WCC Mackay trip: Keeping it in the family

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Analysis – Carol Altmann

[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #A02F2F;”] T[/dropcap]he Warrnambool City Council recently went on a short, “fact finding” visit to north Queensland, but the odd thing is that the partners of two councillors were also part of the delegation.

As was reported in the local paper, Councillors Rob Askew, Jacinta Ermacora and Kylie Gaston took a flying visit to Mackay on August 17 and 18 to see progress on an $18 million upgrade of its central shopping strip.

What wasn’t mentioned is that CEO Bruce Anson and Crs Peter Sycopoulis and Peter Hulin were also part of the “fact finding mission”, as were two, less expected attendees: Francis Broekman, who is Cr Ermacora’s husband, and Dulcie Askew, wife of Cr Askew.

From what Bluestone understands, Mr Broekman and Mrs Askew were not just merely helping to carry the luggage, but were active participants in the discussions and behind-the-scenes-briefings with the Mackay Regional Council.

This begs the question, of course, as to who paid the expenses for Mr Broekman and Mrs Askew, including any portion of airfares, accommodation and meals, and what was their official role in the delegation, if any?

We put these questions to the council yesterday (25/8), alongside another question: were the partners of all councillors invited to come along on the “fact finding mission” – even at their own expense – or only some? (We are yet to receive a response.)

Francis Broekman
Francis Broekman, partner of W’bool City Councillor Jacinta Ermacora. Image: Twitter.

[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #A02F2F;”] P[/dropcap]erhaps Mr Broekman and Mrs Askew were holidaying with their spouses in Queensland at the time of the council’s visit, but that still doesn’t explain why they were included in what was essentially council business.

The other nagging issue is just how useful was an eight-person delegation to Mackay toward progressing Warrnambool’s long-awaited revitalisation of Liebig St?

The report in the local paper confirmed that it was not the first time Warrnambool City Council representatives had visited Mackay to see what was happening in this region of 120,000 people that is halfway between Townsville and Rockhampton.

Bluestone has been told some council staff have travelled to the city at least twice in the past three years before this most recent “fact finding mission”.

Why Mackay? Why not save a 5000km round trip and see what is happening in other cities around Victoria like Bendigo, Castlemaine or Geelong?

By the time you add up airfares, food and accommodation for at least six people, travelling to Mackay is surely not the most efficient option.

Meanwhile, back in Liebig St, the silence is deafening – no jackhammers, no shovels, no clusters of busy people in hard hats and safety vests – while we wait to see if the multi-million dollar upgrade will be funded by the State Government.

And while we wait to hear about funding, a few shops are playing musical chairs by relocating to new premises in the same strip – creating an illusion of growth – while more businesses disappear altogether and a record number of shops remain vacant.

At the risk of sounding gloomy, it is only going to get worse before it gets better.

If the revitalisation goes ahead, as it must, businesses already feeling the pinch will have to hold on tight as customers deal with messy roadworks and construction sites.

Some retailers who have gone through a similar street upgrade have suffered a 40 per cent drop in trade. Where were these businesses? Mackay.

Bluestone didn’t have to travel 5000km return to find this out: the details are all there online.


You can find more Analysis here…

How Bruce Anson appears to have a job for life

W’bool is losing its character, brick by brick

WCC continues to close off public scrutiny

Where does the WCC stand on same-sex marriage?

9 thoughts on “WCC Mackay trip: Keeping it in the family”

  1. Thank you. I was wondering after reading the article in the Standard. Too many questions, not enough answers. Appears to be a common theme. Got my rates notice today!!
    I will be waiting to read tbe council response to your query.

  2. Can I suggest Wodonga as a closer visit. It has just completed a total main st upgrade, railway line/crossing diversion, revitalisation of extensive railway land and old station and new community parkland. Yes it did have problems and a lot of things can be learnt from this.

  3. I believe the Mayor of Mackay will be available outside a local supermarket for the sole purpose of answering resident issues!
    Wow. How good would that be if our Mayor was to join his fellow councillors who already do a Councillor on Duty session!!

