Municipal Charge is Unfair

Can I pay Council an extra $262 to subsidise big buisiness? …said no ratepayer ever.

The Municipal Charge does not raise extra revenue – not one cent! All it does is redistribute rates from the top down. Essentially, every property contributes $262, which goes into the pockets of large developers. This discount can be in excess of $100k.

The Local Goverment Act calls the Municipal Charge an ‘administration fee’, but this is clearly misleading. Unlike what’s stated in this Shepparton News editorial, scrapping the charge will not result in an $8m shortfall. Instead, the top end of town will pay their fair share, while the rest of us enjoy an extra $262 to spend around town.


LGBTI Equality Roadshow


Attended the LGBTI Equality Roadshow at the Council offices yesterday. Commissioner for Gender and Sexuality Rowena Allen visited Greater Shepparton to take us through best practice in inclusive policy. Pleased to hear the Minister for Local Government is set to release a new ‘Roads, Rates, Rubbish and Rainbows’ strategy. To me, that means Councils can no longer refuse to tackle issues, such as marriage equality, due to them not being LG issues – they clearly are!


Included below is my recent sociology essay on social factors that shaped the marriage equality debate in contemporary Australia:

The traditional definition of marriage is defined by the Marriage Act 1961 as a union between a man and woman (Cwlth). However, increasing numbers of Australians are questioning the rigidity of this definition and advocate for ‘marriage equality’ – that is, for the institution of marriage to include same-sex attracted couples. Marriage was formed and has been protected by dominant religious ideology, which has a vested interest in regulating relationships (Macedo 2015). However, contemporary Australia no longer relies on strict binary rules to begin a family. Economic strength, better quality of life and emerging new technology, offer the individual a degree of choice around whether to get married, and to whom (Beck-Gernsheim 2012). Marriage is still currently maintained as a bastion of self-identification and social standing, but the societal context around what constitutes a family in Australia has changed (Cherlin 2004). Unfortunately Australian policy has not kept up with this change. ‘Family values’ is kicked around like a political football and some politicians refuse to discuss marriage equality altogether (Waitt 2015). Meanwhile, a broader public discussion is writing new informal rules around alternative relationships, creating new behavioural norms and mutual obligations (Beck-Gernsheim 2012). Legalising marriage equality will allow same-sex attracted Australian citizens a legislative way forward, even though they may not fit the heteronormative nuclear family ideal.

Support for marriage equality suggests Australia has deviated significantly from what is often labelled ‘the traditional definition of marriage’. Prior to the late 20th Century, married couples had clearly defined gender roles that were unquestionably entrenched in societal norms (Cherlin 2004; Dempsy 2002; Beck-Gernsheim 2002). The husband was the breadwinner for his family and – where possible – worked full-time, as his father and grandfather did before him, whilst the wife stayed home. Marriage ensured the family was a lasting commitment; it gave financial security to the wife, who in return raised children with links to the husband’s status and inheritance (Cherlin 2004). Marriage bound together society with a sense of moral functionality and produced children, as commodities, to replace the next generation of labourers (Cherlin 2004). In the early to mid-20th century, the two world wars forced women out of the kitchen and into the workforce, meaning men were not necessarily required for a family’s financial stability (Holmes 2006). The division of labour is still very much decided by gender in contemporary Australia, however the shift toward equality is significant and has caused equally significant changes to social and economic issues (Dempsy 2002).

Modern day Australians are fortunate enough to live in the most prosperous time of history, in one of the wealthiest countries in the world, which offers us an array of choice. This self-determination is referred to by Chambers as ‘Individualism’ (2012). Since there is no longer an economic need for lineage to pass down to children through the traditional family structure, new family structures are forming based on individual needs rather than necessity (Beck-Gernsheim 2002; Cherlin 2004). Technology such as in-vitro fertilisation, removed the requirement for a man to impregnate a woman, which made parenting largely accessible for all, including same-sex couples. Sperm donors, surrogate mothers, post-divorce relationships, step families and single parents are some examples of the myriad of new families that were virtually unheard of prior to the 1960’s (Beck-Gernsheim 2002; Cherlin 2004). Yet amongst all this social change, the institution of marriage has not become redundant. Instead, Australians are increasingly in support of marriage equality as a strong and important cause for thousands of citizens.

