Transparency lacking over trader levy

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[dropcap style=”color: #a02f2f;”] I [/dropcap]t is interesting to see Mainstreet Australia adding its voice to those urging Warrnambool traders to pay a special levy to fund a $3 million marketing and promotion campaign by Commerce Warrnambool over the next five years.

Mainstreet Australia president Steve Bentley was recently the focus of a local news article in which he praised the trader levy, saying it was one way to counteract the impact of online shopping and that it had worked very successfully for Geelong, where he works as part of the City of Geelong Council.

As infamous model Mandy Rice-Davies once said, “he would say that, wouldn’t he” because what Mr Bentley failed to mention – or what the news article failed to report – is that the person who was paid by Commerce Warrnambool to develop the trader levy, Peter McNabb from Peter McNabb and Associates, is a key figure in Mainstreet Australia.

Indeed Mr McNabb’s own website explains that he “played a leading role in the establishment of the Victorian version of Mainstreet in 1996, and was its inaugural President from 1996 to 2001″.

The Mainstreet Australia website states that Mr McNabb is a current committee member and a life member of the association.

As part of his duties with Mainstreet Australia, Mr McNabb was a judge for the annual Mainstreet Australia Awards in 2008, 2010 and 2012. The awards include a category for groups that have a “special rate and charge budget” of under $100,000 (in 2014) and a category for those who have a special rate and charge budget over $100,000 (in 2014).

In other words, Mainstreet Australia rewards those associations that oversee the sort of special rates and charges that Mr McNabb specialises in setting up.


Peter McNabb from Peter McNabb and Associates. Image: Peter McNabb and Associates.


[dropcap style=”color: #a02f2f;”] S[/dropcap]pecial rates and charges are part of what Mainstreet Australia is all about and it is not ashamed to say so. In fact it held a conference in 2009 in which the use of special levies – right down to how to avoid and handle appeals to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal – was a particular focus.

There is nothing wrong with any of this activity, after all, Mainstreet Australia is a business lobby group and Mr McNabb is paid to help business groups, but what is wrong is that none of this has been disclosed.

This means that you, me, and all the traders who are grappling with whether the controversial levy is a good idea or not, think that Mainstreet Australia is offering an independent assessment.

It is not.

I believe it is part of a strategy designed to make those traders who are uneasy about the levy feel as if there is something wrong with them, because they can’t see its “obvious” benefits and may wish to vote “no” to its introduction.

We saw another example of this when those local traders who clearly object to the levy – which would add an impost to their overheads until 2019-20 – were asked to come up with a better idea, as if this was somehow their responsibility. Why should they have to find a solution to a problem that they did not create?

It is muddle-headed thinking and, to my mind, a dangerous precedent for how objectors are treated.

Even the intervention of Mayor Neoh later this week to try and find a middle ground between Commerce Warrnambool and dissenting traders speaks volumes as to how the process has been rushed through.


city warrnambool
High rents in Warrnambool’s main street of Liebig St remain a burden to many traders…and will continue to do so.


[dropcap style=”color: #a02f2f;”] A[/dropcap]nd while all of this pushing and pulling and lack of transparency is going on, another Warrnambool CBD trader has announced that they will close. Not simply because of online shopping. Not because of a lack of any “buy local” campaign, but largely because of high rents in the main street of Liebig St.

This, plus the lack of any free, timed parking in the CBD during the week, remains the single biggest issue facing many traders who can’t afford to pay the rent and make a decent living.

A special levy is not a magic wand and will not resolve these fundamental problems, which is why a levy has attracted so much dissent in places such as Croydon, Bendigo and Adelaide.

And for every success story about the levy in other towns, there is equally a story about those Warrnambool traders who feel the extra cost would provide little benefit above the promotional schemes that are already in place via Warrnambool City Councilthe Great South Coast Group and the Great Ocean Road Regional Tourism Board.

There are also those traders, like the one who called us this week, who run the sort of businesses that don’t usually feature in marketing campaigns – think laundrettes, funeral parlours, architects and the like – but who will still pay the fee.

Given the scale and scope of this levy, it needs careful thought and absolute transparency as traders decide whether to support the idea or whether, as is their democratic right, they simply say no.

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25 thoughts on “Transparency lacking over trader levy”

  1. Thank-you for providing clarity to such complicated issues Carol. Congratulations again.

    1. To be fair, while this is a good article and poses excellent questions. It’s not “independent reporting” . It’s opinion, meaning people can say whatever they want. There is a difference.

      Statements like “I believe” does not mean something is fact, it is the author’s opinion.

      Look at how this website accused Tim Lewis from The Standard of being on the board of Commerce Warrnambool, which in fairness he was listed as being in council documents, but it was later revealed he had not attended one single meeting. (Which I might add still hasn’t been cleared up in the earlier opinion pieces.)

      Opinion is brilliant, and worthy, but it is not fact, and people need to understand that.

