of Special Committees Project and issue the Review for public consultation until after the October 2022 Council elections. This will enable council to re-engage with their volunteers on the Special Committees and the community and will provide ample time to finalise the Volunteer Policy and on how the proposed Advisory Groups will work. I believe the volunteers of these Special Committees deserve this courtesy.
PETER BINNY: Much more professionally with better communication. There were some committees that were non active or the purpose for which no longer existed. These committees could have been dis-established without issue. Other committees still see a role and the volunteers on some of these committees feel justifiable aggrieved their services were terminated without proper explanation. Councillors have been unable to properly explain why this has occurred, further exacerbating the situation.
JESSICA COSGROVE: As I am a current sitting member of council, you can find how I personally voted in relation to Item 11.4 Review of Special Committees Project, printed in the November minutes published on the Derwent Valley Council website. As this is an ongoing matter and the result of a council decision, I cannot comment
MICHELLE DRACOULIS: Initially I would have broached the need for and potential benefits of these committees becoming autonomous through a face-to-face meeting in a group setting with those affected. I would have asked for feedback and addressed concerns that arose. I would then have offered a resource kit similar to that in the attached link prior to finalising any changes. I would also have recommended a formal recognition of those that have served in a volunteer capacity and provided a written thank you or certificate to each person involved. These could have been awarded at a custom ceremony. www.latrobe.vic.gov.au/sites/default/files/Guide_for_Committees.pdf
TONY NICHOLSON: Special Committees may be appointed by council under the Local Government Act to create an important link between community and council administration. To disband Special Committees is a retrograde step that will further isolate the community from those who run it.
JULIE TRIFFETT: As a sitting member, I cannot comment on this question, as I was part of the process, and there is a question from the Annual General Meeting that will be coming to a future council meeting.
9. What are the best things about our council?
PHIL BINGLEY: Our parks and gardens e.g. Arthur Square, our sporting facilities e.g. Tynwald Park, Boyer Oval, and our recreational facilities e.g. the Esplanade and Bushy Park swimming pools (the feasibility of reopening the Maydena pool should be explored) .
PETER BINNY: During my campaigning no one has mentioned the level of rates charged to ratepayers. This may indicate a level of satisfaction with the current charges or it may be there other issues ratepayers see as more important.
JESSICA COSGROVE: Local Government can make a real difference to the lives of members of our community by making ongoing positive contributions. Having elected members who live locally is the perfect motivating factor to help make our community the best place to live, work and invest! Being the closest level of government to
the people gives community members the opportunity to have a say in matters affecting their local area and participate in community lead/driven projects at a grassroots level. Council is essential to supporting our community to achieve positive social, economic, and environmental results.
MICHELLE DRACOULIS: The best thing about our council is that they are elected of the people, for the people. Members of council are well known within the Derwent Valley community and there is always a representative available to approach if you have a concern or idea that relates to our region.
TONY NICHOLSON: Our council has people with many skills that go beyond “rates, roads and rubbish” to facilitate community services. The presentation of our park and leisure areas is widely appreciated.
JULIE TRIFFETT: The best thing about the council is its people. The staff are professional, knowledgeable, hardworking and approachable. There is a strong leadership team, with organisational values that set the standard of behaviour, and work ethics. There is more communication with councillors, relationships with businesses and other councils. Things are happening, and the Derwent Valley is being noticed.
10. How can the council improve its services to the community?
PHIL BINGLEY: Focus on doing the core responsibilities well i.e. prioritising council streets/roads/footpaths/parks and gardens and sporting facilities and less budget for unnecessary bureaucracy; an open door policy; and more transparency and accountability.
PETER BINNY: The maintenance of toilets in some instances is well below standard. The lack of availability of sufficient toilet facilities to cater for tourist buses is obvious. There have been queues of elderly outside toilets when buses stop in town. The town needs better toilet facilities and one only has to visit Campbell Town or Ross to see the business revival as a result of new and improved toilet facilities to realise the importance of a toilet stop to improved business activity. In the future there will be more tourist buses with elderly clients looking for suitable places to stop. New Norfolk needs better facilities to attract these and other visitors. This is the year when disability is front and centre with Dylan Alcott being named Australian of the Year. There needs to be a Changing Places toilet facility in town to cater for adult people with disability and an adjacent bus stop.
JESSICA COSGROVE: By prioritising communication with the community and establishing positive relationships with a multitude of people such as residents, ratepayers, local businesses, visitors, tourism operators, State and Federal Government representatives as well. Continuing to develop solid strategic plans, budgets and advocacy documents and taking action to achieve results for our community. There is still much to be achieved and things we can do so much better such as a need for greater community consultation; the development of the recent Community Engagement Framework should help with this.
MICHELLE DRACOULIS: Council can improve its services by establishing and maintaining relationships with community groups and the broader Derwent Valley. It must be recognised that many people in the Derwent Valley do not have access to or are not comfortable with new technologies. This means the process of consultation must retain some traditional avenues of communication including email, letter writing, phone and in person consultation either within forums by appointment with individuals.
TONY NICHOLSON: Council can restore its image by improving communication, openness, transparency and accountability.
JULIE TRIFFETT: I feel that Local Government is not good at selling itself. Council needs to convey to the community what it does, and can’t do. Council needs to comply with the Local Government Act, Planning Scheme etc. Also council can improve and foster relationships with the community by being approachable, giving good information, and following up on the issues brought to council’s attention.
PHIL BINGLEY: For me, being elected by the residents of the Derwent Valley to the Derwent Valley Council would be an honour and a great responsibility, ensuring every ratepayer dollar is spent appropriately and wisely in the interests of all ratepayers. Thank you.
PETER BINNY: We can do better in the Derwent Valley municipality. Other local governments have far better public facilities including parks, gardens and tourist facilities than New Norfolk. A brief stroll around some of our parks would surprise many councillors. For example there are three benches in the Granton park at the gateway to our municipality that are beyond maintenance. The timbers are rotten, the paint is peeling, they are unhygienic. We need to restore pride in our community. We have significant history and tourism potential, we boast we are an historic town and winner of tourism awards but lack the promotion of both these attributes.