  4. Perhaps I can offer some clarification.
    Carol is quite right that Council Officers visited Mackay already this year. They came back with a report to Council on the way Mackay had been handling the process of revitalising their main street as indeed is our intention with Liebig St. Officers felt that Mackay had handled the upheaval very well and also thought we could learn from some of their mistakes and recommended that Council should visit to help us understand the impact of the project and have the opportunity to speak with and learn from all involved.
    Cr Rob Askew and his wife Dulcie were already in Queensland and took a detour on their way back via Mackay. No cost was incurred by Council for Dulcie and Council did not need to pay for Robs airfare up to Queensland.
    Cr Jacinta Ermacora and her husband Francis were already planning a holiday in Queensland. No cost was incurred by council for Francis and Council did not need to pay for Jacinta’s return flight.
    Our work commenced with a breakfast meeting at 7.30am on Monday morning. We had sessions with Mackay Officers, members of the Revitalisarion Steering Committee and business owners who had been affected by their trading access literally being ripped up in front of them.
    Both Francis and Dulcie were introduced as spouses of Councillors and they had intended to spend the day on their own time. However, the officers invited both of them to stay for the day. Mackay was extremely generous with their time and were very happy to have a frank discussion about the challenges of the project with all involved and I think they were pleased to spread the word as far as possible.
    Unfortunately Cr Peter Sycoupolis and Cr Peter Hulin would not know of the invitation extended to Dulcie and Francis. Due to work commitments on the Sunday Peter Sycopolis flew up to Melbourne late Sunday afternoon with Sharp and on to Brisbane airport to stay the night. Peter Hulin elected to travel with him. I am sure they would both agree that it was a real shame they missed their flight the next morning and consequently missed the bulk of our working session in Mackay on the Monday morning.
    We all took a tour of Mackay and walked the construction sites both finished and getting completed. We were also able to have lunch with the Mayor of Mackay and Councillors which was also very enlightening.
    I personally feel our whirlwind trip was very worthwhile. For me the highlight was meeting the business traders and listening to their experiences both positive and negative. We can learn from the things done well and try and avoid some of the errors made.
    Mackay also told us of some great innovations including keeping the street alive with street parties, promotional materials for affected businesses and financial assistance to make the most of the renovations.
    They emphasised that extensive forward planning and organisation is a must and they wish they had done more of it.
    Clear communication for all involved was a crucial point made and the central base they established for traders and the community to access at all times made a real difference to dealing with questions and issues arising.
    This will be a 14 million dollar project and the disruption for Liebig st will be real and at times painful in particular for our traders. I think our Council has a better understanding of these challenges due to our visit to Mackay.
    Cr Kylie Gaston

    1. Thanks for taking the time to write such an extensive response, Cr Gaston. It certainly helps to fill in the gaps and answer some of the unanswered questions. I don’t suppose you would consider taking up a position with the council public relations unit?? We are still waiting for a response from that arm of council, so it is great to have your input in the meantime.

  5. I am still wondering why we don’t have enough qualified engineers or whoever it takes to plan this event. I am still wondering why go all the way to Mackay t o gain this knowledge.
    Good to read Councillor Gaston’s version of events. Surely if this was properly discussed at a Councillor briefing, everyone would be well informed. Still believe it was not good governance that partners were involved.

  6. Quite aside from the issues, the actual fact that Cr Kylie Gaston has responded indicates why this article was so important. A challenge was raised and an answer given. It is this critical challenging spirit of the independent media which is central to our future good governance. I hope we see more of this, and especially next year around the council elections.

    “I am a firm believer in people. If given the truth, they can be depended on to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts.” -Abraham Lincoln

    Again, well done.

    1. Thankyou for your comment, Christian, which really captures a very important part of what Bluestone Magazine is about in these changing media times. Shrinking newsrooms, a reluctance by reporters to ask prickly questions and the rise of public relations within all levels of government means it is even more critical for small, independent media to keep shining the light into dark corners.
      With the invaluable support of subscribers like yourself, we can continue to do this work and intend to do so up to the next council elections and beyond.
      Thanks again.

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