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Crunch time for forum

04 Apr 2013

The fledgling Docklands Community Forum is faltering and urgently needs to be empowered to act in its own right.

Comment by Shane Scanlan

Its fourth session on March 27 was disappointing as it broke no new ground and is no closer to defining its functions and governance structures.

Under its terms of reference, the forum should have already established its “rules of engagement”, agreed on a standing agenda and confirmed its scope.

High-grade information was shared at the last meeting, but it is apparent that playgroup-style participation is valued more than actual outcomes.

Forum participants were forced to interrupt and intervene to prevent a premature closure of the March 27 meeting by the council-appointed facilitator without any outcome being reached.

In the end, it was agreed that the forum would write to the Minister for Education requesting a primary school for Docklands.

But there is still no agreed structure or process governing how even this simplest of tasks can be undertaken.

It is starting to look as if the forum is a short-term diversion to justify the abandonment of the expensive Docklands Co-ordination Committee.

The aggressive attitude expressed by senior bureaucrat Martin Cutter at the forum was instructive.

The plain-speaking Mr Cutter was clearly resentful about being forced by councillors at their March 5 meeting to report to the forum on Docklands-specific events and marketing figures over the past few years.

The implication was that he had wasted two days of his life compiling a set of numbers which were no good to anyone.

What this revelation says about the council’s accounting systems is another story, but Mr Cutter was clear in his message that Docklands already gets more than its fair share and is not deserving of special treatment.

This expression of a prevailing culture within the City of Melbourne comes as a shock to Docklanders who live and work day-to-day in a half-completed building site without the community infrastructure that residents in other areas of the city (with the exception of Southbank) take for granted.

We naively assume that councillors and council officers share and understand our special needs.

Depending on the future direction of the community forum, it may soon be possible to draw a conclusion that the State Government was premature in handing back responsibility for Docklands to the City of Melbourne.

The lesson for the Government concerning the upcoming Fishermans Bend and E-Gate developments may well be: “Don’t give these areas back to the local municipality until they are finished.”

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