Trader levy shaping up for legal showdown

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The proposed Warrnambool traders levy is heading for legal action unless it is withdrawn by the council at its meeting next Monday.



[dropcap style=”color: #a02f2f;”]P[/dropcap]lans to hit traders with a compulsory levy to raise $3 million over five years for Commerce Warrnambool are headed for court unless the Warrnambool City Council puts a stop to the levy immediately.

Commerce Warrnambool and the Warrnambool Traders Action Group agreed to not talk publicly about the levy while negotiations were underway between the two, but don’t think for a moment they have struck a deal.

In fact, it is the opposite.

In a hard-hitting letter sent to all councillors and council Chief Executive Officer Bruce Anson last week, the traders are asking the council to withdraw the levy proposal at its meeting next Monday (21/7), or it will take legal action against Commerce Warrnambool to prevent it from acting outside its legal powers.

The first step in that process is an injunction issued by the Magistrates’ Court.

Before delivering this ultimatum out of sheer exasperation, the W’bool Traders Action Group spent a lot of time identifying where it believes Commerce Warrnambool has breached its legal requirements as an incorporated body and hoped that something would be done to address these concerns.

It also, despite weeks of discussion between the two groups, is still waiting for answers to its questions about how the levy has been justified.

It appears the traders have finally run out patience.

The Warrnambool Traders Action Group has questioned how many “head offices” of major businesses have verbally supported the levy idea.

[dropcap style=”color: #a02f2f;”]W[/dropcap]ith their gloves firmly off, the traders have, in their letter, accused Commerce Warrnambool of making “false and misleading” claims about the level of support for the levy, which would raise $600,000 in its first year and rise by 5 per cent each year.

In arguing why the levy should go ahead, Commerce Warrnambool said its consultant, Peter McNabb, had visited more than 900 businesses to explain how the levy would work and that this resulted in signed support from more than 150 traders.

The W’bool Traders Action Group says it has since spoken to more than 300 businesses and found less than 20 who were formally consulted: most found out about the levy through the media.

(As an aside, Bluestone asked the council if it had seen the 150 signed forms of support and was told that they had been “viewed by council staff”, but presumably not the elected councillors.)

Similarly, Commerce Warrnambool said its consultant received verbal support (ie. via telephone) from 150 corporate businesses who have their head offices outside of Warrnambool – a claim the traders describe as “fanciful” because finding the right person to speak to in corporations is difficult, let alone gaining their “verbal support” for anything.

And it doesn’t stop there.

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[dropcap style=”color: #a02f2f;”]T[/dropcap]he Traders Action Group goes on to reveal in its letter that the “purpose” of the Commerce Warrnambool Strategic Business Plan – as stated in the business plan – is actually the “purpose” of the Swan Hill Incorporated plan (which Peter McNabb and Associates also developed) and has nothing to do with the objectives of Commerce Warrnambool.

There are also allegations of threatening, potentially libelous emails being sent from a member of Commerce Warrnambool to two members of the Traders Action Group.

Put simply, the levy proposal is a mess and, as a result, Commerce Warrnambool is in a mess.

This is a shame, because the city needs a robust Chamber of Commerce – something the W’bool Traders Action Group also agrees on – but how that body is funded, and what it does, needs more investigation and discussion.

I have written previously about how chambers of commerce in other regional cities use memberships and corporate sponsorships to survive and how they are primarily focussed on lobbying, networking and professional development: not things like Christmas decorations, ‘buy local’ campaigns and promoting the local football finals.

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[dropcap style=”color: #a02f2f;”]I[/dropcap]n addition, we still don’t know – if the levy was to go through – what Commerce Warrnambool will deliver in its first year, beyond some very broad-brush goals that require a huge leap of faith that the $600,000 will be well spent.

Our elected officials have an opportunity, next Monday, to put the brakes on the whole levy proposal and Commerce Warrnambool has an opportunity to start over, with a view to building a robust plan for its future that has solid – rather than fractured – support.

The most likely result, however, is that the council will vote to defer the levy process until later in the year, which really helps neither side and only extends the war.

The council might prefer to stay in limbo, but the traders have made it clear that they will not.

This time, time has run out.

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10 thoughts on “Trader levy shaping up for legal showdown”

  1. Let’s hope that that ALL our elected Councillors have the courage to stand up for whtat the rate payers want – not a levy that we are bullied into paying. I ask again, how can an organization with few members secure this power through WCC. Vote against it and I’m sure CW numbers will swell with new members wanting to work with the organization in a fair and equitable way for the betterment of the city.

  2. One of the most baffling things to me is why only one Councillor replied to the letter (Kelson). Today I had to contact the Mayor to ask him to respond!
    In the letter we were basically giving Councillors the opportunity to help CW save face and not have their serious governance issues brought out into the public, let alone before a magistrate. But it appears that they have chosen to turn a blind eye.
    It is bad enough that CW choose to act outside the realms of the law, but for our Councillor’s, particularly the Mayor, to have this knowledge and ignore it, is inexcusable and a cause for deep and grave concern to our community.
    I encourage everybody to contact Councillors and express your concerns. Their email addresses can be found on the WCC website and will be posted onto the Warrnambool Traders Action Group Facebook page tomorrow.
    See you all at the WCC public meeting this coming Monday 21/7 @ 5:45pm where this will certainly be a hot topic.

    1. the council meetings are very interesting to attend , you soon learn what the term 4 votes to 3 means , ill be there next Monday with bells on !!

  3. I’d like to ask two questions. Firstly, why isn’t the WCC itself responsible for improving business prospects etc in Warrnambool? Why is it necessary for a separate body to have to step in to an area that the council should ultimately be responsible for?
    Secondly, my understanding is that WCC will be charging CW a $25,000 administration fee per year. Is this correct? Because if it is, it’s absolutely ridiculous.

    1. With your second question, the WCC originally considered a $30,000 admin fee, but has since settled on $15,000.

    1. Thanks Damo – restraining order was the term used by my source, but you are right, the correct legal term is an injunction (which restrains particular actions) and I have made this change accordingly.

  4. I find there are a few on the council that are rude, outdated and hate to see change for the better of the town. You go to the council meeting and if your not there they won’t read out public questions for all councillors to hear, they won’t call you with the answers. You hear some great improvement ideas from some of the council and it gets knocked by by the outdated councillors. You listen to the mayor in Geelong, he is positive for change eg trial free parking in the Geelong CDB with feedback from business and the public, and he wants to spend money to improve the town to bring tourists and weekend shoppers, this could lead to more people moving to the town and new businesses.
    Some of our council wants to sell the sale yards that make good money and keep pumping money into things that lose a lot of money.
    Council needs to look at the affect that cw is causing and it must be obvious to them that the local business community doesn’t want it. We will not back down from this, we will stay positive and focus on what we believe is the right thing for our businesses and keep fighting, council need to look at it from our shoes. I will be at the meeting.

  5. Warrnambool traders and Commerce Warrnambool aren’t making any comment….yeah right, where did the info for this article come from then?

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