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Editorial Comment- A frustrated whinge

01 Apr 2010

There is so much going on in Docklands at the moment … but for ordinary Joes like you and I, so little opportunity to find out about it, much less participate in it.

You can understand the developers putting up the shutters and not wanting to talk about their proposed projects, as their sole function is to maximise profits for shareholders.

But why is state and local government so hell bent on keeping the public in the dark about what’s going on in Docklands?  Where did this attitude that the public don’t deserve to know come from?

Let’s start with the State Government.  In researching our story about North Wharf on Page 5, we were told that unless we spent $5000, the Department of Treasury and Finance wouldn’t tell us what development restrictions it had put on the precinct.  And, it said, even if we forked over the money, we needed to sign a confidentiality agreement promising not to tell anyone!  In the end, we got a summary from a real estate agent.

It talks about “community” a lot but, in reality, community is an inconvenience to government.  And what about democratic governance?  What does that mean these days?

Look at the life of the Docklands Co-ordination Committee.  It was born out of the emasculation of the more significant Docklands and Major Projects Committee in 2007 and started out meeting six times a year.  It wasn’t long before this was cut to four times a year.

And the agendas have continued to shrink too.  The last meeting of this committee took about 10 minutes.  VicUrban’s two contributions to this meeting are listed in the minutes as “withdrawn”.

A request to VicUrban seeking an explanation of this took two weeks to come back with an answer that an administrative error was responsible for one report not being presented and that it was still discussing the other matter.

The City of Melbourne and VicUrban are both secretive organisations which strive to prevent public scrutiny of their activities.  They deny access to their staff and respond using meaningless weasel words.

To be fair, they are not the only ones.  Somehow it has become acceptable to deny information to the public.  Twenty five years ago in a former life, I was town hall reporter for the Sun News-Pictorial.  In those times, the media was welcome at the town hall, had its own press office and had a desk within the council chamber.  If you wanted to know something, you just asked the town clerk.

Back then it was accepted that public scrutiny was a healthy part of a democratic society.

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