It is an exciting scenario when we have residents within our community who have already announced publicly that they will stand at the next council elections. This is certainly a healthy sign in any democracy.
I hope that these aspiring candidates keep in mind the bigger picture of a future Bendigo. I want to see candidates with the vision and imagination to take Bendigo to the next level of its development. The prospect of candidates standing basically on a one issue platform concerns me. We’re better than that. If I were to wish anything for Bendigo it is that the councillors who are elected bring with them an open mind to the door of the chamber.
We already have new candidates discussing the thorny old question of arts and tourism funding. The arts can never be reduced to ‘just a commodity’ which has to pay its way. Sporting venues, free concerts, theatres, the public library and any number of other amenities and activities the council supports cannot ever totally pay their way. Our Greater Bendigo council is a provider of services and entertainment for our community; that is part of its responsibility.
State and federal governments make the big spending commitments; local governments support local services which allow the community to participate in a variety of activities conducive to well-being and good health. It all comes out of our rates. Our rates have never been reduced simply to repairing pot holes and footpaths. Bendigo has a fine reputation as a city which supports a rich variety of activities and interests, both sporting and cultural.
To make an uncorroborated assumption as one aspiring candidate did, that ‘Jane and Joe ratepayers don’t go to art exhibitions and don’t visit the gallery at all’ smacks of its own prejudices and dislikes. I may never see a football match played on a local sportsground but it delights me that so many people enjoy participating or simply watching a game. The flow-on effect of these activities benefits all our community. I don’t begrudge the next generation using these facilities, or the cost on the public purse. The costs associated with maintaining sporting facilities, for example, cannot be funded by entrance fees alone, particularly with the number of sporting venues scattered around Bendigo, plus the about-to-be renovated tennis courts.
Do we close the library, Ulumbarra , the Capital Theatre and the Bendigo Art Gallery for good measure?
I read letters from aspiring councillors who, if elected, appear hell-bent on arriving at council already mounted on their chariots, swords raised, enthusiastically promising to slash council extravagance on all manner of council funded activities. This is exactly where a measured, considered approach must be taken.
It is challenging for council with budget constraints to juggle the competing demands in a community. Councillors are always conscious of that concern, but the rewards must be very satisfying when a project is approved by council, supported by council financially at least in part, and it proves to be a real plus for all Bendigonians.
So, please aspiring councillors, consider the ‘bigger picture’ and how that impacts on the Bendigo community into the future. Consider all recommendations put to council, listen to qualified council officers, and consider all sides of an issue very carefully and thoughtfully before voting. I also hope that we, the Bendigo voters out there, listen very carefully to these aspiring councillors and think carefully whom we elect to office.