Hold your bark back: speaking up is a now a crime

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Foxy the Fact Checker has joined Barry the Bullshite detector in The Terrier kennel.

Carol Altmann – The Terrier

I want you to meet Foxy. I will tell you more about her at the end of this piece, but we need Foxy, because speaking up is now a crime.

If you raise your voice and shout at a Warrnambool City Council meeting, you face an $825 fine, or, to put it into council currency, one Pickled Pig dinner, six bottles of shiraz and two creme brûlées.

This is a local law that was designed to protect councillors and staff from aggression or violence toward each other, or from the public. It is now being used to shut people up.

Not all people, mind you, just the Neanderthals, as Cr Michael Neoh likes to call them.

These “Neanderthals” include the everyday people of Warrnambool who don’t wear suits and who have callouses on their hands from physical work, or tired faces from holding down two jobs while raising three kids.

According to Cr Neoh and Cr Kylie Gaston and our CEO Peter Schneider, these people now need to be shut down for shouting, like they did at last Monday night’s fiery meeting.

If police need to be called, Cr Gaston is happy to use speed dial.

And yet no police have been called by the WCC for the almost $4000 in ratepayers’ funds that were mis-spent by a former senior manager.

This man was an actual Neanderthal, but he wore a suit and was regarded as a “good bloke” by our Mayor and others while he ripped off ratepayers and bullied a string of council staff mercilessly.

Not a word was raised last Monday night about that Neanderthal’s bullying behaviour.

Instead, within hours, the finger was pointed back on the people who have had a gut full of years of waste and not being heard.

The main agitator, ratepayer Ben Blain, who was facing a fine, was loud, no doubt about it, but he was not abusive, or threatening. In fact he was pleading.

Here’s a theatrical but accurate transcript of the full exchange. Warning: contains foul language like “sack ’em” and “cheat” and “you have not got your house in order”.

——-

Lights up. Agenda Item 5.4: Council decides to increase its carbon footprint by flying 31,000km to and from Mariestad, Sweden, to learn how to reduce its carbon footprint.

Ratepayer Ben leaves his seat, walks to the front of the public gallery, his pants trembling with nerves:

(Cue loud voice….aaaaaaand action!):

“Peter Schneider was the council aware of anyone’s involvement? We have sat here and listened to the council try and hide every single cover up that has happened in this place and we are not going to take it anymore.

We are the ratepayers, we are the ones that have voted you in, and you think it is alright to sit here and lie, cheat and steal. Listen to the ratepayers.

What we want is transparency. That is what we want.

How do you think we are going to put up with this?

(Mayor Herbert: Ben, Ben, I have asked you to leave.)

How do you think we are going to put up with this?

(Mayor Herbert: Ben, I have asked you to leave.)

Have you? I am not leaving.

(Ratepayer chorus: No! No!)

Sack ’em! Sack em’!

(Ratepayer chrous: Sack ’em! Sack ’em! Sack’ em! Sack ’em!)

It is absolutely disgusting. We can’t afford to run the city with the rates we’ve got and then you want more to go to Sweden.

You have not got your house in order. How do you think the ratepayers….

(Mayor Herbert: I have asked you to leave.)

(Ratepayer chorus: Nooooo! Nooooo! Noooooo!)

(Mayor Herbert: Right, councillors, we will adjourn the meeting please.)

(Ratepayer chorus: Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhh.)

Meeting adjourned for 10 minutes while CEO Schneider spoke quietly with ratepayer who had returned to his seat.

Councillors re-emerge.

Meeting resumes and picks up again at item 5.4.

Meeting rolls on for almost another hour with a few jeers and moans and groans.

Subdued crowd reignited fully by Cr Gaston’s speech about The Terrier (aka Fox Terrier News), during which Cr Gaston reveals her preference for media that behaves like a toothless tiger, rather than a blog that bites.

Lights down. We all go home.

This is democracy in action and I am determined to keep fighting for it.

As part of that, and because Cr Gaston said she would like my fact checking to be public, I have hired Foxy the Fact Checker. She works 7.6 hours a week alongside Barry the Bullshite detector and she will have her first outing shortly.

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3 thoughts on “Hold your bark back: speaking up is a now a crime”

  1. It’s a sorry saga.

    I took inspiration from this article. Perhaps your readers and WCC may as well:
    https://www.theguardian.com/local-government-network/2012/apr/11/local-government-2020-challenges-opportunities

    I especially like the closing remarks. “The challenges are great. However our hope lies in a sector that encourages and supports active citizenship, teaches us to engage across our differences, and helps us to build communities and bridge cultures.“

    Basically, we need to learn to get along. The challenges we are facing as a city/community at this time (and there are many) must be solved collectively. The current approach by WCC is old government and not necessarily consistent with the closing remarks. New government embraces civic participation. How is this to be achieved in our city?

    1. I will be sure to have a read of this and thankyou for the link. I think some good starting points to re-engage with the community would be transparency, first and foremost, where questions are answered honesty and efficiently and where much more information, accessible and simply written, is uploaded and provided on the WCC website. I would also suggest overhauling the meeting structure to allow a public participation section, as happens at Moyne, where the public can address the council for up to five minutes on an issue. Microphones for councillors, so the public can hear, together with greater explanations as to how a decision has been reached. Even something as simple as redesigning the entry to the council chambers so you are not climbing up what feels like a fire escape would be helpful! From my experience, the smallest things can make such a huge difference to making the public feel welcomed, rather than excluded. I doubt if most Warrnamboolians have even met the new CEO yet. I haven’t!

  2. Well I can’t wait to hear what Foxy reveals on her fact-hunt. Say that fast 10 times and you’ve come up with a great nickname for some recently resigned fraudsters.

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