Proponents of marriage equality advocate for the same level of meaning and legal privilege that has traditionally only been afforded to heterosexual couples. Cherlin argues marriage has evolved into a symbol of status and maturity, akin to a coming-of-age (2004). That is, marriage is something one works up to and the ceremony itself is a chance to broadcast a new social standing and prestige in society (Cherlin 2004). Beck-Gernsheim argues alternative families have been living alongside this heteronormative, nuclear family ideal for decades (2002). She says traditional marriage has not diminished in importance, but more people are choosing to engage in relationships that fall outside the prescriptive norm. These alternative relationships are fluid and open to negotiation as people write new rules to suit their individual circumstances. However, a drawback is the absence of stereotypical norms to fall back on when negotiations cannot be made (Beck-Gernsheim 2002). Legalising same sex marriage will assist couples trying to navigate new relationship territory by regulating and standardising a broader definition of ‘family’ (Beck-Gernsheim 2002).

The legalisation of marriage equality will legitimise the changing nature of relationships. People began questioning, and rejecting, the binary nature of the nuclear family during the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 70s. However, as late as 2004, the Howard government tightened the Marriage Act in 2004 to include a definition of marriage as a “union between a man and a woman” (Cwlth). Some interpret this decision as a calculated and direct affront to the global marriage equality movement (Waitt 2015). Yet, politicians such as Tony Abbott try to claim marriage equality is ‘unimportant’ and “…not a high order issue”. This is despite the government’s economic and social responsibility to address high rates of depression and suicide for same-sex attracted people. This is also despite a body of research that suggests flexibility within relationships can only benefit society as a whole (Beck-Gernsheim 2004; Chambers 2012; Cherlin 2004; Waitt 2015; Halse 2015; Patterson 2006).

Democratic change towards marriage equality is impeded by the politicisation of family values. Chambers describes the nuclear family as the moral cornerstone of society – “a powerful icon of tradition and stability … still often perceived as an antidote to today’s social problems” (2012, p.2). The catch cry ‘family values’ is a political aphrodisiac and popular euphemism during times of disruption and social upheaval (Chambers 2012; Razavi & Jenichen 2010; Waitt 2015). As it stands, relationships that fall outside the heteronormative definition are at risk of being stereotyped as ‘deviant’ or ‘debauched’, with some questioning whether marriage reform will lead to an alarming moral slippery-slope (Macedo 2015). For instance, conservative politicians such as Cory Bernardi argue marriage equality will result in polygamy and adult incest (Halse 2012). However, Halse argues marriage equality is entirely conservative, as the very nature of conservatism is not to gamble with uncertain outcomes (2012). The outcome on marriage equality is resoundingly positive, both for same sex attracted couples and the majority of the rest of Australian society that support their right to marry (Beck-Gernsheim 2004; Chambers 2012; Cherlin 2004; Gordon 2015; Halse 2015; Patterson 2006).

Australians are arguably slow to embrace change, but acceptance of marriage equality has had a sharp increase in the last decade, which can be confronting for some pockets of the population. Chambers draws on a theory by Carol Smart that family comes under ‘personal life’ (2012). That is, it holds a place somewhere between the private and public realms which often goes unnoticed. Therefore, it can be somewhat shocking to see just how diverse these families have become over time, which can produce a negative reaction. Some in opposition even question who will look after children and the elderly (Beck-Gernsheim 2002)? Fortunately, evidence suggests that those who partake in non-traditional relationships still hold a strong desire for kinship-ties, commitment and community (Beck-Gernsheim 2002; Chambers 2012; Cherlin 2004). Evidence also suggests societal stigma towards alternative families is far more damaging to children, than growing up with two parents of the same gender (Patterson 2006). Legalising marriage equality would go some way towards combatting this stigma, which will result in better outcomes for children. As Beck-Gernsheim said, “’What comes next after the family?’…the family!” (2004, p. 8).

