Council to vote on accepting merger

Latrobe City Council will tonight vote on whether it is prepared to accept a final decision by Monash University to merge the Gippsland campus with the University of Ballarat.

A council officer has recommended councillors accept the proposal has been supported by both universities and seek an opportunity to have input into how the merger is implemented.

While council has no statutory authority to prevent the merger from going ahead, it has formally objected to the move since it was proposed in February.

Attempts to affect the decision included voting to publicly condemn the proposal, along with a failed call for Federal Government intervention and a fruitless push to have the public consultation period extended.

A council officer’s report, which will be considered by councillors tonight, concludes the merger proposal “came as a surprise to the local community, including council”.

“Council’s view is that key stakeholders, including local staff and students should have been engaged prior to the announcement,” the report said.

Tonight’s decision will be the first since the two institutions agreed in-principle the University of Ballarat would take over operation of most of the Gippsland campus.

It is also the first chance for councillors to debate the issue after it caused tension between Latrobe City Mayor Sandy Kam and fellow councillor Christine Sindt.

Cr Sindt called on Cr Kam to step down as mayor and accused her of not working hard enough to retain Monash University in Gippsland and going against the official position of the council.

It came after a media statement by Cr Kam which said council was disappointed with the institutions’ move, but it was “important for council to engage in planning for the transition”.

The universities hope to complete the merger by January 2014.

Tonight’s meeting will start at 5.30pm at Latrobe City Council headquarters, Commercial Road, Morwell.