Splitsville for the Valley?

PRO-SECESSION sentiment could be brewing in a second Latrobe Valley town, after a former Latrobe City mayor called on the Moe community to “discuss” the possibility of breaking away from the rest of the Valley.

Brendan Jenkins said true unity among Valley towns was not possible, as there was a “well-funded minority of people” working hard to promote division, and as such, Moe needed to reconsider its future as part of the municipality.

He told The Express the fatal flaw of council amalgamation was a “commitment from a group of people to ensure it didn’t work”.

“At some stage, you have to say ‘well we can’t achieve it this way and let’s try another way’,” Mr Jenkins said.

The options he has invited the Moe community to consider are supporting a break away from Latrobe City on its own, joining with the neighbouring Baw Baw Shire, or remaining with Morwell if a Traralgon secession bid is successful.

The Traralgon Community Development Association last month launched the latest in a string of campaigns to break away from Latrobe City.

Following this, Mr Jenkins posted his views on the ‘Save Moe’s Future’ Facebook page, saying there was “at least one well-resourced organisation from Traralgon, which has demonstrated a capacity to use anything to tear down the Latrobe City”.

“If we didn’t have the division going on in the past years, there would be a performing arts centre and a 50 metre indoor pool (for the Latrobe Valley),” he told The Express last week.

“Without the preoccupation of (whether there should be a) Latrobe City, the Narracan Lakes development should have been well underway and we would have a civic precinct in Moe.”

Mr Jenkins said joining with Warragul made geographic and economic sense.

“Warragul hasn’t got a history of trying to compete with other towns around it,” he said.

Mr Jenkins was a councillor with the City of Moe at the time councils across the state were earmarked for amalgamation in the 1990s.

He said he was among a minority of councillors who supported a Latrobe Valley-based municipality, rather than joining with Narracan or Warragul.

“At the time, the electricity industry played a much bigger role than it does now, it had a unifying role as one big entity and treated all municipalities as one,” Mr Jenkins said.

“I was wrong when I assumed that there was a sense of cooperation we could work on.”

The Traralgon Community Development Association said it would comment on Mr Jenkins’ views “in due course”.

Is there support?

A DECISION allowing either town to secede from Latrobe City would have to be made by the State Government.

Local Government Minister Tim Bull has indicated the government has no intention to restructure municipalities in Gippsland.

Committee for Moe president Manny Gelagotis said he supported a united Latrobe Valley, however, if council did not push for this unity, government would not invest in the region.

“If Latrobe City wants to compete with Geelong, they’ve got to get on the same page. They’re miles from that,” he said.

“Everyone’s confused. We don’t even know who we are.

“If we’re going to be dragged down, why would Moe want to be with Latrobe City?”

Latrobe City chief executive John Mitchell said council was “genuinely committed to governing for the whole Latrobe Valley”.

He said council had increased its capacity to engage with the community.

“I know council would be more than happy to sit down with Traralgon residents and Moe residents,” Mr Mitchell said.

In a written statement, Baw Baw Shire mayor Murray Cook said he not had any discussions regarding boundary realignment and it was not on the agenda for the future.

Moe Traders Association president Christine Waterhouse said she believed in towns working together to boost the entire Valley.

“In the past years, Moe has not got anything and we’ve waited patiently (for the now-approved railway precinct project),” Ms Waterhouse said.

“It about spreading the load over a period of years.”

Controversial figures

The renewed secession calls from the Traralgon group came on the back of recently-released council data which shows those in the 3844 postcode paid $76 million in rates over the past four years and received $12 million in capital works funding.

This compared with $35 million in rates collected from the 3825 postcode (towns including Moe and Newborough) with a $24 million spend on capital works; a $39 million rate revenue for the 3840 postcode (Morwell and surrounds) with an $11 million return; and $8.3 million collected in rates from Churchill, with $7 million spent on capital works.

However, the figures only relate to capital expenditure – meaning major building and infrastructure projects – and exclude council’s day-to-day services like road maintenance, grass-cutting, libraries, children’s services and kerbside garbage collection. Capital works projects make up less that 20 per cent of total annual council expenditure and the figures also include state and federal government contributions to projects.

On 21 July, The Express formally requested council release data dating back 10 years, following community concern the spreadsheet only covered the past four years.

Mr Mitchell said the Traralgon group had requested town-based figures and he provided them in the interest of openness and transparency.

While Mr Mitchell did not say exactly how long it took to compile the comparison data, it is understood at least half of the process involved manual searches of accounts. He said as a result of this, four years was the period considered manageable by council administration, as they also had their regular duties to undertake.

Council is yet to confirm how long it believes compiling data in the same format for the past 10 years would take.