Marriage equality in Australia is fighting an uphill battle against religious institutions. Razavi and Jenichen examine the cross-over of religion into the public sphere of politics and law (2010). They question whether the separation of religion and the State ever existed by arguing secular societies have always had background religious and moral pressures. There seems to be a pervading inclination to accept religious doctrine as the only model of morality, so long as it adheres to regulations under the law. Yet, Macedo describes criminal charges for “same-sex sodomy in the privacy of the home” in Bowers vs Hardwick in 1986. This was not seen to have been a private matter, but instead was described by the magistrate as an “infamous crime against nature”. In this case, religion and State were inherently linked, but Australia is gradually moving away from religious influence (Goosen 2010).

To conclude, marriage equality is a public issue that is being stymied due to Australian politicians’ reluctance to face change. The traditional definition of marriage between a man and a woman is outdated, but government policy has not kept up. Even though the institution of marriage is no longer required to raise a family, the process itself is no less significant as a form of personal identity and social standing. Marriage equality will allow same sex attracted couples guidance in navigating their relationship, yet some conservative politicians prefer to fall back on traditional family values instead of addressing new norms. Very little evidence suggests children and older people would be any worse off under a different family structure. Indeed, new relationship structures are occurring alongside traditional marriage anyway. It’s time the Australian nation shook off its stubborn fixation with the traditional definition of marriage and looked towards the greater good of the individual.










Blackface & Racism

We need to talk about Racism…

Over a year ago I was rightly canned by the local paper for saying ‘blackface’ shouldn’t always necessarily be deemed offensive. This was in the context of people dressing up as their Indigenous sporting hero’s for a costume party – I was very wrong.

After much reflection, I decided to explore the issue further in an essay for my Latrobe Bachelor of Arts course (below). Blackface is ALWAYS offensive, it’s a matter of getting the message out there so people are aware of their choices. This is best done in a respectful manner so conversations like these can happen on a regular basis. Growing up as a child in QLD with Joh Bjelke Petersen, racism has gone under the radar for me and thousands of other well-meaning white-Australians. I hope this essay sheds some light on the topic and I’m sincerely sorry for any offence I may have caused to our local Indigenous population in Greater Shepparton and beyond.


Discuss blackface discourse in relation to Indigenous Australia

The discourse of blackface in Australia took a different path to comparable countries around the world. Prior to colonialism, blackface was used in Carnival. From there it evolved through Minstrelsy into a strong symbol of racial oppression. However, blackface has only recently been recognised by white Australia as racist. This essay will examine how the discourse of blackface differed across international borders, how Indigenous culture was silenced by blackface in early Australian film, the way blackface is used as a social leveller, and white-Australia’s defence of the ‘Jackson Jive’, ‘Hey Hey it’s Saturday’ skit. White-Australian responses to racist criticisms generally avoid discussing racism, instead drawing questions around national identity, white privilege and use of reverse racism. From there this essay discusses humour, as well as the advent of Indigenous voices in TV programs and theatre. Broad repercussions of racism are linked with equity, transnationalism and Indigenous voices in social media. To finish, this essay hypothesises that blackface is offensive, but many in the white majority are yet to recognise why.

When most people think of ‘blackface’, images of US Minstrelsy come to mind. Minstrelsy has been associated with racial struggles since the 1800s, however, the origin of blackface vaudeville stretches back much further than that (Gilbert 2003, Stratton 2011). In early Carnival, blackface represented the subversive ‘other’ – worn by larrikins who upset fixed social hierarchies by parodying their ‘betters’ (Stratton 2011, p.28). As Gilbert (2011) describes, blackface in these rituals “signalled that what followed was to be taken as burlesque, not at face value” so did not explicitly pantomime race (pp. 681).

The popularity of Minstrel Shows reached its highest level of popularity when technology allowed the broadcast of Minstrelsy into thousands of living rooms across the world. ‘The Black and White Minstrel Show’ was popular in Australia, screening on ABC until as late as 1978 and the early travelling version of this show toured Sydney and Melbourne in 1963/64, attracting audiences of over 150,000 (Stratton 2011). Minstrelsy became a household phenomenon and no one seemed to question blackface. There was very little, if any, public backlash from the Indigenous community, which reflects the sheer dominance of white Australia at that time.

