The Louder and Longer Plan brings out Port Phillip’s SOPs

A candidate in last year’s City of Port Phillip Council elections had a vision of St Kilda as Monaco. Now the Council has voted unanimously to model it on Fortitude Valley in Brisbane instead.

Fortitude Valley is close to the Brisbane central business district. It has long been the hub of Brisbane’s adult entertainment and is renowned for its nightlife and bars.

It was notorious during WWII. It escaped the damage of the initial November 1942 Battle of Brisbane but suffered an outbreak of violence a month after as relative rates of pay made it an area where US troops tended to get precedence.

Today it is described as the suburb that never sleeps “from the cranking of a coffee grinder to the final closing doors of nightclubs.”

There are probably very few Australian municipalities which would boast of basing a policy on Fortitude Valley but now it has been used as a model for Port Phillip Council’s Louder and Longer Plan.

Not for adult entertainment, presumably as that would diminish rapid turnover and draw unnecessary attention, but what is officially described as a ‘Live Music Action Plan’ which will extend the hours clubs and bars can stay open and increase the amount of noise they can make.

The rationale is that this will assist the venues in recovering from COVID lockdowns. Whether it will increase problems the Victoria Police already find challenging in the area we will see. It may also increase the short-term viability of some venues although many of them are constantly changing anyway due to fashion and the standard financial problems of restaurants and entertainment venues.

Rates of deafness will go up and the Council’s take from rate revenue will go down as local residential property values fall and valuations go down with them.

Needless to say the whole effort has been characterised by the usual City of Port Phillip worst practice community consultation.

It claimed to have surveyed local opinion but it appears the process was deeply flawed because the sample was very small and hardly representative when you consider that the St Kilda population is about 25,000. It would take far too many zeroes to describe what the sample size represents as a proportion  of residents.

The Council  is, however, holding an information session at the St Kilda Peanut Farm (a real, popular and well-used place) but after the unanimous vote has been taken.

It is clear, however, that the only people who were aware of the Plan were music venues, bars and possibly adult entertainment places even though they are more renowned for discretion – except in signage – than anything else.

The Council did offer objectors an opportunity to address a Council meeting – a ritual occurrence which rarely changes the Council’s mind – but characterised this time by objectors being told they would have the usual three minutes to make their case only to find the Mayor announcing when they arrived that they would be restricted to two minutes.

The three minutes has always been a bit of a joke and there is little evidence it changes Council’s mind unless it is backed up by huge waves of disapproval.

For instance, when Council was considering an arts policy some years ago a number of people turned up to protest that the plan – prepared by consultants – was derisory beyond belief. One of its low lights was talking about the potential for local sponsorship and comparing the Council’s capacity to attract sponsorship with the National Gallery of Victoria.

The Council never admitted it had listened to the objections, nor that there were any problems with the plan, but quietly walked away from it rewriting it a number of times trying to get something coherent and meaningful.

How keen the Council is to hear other opinions on the Louder and Longer Plan is another question.

One resident reports that on the Louder and Longer Plan: “I only became aware of the potential implementation of the ‘plan’ as a result of a friend next door to us telling me she had heard the Mayor being interviewed on the ABC about the plan. Apparently, this interview occurred after the close date of submissions regarding the plan.”

There were also mix ups about closing dates for submissions and apparent confusion about when submissions would be made and which would be considered. A number of councillors said they had read submissions and would ensure it was seen by relevant people – but obviously to no avail. Others apparently didn’t although this is probably because Council staff bury Councillors in hundreds of pages of paper – a Yes Minister strategy – which ensures Councillors are rarely able to get a grip on everything the Council does.

On the bright side there will probably be no Battle of Brisbane occurring in St Kilda as a result of all this but what the Council will   say when even  more drunks spill out on pavements at all hours of the night, irritating residents and tying up police resources and nearby residential property values stagnate or decline is anyone’s guess?