We humans are weird. We seem to want what we once had even though we didn’t want nor like it at the time. As recently as one evening this week, I heard the comment: “We should bring back the commissioners.”
For those of you who came along a little late, the comment refers to 1994 when then Premier Jeff Kennett sacked all 1600 councillors in Victoria and reduced the number of local government areas from 210 to 78. During the transition from the old system to the new, each new regional LGA was run by two or three commissioners who answered directly to the state government.
The move shoved the old councils of Marong, Bendigo, Eaglehawk, Huntly, Strathfieldsaye and part of McIvor Shire into one Greater Bendigo under the watchful eye of chief commissioner Peter Ross Edwards and his colleagues – at various stages of the next three years – Maurie Sharkey, Gordon McKern, Les Crofts and Maxine Crouch.
It was an exciting time. Things got done because Jeff would not allow this broad reform to fail. Buckets of cash were available to do stuff. Mouldy old dunny blocks were gleefully sledge-hammered.
Rosalind Park was made splendid again. So much of the tiresome “he said/she said” was simply ignored.
It’s not surprising that many today say they want to get back to that time when so much argy-bargy was simply ignored, local government was swept clean. Good stuff was possible.
But, there’s another side to this that we don’t mention. Or want to remember.
We were lucky in Bendigo. We had good, effective, honourable commissioners and the ear of the Premier.
But would you now want to go back to a system which did not give you a vote? Which had very little broad local consultation? In which major projects or developments were determined solely by another tier of government without that local layer?
Would you like to go back to a time when you had no say in who represented this city and region?
These are pretty fundamental questions.
In our post-amalgamated local government, it often seems there is too much angry argument, debate, objections, consultations and it causes the gears of government to grind very slowly at times. However, they do still grind and as evidence think of how Bendigo’s skyline has changed in the 23 years since amalgamation.
We have the magnificent Ulumbarra Theatre (ending decades of wasteful debate), the new hospital, Marketplace and other significant regional developments. The Schweppes Centre still seems to grow like a stadium on steroids. There’s the showgrounds’ Exhibition Centre.
Think of the sporting complexes which have either been totally reconstructed or built from scratch. The Botanic Gardens, Canterbury Park. Think of the expansive new housing developments. The Calder Freeway. Better train services. And there’s lots more on the horizon such as the Kangaroo Flat Aquatic Centre and the airport revamp.
Calculations on the back of a beer coaster I saw recently, put the value of these things between $1 billion and $2 billion.
All these things happened after amalgamation. In the time of allegedly yappy councillors and supposedly blinkered administrations.
See, my argument is that Bendigo works pretty well and has done for at least the past two decades. Suggestions that we need to go back to 1994 don’t stack up.