Blackface in general was synonymous with an unquestioned and romanticised white privilege. This was so insipid that early blackface resembled apathetic storytelling – more a reflection of public sentiment, or norms, than a political tool. For example, Gilbert (2003) describes how Red Indians were originally portrayed in blackface as noble chiefs, but following the Civil War, Red Indians evolved into treacherous schemers (p. 648). Yet, Wetherell and Potter (1992) describe racial discourse as anything that has the effect of “establishing, sustaining and reinforcing oppressive power relations” (p. 70). Once people recognised blackface characters were always subordinate to a white character, the image became politicised as an inherent and explicit symbol of racial oppression.

It’s taken white Australia longer to become aware of the racial interpretation of blackface. Whilst the US civil rights movement gave blackface a high profile, Australia quietly awarded land and voting rights to Indigenous people without much of a stir. Malevolent protests lead by African American activists and civil rights groups contested racist media representations, leading to the demise of such TV programs like Minstrel, ‘Amos ‘n’ Andy’ and ‘Jose’ Jiménez’ (Pérez p. 41). The Black Panthers, Civil Rights Congress and Martin Luther King, fascinated America and kept racial politics centre stage in popular media. Meanwhile, most of white Australia seemed content in the false belief that their society was egalitarian (Probert 2000).

Early Aboriginal actors were rare and film roles were few prior to 1970, which limited opportunities to showcase authentic Indigenous culture. Typically, the Aboriginal character was a “loyal sidekick to the bushranging hero, invariably played by a white man in blackface” (Pike 1977, p. 592). Therefore, Charles Chauvel’s ‘Jedda’ (1955) is significant for stepping outside the ‘blackface’ stereotype. Chauvel searched extensively before settling on actual Aboriginal people to play two lead parts, but used blackface for the character of Joe, a successful head stockman and lead narrator of the film. Chauvel’s ‘Joe’ was of upstanding moral, social and professional character, even by white standards, but the fact remains Chauvel imposed his white world view onto the character, and indeed onto the script itself.

Cultural sensitivities can vary between time and space. Perhaps, due to Chauvel’s background in vaudeville and the limited contribution of Aboriginal people in film, he had little comprehension that reducing the colour of one’s skin to a costume could be deemed offensive. Dark skin carries an inescapable legacy of violence and racial oppression, so using make-up to paint on blackface makes a mockery of dark skinned genealogy, which cannot be washed off after a long day filming – “When Chauvel wore and directed blackface he was, perhaps quite unconsciously, reiterating racial fictions that had justified violent colonialism and slavery since the eighteenth Century” (Miller 2007, p. 141).

Aboriginal people who step outside the submissive stereotype have been discredited and attacked by blackface. Stratton (2011) believes “Australian blackface … can be understood as a way of managing anxiety about those identified as non-white” (p. 31). He draws parallels between blackface and uprising Indigenous personalities, such as Nicky Winmar, a successful Indigenous AFL player and proud Indigenous man. The courageous image of Winmar pulling up his football jersey and pointing to his dark skin is iconic. Sam Newman from ‘The Footy Show’ (1999) tried to humiliate Winmar by dressing up as him in blackface. Shockingly, most of white-Australia did not believe he should apologise (Stratton 2011, p. 33).

In 2006, Australia was thrust under the international limelight following a ‘Hey Hey, it’s Saturday’ skit, when American TV guest Harry Connick Jnr called out racism over a blackface performance by the ‘Jackson Jive’. A similar blackface performance by the same group had aired 2 decades prior, but it went under the radar. Stratton (2011) described the performance as “mundane”, judge Jackie McDonald gave the act a 7/10, calling it “cute” and “well-choreographed”, while the audience screamed for a score of 10/10 (Stratton 2011, p. 22). It only became an issue when Connick Jnr spoke up and much of white Australia reflexively defended the act.

The ‘Jackson Jive’ was condemned by America, Canada and the UK, but rather than discuss racism, the white-Australian public turned its focus on to international ‘others’ and the perceived undermining of what it means to be Australian (Due 2011, Stratton 2011). White Australians felt compelled to defend their national identity and the idea that Australia has always been a ‘tolerant country’ (Due 2011, p. 40). This asserted tolerance is easily rebutted by reminding ourselves of the White Australia policy. Even today, Australian policy around asylum seekers and 457 Visas arguably reflect fear of the ‘other’. Australia has always been a country of immigrants, whilst being simultaneously “preoccupied with whiteness” (Stratton 2011, p. 31). One could argue that, as values shifted and society began to recognise race as a means of justifying oppression, the Minstrel ‘other’ has been insidiously resurrected in the form of ethnicity or nationality (Due 2011, p. 42).