      1. Steve, I am sorry, but you are clearly not familiar with what an Opinion/Editorial/Comment piece by a journalist involves.
        I have been a journalist for 25 years and I do know.
        It is a combination of personal opinion and researched facts and the differentiation between the two should always be obvious, as it is in this piece. The piece is also clearly marked as Opinion, so readers know it is a combination of fact and my personal view.
        It is certainly not, as you suggest, an opportunity for a person to “say whatever they want” – try that out sometime and see what happens.
        I am happy to be corrected on any incorrect facts, if you care to highlight them.
        What is far more worrisome, in my view, is when a news report fails for whatever reason to reveal key facts: why are you not as equally concerned by this, given your response to my piece?
        As for Mr Lewis, I am certainly not in a position to know whether he attended any board meetings, but he was listed by Commerce Warrnambool as being a member of the board in a document which was tabled at council in support of the levy proposal.
        If Mr Lewis did not attend a single meeting, as you say, then I would actually question how well the board was functioning at the time it was developing the levy proposal.

        1. Carol I wasn’t having a go at you or the article, I think it’s well written and poses brilliant questions. I was simply letting the comment leaver know that there is a difference between and opinion piece and a general news article.

          As for Mr Lewis, Commerce Warrnambool has said he hadn’t attended a meeting and is still only a member because renewals hadn’t been sent out. Which is the same reason Brian Kelson, Kylie Gaston and others are still listed as members. I know you said you don’t like Facebook for facts, but when this became clear did you pick the phone to ring and ask him? Because at the moment, it is still stated on this website he was involved on the board and made seem like he helped make the decision about the levy, and because of this the newspaper has a bias, (your opinion that isn’t based on any fact it aould now seems)

          It’s highly obvious the board wasn’t functioning well. So please do continue to write these pieces they are informative, but I’m merely pointing out everything in an opinion can’t and shouldn’t be taken as gospel.

        1. If that’s the case why did Councillors Kelson or Gaston not declare conflicts of interest during discussions at council? They are both listed as being members of Commerce Warrnambool in the most recent list of members published on their website.

          Once again, this website calls for full disclosure, but it doesn’t comment when a councilor, who own a business and is a member of the organisation proposing the levy, doesn’t declare an interest. Perhaps it’s because he is on the same side as this website clearly chooses to take.

          1. Mr Kelson did declare his interest, but chose to stay in the council chamber for the debate. This was reported in The Standard on May 21. We have not mentioned Mr Kelson (or any other councillors) in any of our pieces on this issue, so there is no need to “disclose” a fact which has already been reported.
            I must admit that I find it odd that, because we choose to analyse this levy and its reportage, you see us as taking “a side”. This has been the problem with the levy right from the beginning: people have been boxed as either ‘for’ or ‘against’ without any robust discussion on the levy proposal itself: this is what we are trying to generate and, from the comments so far, it appears we are succeeding.

        2. Indeed – and, as I mentioned, it is a select group who are board members as opposed to just general members.

  2. I agree with all the comments . Thank you Carol for keeping the discussion alive and full of facts.

  3. As you suggest, this piece is not meant to malign Peter McNabb who is known to be a decent person, but to highlight the lack of transparency undertaken by Commerce Warrnambool. If it smells fishy, it probably is.

    1. Thankyou, Marilyn: you have summed this up perfectly. My argument has – and will continue to be – about the process rather than the personalities.

        1. If Mr Lewis is upset by my reporting that he was a board member of Commerce Warrnambool – when he actually was a board member of Commerce Warrnambool – why is he not stating his case to us directly? (A board member being significantly different to just being a member).
          Further, as a final comment, you continue to miss the point that I am not criticising Mr Lewis at all: I have instead argued that his involvement with Commerce Warrnambool needed to be disclosed by the paper. This goes to the heart of my argument about the need for transparency.

  4. Once again Bluestone has delivered the REAL story.
    I’d just like to add that unjustified high rents exist beyond Liebig St. Traders are feeling the pressure all over Town.

    1. Hi Michael, You are right about the rental issue being one that goes well beyond Liebig St.
      Who are the owners of these properties that are causing so much angst?
      If anyone out there knows, please email me – in confidence – at

  5. Just wanted to say that I am finding these discussions very informative. I have learned more from Bluestone than the Standard and Council combined. The truth and facts will surely prevail.

    1. Brilliant again Bluestone. Thankyou for continuing to provide us with meaningful & important information on this issue

  6. Bluestone, I have another question for you. You seem to be against this levy, which is your right to be as it is everybody else’s, but in the interests of transparency have you spoken to Tony Herbert or anyone at Commerce Warrnambool? Because I have not seen that side of the argument presented on this website.

    Would it not be fair (and balanced) to speak with them as well? You always speak of wanting fairness and balance in all forms of reporting, but it seems you don’t follow that rule.

    1. Steven, I am actually not affected by levy, so I am neither ‘for’ nor ‘against’ it: I am, however, very interested in how the process is unfolding. Contrary to what you claim, I have detailed what Commerce Warrnambool plans to do with the levy – see the links to earlier pieces. It is worth noting that Kerang, until recently, had the same levy model as that proposed for W’bool, but it was recently scrapped by their council because it wasn’t working.
      As an aside, I won’t go over – again – the difference between a news story and an Opinion piece.

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