Bringing Monaco to Melbourne

The City of Port Phillip is currently engaged, as other Victorian municipalities are, in local elections.

As regular readers will know the city’s Council doesn’t inspire the blog with much confidence and in an ideal world the Council wouldn’t enter its consciousness at all. But sadly elections make that difficult particularly when they are as bizarre as this with one of the candidates, Ratepayers of Port Phillip’s (RoPP) Christina Sirakoff, pledging to make the city into the Monaco of Victoria.

As she is the spouse and co-founder of RoPP we can assume she speaks with authority on matters of RoPP policy so when she speaks we can know what to expect from RoPP councillors and compare it with what we already have. We do have a car race like Monaco although that’s not too popular, but we lack quite a few of the billionaires, and probably have significantly fewer tax dodgers. We also have a casino nearby but another wouldn’t really enhance the place.

Given Ms Sirakoff’s party colours are an imperial purple she may also want us to have our very own Princess Grace although a replica of Monaco’s Princess Grace garden would be very acceptable.

We’d also need some profound demographic change. We have, according to the ABS a population of about 110,000 with half aged between 25 and 49. About a third are overseas born – all living in an area of 20 square kilometres. Monaco has a population of 38,000 in two square kilometres with 80% born overseas. That gives us a population density of 5,500 people to each square kilometre. Monaco’s is 19,000 per square kilometre.

The elections involve the usual political suspects; some likely ghost candidates there to draw votes and direct preferences to anyone other than Greens and Labor; and, a huge amount of money being spent.

The candidates are spread across a number groups – a new ratepayers group the Ratepayers of Port Phillip (RoPP) which is standing candidates including Ms Sirakoff, Progressive Port Phillip (PPP) which promotes policies but does not endorse candidates, the Greens, some independents, Labor and the aforementioned ghosts.

Given the COVID-19 impact on campaigning the usual door to door efforts are not possible and the alternatives are largely brochures, leaflets and campaign signs. The Greens signs are as you would expect green, the independents multi-coloured, Labor red, RoPP imperial purple and PPP inclusively multi-coloured.

There is no local paper. The last one, owned by News, has disappeared and is unlikely to come back; only ever featured a few human interest stories; and published the odd bit of Council news presumably because it would be churlish if they took Council’s advertising money without at least trying to give city events some coverage.

There is, however, an excellent weekly online newsletter TWISK run by Greg Day which is good on local events and has been providing information from all candidates based on their replies to a standard questionnaire.

All in all a situation which is probably a microcosm of the elections being held throughout Victoria this month.

The imperial purpled Ratepayers of Port Phillip have been spending the sort of money, in relative terms, which would impress Clive Palmer. It includes a large billboard which probably set them back a minimum of $20,000 and possibly $50,000; a digital ad campaign you can see if you search for anything about the City of Port Phillip; lots of signage; and, months of letterboxed leaflets accusing the council, on the basis of some unconvincing comparisons and strange claims, of levelling high rates and other sins.

The emphasis on rates is rather stronger than any emphasis on what they would do to make up decreased revenue. Indeed, the main policy in this area is to cut ‘waste’ which does have a point when you consider how top heavy and bureaucratic the Council. However, it is more probably similar to Tony Abbott’s immediate pre-election promises of how there would be no cuts to the ABC and a stack of other things – a position to be reversed in  the first Abbott Budget and celebrated by Joe Hockey and Matthias Cormann with huge cigars. The cigars looked like Cubans which are theoretically more difficult for Joe to get in the US although not for people with initiative.

Admittedly much of RoPP’s strength comes from voters in parts of the city which have experienced huge property value increases added to by the impact of widespread massive home extensions. Property prices have increased in the area at a rate greater than many areas of Sydney so naturally rates – which are based on property values – have gone up too.

And you have to feel sorry for them as it’s tough to live in a house worth millions and see the rate revenue you pay being wasted on social housing, child care, the environment and other dangerous lefty ideas.

Of course, if RoPP manages to achieve its dream of converting us into an antipodean Monaco we should also consider that house prices in Monaco are about $A140,000  per square metre. You can get a 92 square metre apartment in Port Melbourne for $850,000 which, if transplanted to Monaco, would cost about $12.8 million. Then you could get really upset about the rates.

Progressive Port Phillip was founded by people from a number of local groups and promotes policies around climate change, social housing, the environment, services. It has an online presence, an office and has been holding a wide variety of Zoom meetings. It set out to rate all the candidates but the usual suspects didn’t participate and the other lot of usual suspects did.

While the blog supports PPP’s policy priorities it was a bit surprised to see it ranked all the broadly progressive candidates – Labor, independent and Green – as sound on all the ranking criteria.

One of the candidates with a perfect record was once chided by the blog for the fact that the Council had appropriated Hettie Perkins Art and Soul for the name of its arts policy.  The candidate replied that “it wasn’t registered” which is one way of getting around not acknowledging Indigenous appropriation. Needless to say the rest of the arts policy was pretty poor too.

In the blog’s ward the Labor candidate, a retired educator Peter Martin, is running what is a largely self-funded campaign focussed on his work with local sporting clubs, the community and his impressive record as Principal of the local primary school and the successful promoter of two new schools in the area.

Jeff Kennett closed a number of schools in the area back in his day but increasing population and population density created an urgent need for new ones. Under the Andrews Government two new primary schools and one new high school (shaped like a cruise liner which is probably not a good look given recent events) have either been built or construction is well underway.

Martin has managed to get a very impressive personal endorsement from Tanya Plibersek who is married to a former blog colleague and is sadly only a Shadow Cabinet Minister rather than Labor party leader.

There is also a Greens candidate replacing a former Greens Councillor who never replied to emails but had time to put in claims for huge child minding bills. The Greens candidate is preferencing against Labor which brings to mind the comments of the late Fiona Richardson speaking at former Victorian ALP Leader Frank Wilkes’ state funeral.

When endorsed for Frank’s old seat of Northcote she visited him to ask for advice. As he had consistently polled more than 70% of first preference votes (mainly on the basis of the immense amount of local work his wife Wilma did) it was a wise move. Frank also covered lots of  bases having been not only a large employer of furniture workers in the family business, an official of the furnishing trades union and a Freemason who opted for  the local Catholic church for his funeral.

Frank told Fiona: “Remember the Greens are like the DLP were in my day. They are there to fight Labor for votes and they are not your friends or an ally.”

Others candidates in the ward include a RoPP candidate; an independent who fesses up to being a Liberal Party member but has been more responsive to emails and requests for information and assistance than his Federal colleagues; an acolyte of the former mayor; and some ghosts.

Informal voting never looked more attractive but giving up is not really an option. So the blog decided to make a small donation to Martin who – thanks to lockdown he has never actually met in person – and also vote for him.