The fact all members of the ‘Jackson Jive’ come from multicultural backgrounds does not make their use of blackface any less racist. Power lies in the dominant dichotomy and blackface is often employed to project whiteness (Gilbert 2003). For instance, the audience is acutely aware the ‘other’ is not the performer, but whom the performer wishes to portray. Therefore, one could hypothesise blackface was used by the ‘Jackson Jive’ performers – most of whom are of Indian heritage – in order to align closer with a white Australian norm.

‘Reverse racism’ is rife in white Australia. That is, people commonly react with victim-blaming behaviour towards those who don’t get the joke, turning the conversation around to defend the perpetrator (Stratton 2011, p. 39). Yorta Yorta rapper Briggs pointed out, “[y]ou know you’re in Australia when pointing out Racism is worse than Racism” (Noyes 2016). For example, Alice Kuneck is a sportsperson who dressed in blackface to emulate her idol. Liz Cambage, an African-Australian team-mate, saw it as a mockery of her culture and spoke out to the media. However, an online article by Ward and Cherny (2016) painted Kuneck as naïve, at the same time Cambage was receiving hostile online commentary (Noyes 2016). Paradoxically, denial of racism has become an enabling vehicle for racism (Gilbert 2003).

White-Australia also trivialises racism by labelling it ‘Aussie humour’.  This form of humour, “self-depreciating, defiant and ironic”, is considered by Due (2011) to be uniquely Australian and fundamental to Australian national identity. Despite Due’s assumption that Aussie humour is associated with ‘whiteness’, this is not exclusive. Indigenous programs such as ‘Basically Black’ (1973) and ‘Black Comedy’ (2014) feature a similar style. However, rather than tokenism, forced and subsidised by blackface actors, these programs actively empower Indigenous actors, writers and role models within their own community. They offer a parody of Indigenous people, by Indigenous people, not one forced on them by a dominant white culture. Rather than oppress, Indigenous comedy uses humour to open up sensitive discussions and “boldly [have] a crack at everyone” (Due 2011, Chelsea Bond, quoted by Neill 2015, p. 44).

Indigenous theatre also employs race-changing to explore skin colour as the defining instrument of race and power. Whilst blackface reflects an impenetrable, unquestioned and invisible symbol of white superiority – “blackface…can incorporate criticisms to present an anti-racist whiteness that is still assumed to be superior to its other”, Indigenous whiteface subverts and exaggerates the same racial assumptions (Miller 2007, p. 148). Whiteface produces a spectacular anomaly that makes the majority or dominant white race starkly visible. It cleverly “reverses the imperialist gaze” to reveal all the assumptions around racial privilege and prejudice – “From there, we can begin to dismantle it” (Gilbert 2003, p 679).

Australian mainstream culture has long stood by the myth that we are a classless or egalitarian society (Probert 2000). This view changed in the late 20th century in-part because we realised equal treatment does not produce equal outcomes. The gap between health outcomes for Indigenous and non-Indigenous population is significant, and racism plays a big part in that (Eades 2000). When white Australians defend blackface by saying “Aboriginal people have it easier than everyone else in this country”, Indigenous people speak up. Sis Austin labels to these assertions as pure fallacy that perpetuates a class divide (Noyes 2016). Only by recognising inequalities, resourcing and empowering communities, can we begin to move forward as a nation on equal footing (Eades 2000).

Dunbar-Hall (2004) refers to transnationalism as a converging of cross-border cultures. This phenomenon is largely enabled by global media and cannot be understated. It stands to reason Indigenous Australians will relate to politically charged material from other countries as a means of expressing their own frustration with white oppression. The same way young Indigenous Australians identify with African-American music genres like Hip-Hop and RNB, they identify with blackface, and the advent of social media has allowed them a strong oppositional voice.

