A lesson in inattention

OPINION

WHEN Latrobe City Council decided last week to move forward with plans to revitalise Moe, a packed town hall erupted with applause.

Hundreds of people who had fought for the project to go ahead unchanged, began congratulating each other on their lobbying efforts.

"People power", it was declared, had won.

While the campaign mobilised thousands to support the plan, the issue has in fact revealed a worrying level of ratepayer apathy in the Latrobe Valley.

In December, Moe-based councillor Peter Gibbons gained majority support from his fellow councillors to conduct a review into the already-approved plan to build a civic centre, library and skate park along George Street's railway precinct.

The ensuing backlash included calls for Cr Gibbons and fellow Moe-based councillor Sharon Gibson to step down, with residents claiming they were "lied to", as they waved placards reading "we were conned".

The people of Moe were not conned.

They were victims of their own inattention.

Cr Gibbons' motion to conduct a review of the revitalisation project should not have come as a surprise, nor should backing from Cr Gibson.

Both have held quite strong and open views about the project for a long time, with Cr Gibbons even making it a focus of his election campaign.

In his candidate statement circulated to all Moe residents with the ballot paper for the October election Cr Gibbons said he supported construction of a new skatepark near Apex Park and an upgrade of the existing library - an indication he did not support them being built along George Street as is set out in the plan.

Cr Gibbons was upfront about his involvement in establishing the Moe and District Residents Association, a group which has openly opposed aspects of the plan since 2007.

He made his thoughts even clearer in response to a direct question from the Moe and Narracan News about how he saw the Moe activity centre progressing, describing the project as a "white elephant".

"Upgrading the current Moe library/service centre (on Kirk Street) is much cheaper and more readily funded. The George Street cleared area should be part of a modern, attractive transport interchange adjoining the railway station", he told the News on 22 October.

Meanwhile, Cr Gibson's opposition to the library moving from Kirk Street to the railway precinct dates back to 2007 when she was secretary of the Moe Traders Association, and has been well publicised.

There is no tangible way to measure why residents voted for crs Gibbons and Gibson.

But the widespread support for the revitalisation plan made evident by the review would suggest many votes were cast with very little examination of the candidates.

Supporters of the revitalisation plan have publicly revealed their concerns this may have been the case.

Moe Traders Association president Christine Waterhouse spoke at last Monday's meeting of her fear that residents had cast 'donkey votes' - where preferences are listed in the same order as the candidates appear on the ballot paper - as Gibson and Gibbons were listed at the top.

"In future, they (the community) will take care," Ms Waterhouse told the meeting.

This is perhaps the greatest lesson to be taken away from the review process, and there's no doubt it will stick in the minds of Moe residents for a long time.

But this reflection should not be confined to the boundaries of the west ward.

It is a lesson to all voting residents of the Latrobe Valley.

If the community is not prepared to take local government elections seriously, then it should be prepared to accept the consequences.

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