Council’s ‘stranglehold’ released

A “SHIFT in power” within Latrobe City Council could be healthy for the region if the parochial division within wards is eradicated, according to an academic.

Local government observer, Susan Lloyd, who served on Latrobe City Council from 2005 to 2008, said the overhaul of councillors following the recent election had changed council’s dynamics.

“There has been a shift in power. The election has certainly changed the dynamics of the political scope of council,” Ms Lloyd said.

“The Labor Party stranglehold that was evident up until 2008 has changed; if you look at it, Lisa Price didn’t stand and Bruce Lougheed was defeated, that is two Labor people that didn’t get on.

“I know politics are there; whether it be party politics, ward politics, or other sorts of politics we may not be aware of, (it) does influence the council.”

Referring to “bloc voting”, a reported five-four vote between the former councillors, Ms Lloyd said the “split no longer existed”.

“I think the first challenge that faces council is working together as a team,” Ms Lloyd said.

“Councillors will have to work very hard to work in collaboration with each other and work together for the benefit of the community and the benefit of this current council.

“The community has been very aware of the five-four (councillor) split but that won’t be there with this council.”

Of Gippsland mayors who stood for the 2012 election, Baw Baw Shire’s Diane Blackwood and Latrobe City’s Ed Vermeulen lost their positions on council.

“(Ms Blackwood) lost her seat and that was voter backlash because of negative (council) perception by the community,” Ms Lloyd said.

“Ed didn’t suffer the same backlash; he has been a very decent mayor and a good councillor.

“The move to go to West Ward could have been the problem.”

She said it was uncommon for standing councillors to lose their seat; which was first evident in Latrobe City in 2008 when former councillors David Wilson and Doug Caulfield lost their seats.

Whether a ward focus dominated the election rather than a united regional approach, Ms Lloyd said they were just “good tactics” which garnered strong votes within candidates’ wards.

“In some sense, focusing on local issues is a smart thing to do because they are the people that get you in,” she said.

“As a broader approach, councillors shied from Latrobe City as a regional focus. But these issues are pertinent to the region as a whole, and if council did not focus (as a united front) it will get back to the divisive towns we’ve seen before.” Despite believing it would take about six months for councillors to settle in, Ms Lloyd said fresh councillors were healthy for local government.