I rise to make a contribution to this important debate. Can I say that as long as I can remember there have been complaints, allegations and sustained criticism levelled against the local council in the City of Greater Geelong. Indeed issues have been reported quite widely in the Geelong Advertiseras well as in the metropolitan media, in print form and on the TV. So I was actually quite pleased to see the establishment of the Halliday review conducted by Sue Halliday to look at the workplace culture of the council.
How did we actually get from the Halliday report to where we are here today? Simply, the issue came to a head because this government believed that the recommendations in the Halliday report were not being moved upon. We did take that report very seriously and were concerned about the lack of progress in terms of its implementation, and at the same time there were more allegations and complaints being made. That led the Minister for Local Government, Ms Hutchins, to appoint three commissioners to conduct an independent inquiry into the City of Greater Geelong.
As previous speakers have mentioned, three eminent people were selected: Mr Terry Moran, AC, Ms Jude Munro, AO, and Ms Frances O’Brien, QC. I believe that all three brought enormous credibility to the review. It was an extensive review, and it was a considered review with very serious recommendations. It was through this independent scrutiny that we saw in a coherent fashion a number of issues that have continued to plague the council. The commissioners saw a culture of deep-seated bullying, highly inappropriate language, highly inappropriate behaviour, a lack of good governance, and indeed an inability for many to support and work with each other — and the list goes on.
But it is not my intention to go through the particular examples of certain behaviours outlined by the commission of inquiry into the Greater Geelong City Council. They are well documented in the report. To highlight them in this contribution would only divert us from focusing on what is needed, which should be our purpose today. I accept the general proposition that there is systemic dysfunction in the council. I see no point in debating the nuances of that dysfunction or going through different types of dysfunction.
We are here today as legislators, as leaders, who, having been provided with a credible and comprehensive report, now need to act. The government is determined to act on the information that is now being provided, and what it is proposing is clear cut. To do nothing would be to turn our backs on what is clearly a serious problem and on those people who have spoken up. The report speaks for itself. I put it to those members of this chamber who have read the report: could you possibly imagine what it would be like to work in such an environment?
I cannot imagine what it would be like to wake up every morning and simply dread the thought of going to work, forcing yourself to get up every morning knowing that there is every chance that the day is not going to go well. It is incumbent upon all of us to make sure that we have safe and healthy workplaces. We owe it to every single worker, but we also owe it in this case to the Geelong ratepayers. In accepting that the workplace culture of the council is totally unacceptable, it is easy to understand how people cannot be focused on developing and implementing the most effective services for taxpayers.
One of the issues that stood out for me when I looked at the level of dysfunction was the report’s recommendation for an independent panel to deal with the current cases and the backlog of complaints. The report says that the panel would need two years. The sheer number of complaints and the length of time that has gone by where complaints have not been resolved rings alarm bells for me, and it is just one example of how clearly fractured the organisation is. What rings true is that it is not just the quantum of complaints but the prediction that it will take at least two years for standards of conduct to be established, understood, implemented and enforced.
The issues of the operation of the council have been around for a very long time, as I said. At least now we have a report undertaken by eminent persons who suggest a range of actions. Instead of getting embroiled in accusations, hearsay, party political point-scoring, gossip or meaningless media glamour grabs, it is important that we have an approach that turns what can be seen as a simply dreadful situation into an opportunity to make changes. We owe it to our community, the ratepayers, businesses, investors, council employees and those who are the most vulnerable in our community.
At a time when our community needs governments at all levels to stand together and stand tall, this council is duty bound to be professional, driven, strategic and assertive to assist in getting us through what is an incredibly difficult period in Geelong. We need a council we can rely on, a council we want to interact with and a council that really cares — and, I repeat, a council that really cares, that works cooperatively, where individuals understand that serving the community in a genuine way and providing services in a meaningful way is paramount. So let us not shirk our responsibility today. Let us step up and create the space for change to occur — change that will not only break down the systemic problems within the council but will also bring about new behaviours, new systems and a hungry appetite. We need an insatiable appetite to wind our way through everything that can be thrown at us as a community and come out on the other side with the community and the local economy intact and ready for growth.
For those who have been constant detractors of the council, I humbly state that you also have a responsibility and an opportunity to play a positive role in creating a new paradigm. I challenge the detractors to demonstrate leadership so that in the conversations we have in our community we encourage positive conversations. We simply cannot expect those looking from the outside to take us seriously if we are seen to only snipe at each other.
All we want is a council we can be truly proud of, one that walks with the community in every sense in good times and in bad times. We want it to be a place where ideas are encouraged, where individuals want to come to work, want to come to the table and want to spark inspiration, and where solutions are searched for and the doctrine of ‘If there is a will, there is a way’ is supported. We want a council where blockers and stoppers are outed and the notion of what is good for Geelong and its people reigns supreme. We want a council that epitomises leadership and a council we are proud of. This is our chance to make a difference, to make a new start. It is a generational opportunity. Let us not waste it. Let us embrace it and help to create what could be a truly phenomenal council that can and will inspire us.
I look forward to the committee stage of the bill. I think it will prove very interesting. Mr Dalidakis from the government side, who has carriage of local government issues in this house, will be formally responding to the amendments put forward by the Liberal opposition and the Greens party. I commend the bill to the house.