City of Port Phillip – a mash up of Yes Minister and The Goon Show

There is no doubt about the City of Port Phillip – just when you think they are incapable of doing anything as inept or laugh out loud ridiculous as they have in the past they come up with a new effort.

The latest relates to a proposed policy on what organisations getting grants from the Council can do and say.

It arose because one Councillor, Andrew Bond, objected to an arts program grant for an organisation, Progressive Port Phillip (PPP) which campaigns on Council-related issues; had opposed some Council candidates and supported some others – particularly Green and Labor candidates.

Cr Bond described himself him in his campaign material as an independent Liberal. He also stood unsuccessfully as the Liberal candidate in the last State election.

The distribution of grants was delayed but PPP was advised they had been successful and went ahead in expectation because the event couldn’t be cancelled without costs to participants and PPP. In the end the whole program of grants was cancelled.

To complicate things – as Council staff are wont to do – the staff then drew up a new policy which they imagined would avoid problems in the future.

Unfortunately, they seem to have taken a leaf out of the working manual of Gary Johns the former ALP MP transmogrified into an Institute of Public Affairs culture warrior who campaigned for years to cut back on funding for charitable groups which campaigned for things which might be deemed political.

Needless to say these qualifications were considered ideal by a Liberal Government which appointed him CEO of the Australian Charities and Not for Profits Commission where he is now trying to put his policy ideas into practice by threatening some organisations’ DGR charitable status.

However, the Council staff came up with a draft policy which one suspects even Dr Johns would find extreme.

The policy stated: “Funding is not available for organisations or groups who are assessed to have undertaken or intend to undertake significant activity on political advocacy.”  This was designed to cover political parties but also “groups that has campaigns in the community and/or advocates to Council for the same (or very similar) policy positions as a registered political party (ies).” Don’t you just love the way they manage to exclude almost any policy position imaginable?

Significant political advocacy also included that by “a group which has consistently and repeatedly advocated to Council on proposed or existing policies and programs of Council.” In other words the more involved you were in Council policies and programs the less entitled you were to have a say.

But to clarify it a bit the draft said “significant policy advocacy was not to include response by a group to formal engagement by Council on a proposed policy, program or project.”

In other words, when Council runs a consultation project you can get involved. Given the quality of Council consultation practices (see the blog seriatum) that right is pretty meaningless. Getting in touch with Councillors is also not much good as, depending on who they are, they could be rude to you as one prominent Australian artist and one former Victorian Premier discovered.

One of the PPP arts project organisers, Rhonda Small, spoke to the Council at the meeting considering the policy and pointed out it was in breach of the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities and would discriminate against people in contradiction to the requirements of Victoria’s Equal Opportunity Act.

In a bit of quick thinking worthy of Yes Minister the proposal was pulled by the CEO at the last minute because six of the nine councillors were political party members who may have had to avoid voting thereby depriving the Council of a quorum.

Greg Day the editor of the online local newsletter, Twisk, subsequently asked the CEO how such an unworkable policy got to Council in the first place? The questions, with the responses in full were:

Did the CEO see (and or approve) the revised guidelines authored by officers before they were included in the agenda?
I was aware of the revised guidelines and saw these before they were included in the agenda.

When did the CEO first become aware of community concerns about the revised guidelines?
Statements regarding the revised guidelines were submitted by a small number of community members prior to the Council meeting on Wednesday evening. I became aware of these concerns when reviewing the statements shortly before the meeting.

Why did the CEO wait until the motion was to be discussed in the meeting before proposing that it be withdrawn it from the agenda?
I was seeking governance advice during the early stages of the meeting regarding the appropriate mechanism to defer the item.

So a knee jerk response to a political problem which may have put the Council in breach of Victorian rights legislation; a belated recognition that the Council couldn’t vote on the matter because two thirds of them were conflicted; and, yet another display of Port Phillip ineptitude.

All in all it looks a bit like a mash up of Yes Minister and the Goon Show.