Council to review sister city relationships

Council to review sister city relationships
David Schout

The City of Melbourne has pledged to review its arrangements with international cities, less than two months after suspending ties with St Petersburg following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

A review would be the council’s first evaluation of its “sister city” ties in over a decade, with the last coming in 2010.

The council did not mention the St Petersburg link as a reason for the review, other than to say the assessment was “timely and critical”.

“In light of the vast changes in the global landscape and the new priorities within the current council strategic frameworks, it is timely and critical to commence the review,” a council document presented at an April 26 meeting read.

“This will ensure [the] City of Melbourne engages with the right cities and networks, in order to serve clear council business objectives and continue to deliver the best possible outcomes for Melbourne.”

On March 1 the council suspended its connections with the Russian port city, and the review will almost certainly spell the end of a sister city relationship that dates back to 1989.

“Our federal government has clearly stated that Australia does not accept the illegal acts of violence and war by the Russian government,” Lord Mayor Sally Capp said at that meeting.

“I support this national stance and I think it’s appropriate that the city makes a clear statement of support for the people of Ukraine and St Petersburg by using the lever that we do have within our control, which is to consider the status of our sister city relationship with St Petersburg.”

Greens councillors Rohan Leppert, who initiated the process at Town Hall to suspend the relationship, has said that the City of Melbourne almost cut ties with the Russian city in 2014-15 over what he said was a “spate of homophobic attacks that were occurring at that time.”

He said that, at the time, the council was convinced by Russians living in Melbourne to maintain the ties.

 

It was a difficult decision, and we were strongly, strongly influenced by the Russian diaspora here in Melbourne saying there are two sorts of relationships; one is with the government, one is with the people. This really has been a sister city relationship that works with the people of St Petersburg.

 

Sister city partnerships generally strengthen economic and cultural ties between cities, and many are long-standing agreements.

The city’s partnership with St Petersburg, for example, was for more than 30 years while Melbourne’s official connection with the Japanese city of Osaka has now reached a 44th year.

The council’s closest ties, which it describes having a “robust relationship”, are with five Asian cities: Osaka, Tianjin, Nanjing, Suzhou, and Bandung.

It also has relationships with Milan, Boston, Thessaloniki and Chengdu.

The council is said to be exploring emerging opportunities across India.

Cr Phillip Le Liu rejected any suggestion that sister city relationships did not deliver tangible benefits.

“A sister city provides a formal connection for governments and allows industry and community groups to use that as an opportunity to establish or create dialogue,” he said.

“When people talk about it as a soft or fluffy thing, it’s not, because when you actually have an established sister city relationship it’s something you can use for government means to actually get the ball moving.”

Recommendations from the review are expected to come before councillors in October •

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