Social media has enabled Indigenous Australians to go from passive observers, to active protagonists in the blackface debate. A string of high profile media personalities such as Louise Beers, Sam Newman, Chris Lilley and Simon Barker, coupled with a string of lesser known social media incidents, have mobilised an online army of anti-racist commentators. Indigenous rapper Briggs and singer Thelma Plum are “naming and shaming” by sharing screenshots of blackface and racially offensive comments online (Noyes 2016). Hugo Gruzman (a white person) wandered into a debate with the notion that blackface only applies to US Minstrel actors prior to the mid 1900’s. He said “[Briggs] didn’t make it clear why it’s offensive” (Anon 2017). The debate which ensued was scathing and angry, reflecting how blackface is currently a highly sensitive and emotionally charged subject.

Blackface is a topical and poignant image that exploits racial differences for the benefit of people with white skin. It makes a mockery of Indigenous culture and contributes to gross inequality. This essay explored how authentic Indigenous culture was hidden behind blackface in early Australian film, the way blackface has deliberately undermined the success of Indigenous people and how white-Australia responded to criticisms of racism following ‘Jackson Jive’. We examined racism in the context of national identity, multiculturalism and deconstructed ‘reverse racism’.  Aussie-humour in both mainstream and Indigenous TV programs was considered, as was whiteface in Indigenous theatre. We, questioned the idea of Australia as an egalitarian country and examined transnationalism between Australia and other continents. To conclude, Australia has been slow to embrace the idea that blackface racist, but with the inclusion of Indigenous voices in mainstream and social media, things are changing. The meaning of blackface is not binary or fixed. It has evolved since the beginning of recorded time and will continue to evolve as societal expectations change. Despite this, and despite the attitude of many white Australians, one thing is certain – blackface is always racist right now.





Cherny, D. Ward, R. 2016, ‘Opals forward Alice Kunek apologises after angering Liz Cambage with ‘blackface’ post’ The Sydney Morning Herald, viewed on 21st April 2017, https://www,

Due, C 2011, ‘’Aussie humour’ or racism? ‘Hey Hey it’s Saturday’ and the denial of racism in online responses to news media articles’, Journal of Media and Communication, vol. 3, no. 1, pp. 36-53

Dunbar-Hall, P & Gibson, C 2004, Deadly sounds, deadly places: contemporary aboriginal music in Australia, UNSW Press, Sydney, pp. 119-133

Eades, S 2000, “Reconcilliation, Social Equity and Indigenous Health”, Aboriginal and Islander Health Worker Journal, vol. 24, no.3, pp. 3-4

Gilbert, H 2003, ‘Black and White and Re(a)d All Over Again: Indigenous Minstrelsy in Contemporary Canadian and Australian Theatre’, Theatre Journal, vol. 55, no. 4, pp. 679-699

Jedda 1955, DVD, National Film and Sound Archive, Australia

Miller, B 2007, ‘The Mirror of Whiteness: Blackface in Charles Chauvel’s Jedda’, Journal of the association of Australian Journalism, [special edition], pp. 140-156

Neill, A 2015, ‘Laughing with us: ‘Black comedy’ and Aboriginal humour’, Metro Magazine: Media & Education Magazine, no. 185, pp. 40-45.

Noyes 2016, Aboriginal musicians Briggs and Thelma Plum are naming and shaming racists on Facebook, Daily Life, viewed 22nd April 2016, < 20160201-gmikx9.html>

Pérez, R 2016, ‘Brownface Minstrelsy – “Jose’ Jiménez” the civil rights movement, and the legacy of racist comedy’

Pike, A 1977, ‘Aboriginals in Australian Feature Films’, Meanjin, vol. 36, no. 4, pp. 592-599

Probert, Belinda 2000 ‘Class in the Year 2001′, Australian Rationalist, no. 56, pp. 5-14

Stratton, J 2011, ‘The Jackson Jive: Blackface Today and the Limits of Whiteness in Australia’, The Journal of the European Association of Studies on Australia, vol. 2, no. 2, pp. 22-41

Wetherell, M & Potter, J 1992, Mapping the language of Racism: Discourse and the Legitimation of Exploitation, Harvester Wheatsheaf, London.

Commonwealth Games

In a regional bid for the Commonwealth Games, Greater Shepparton is bringing the ‘People’s Games’ to the people…
If we really are to become a ‘State of Cities’, regional Victoria must play a part. For too long, regional areas have sat on our laurels and gratefully accepted budget-crumbs to fix our road, rail and drainage problems. Sadly, there is nothing sexy about roads, rail and drainage. For example, it’s rare for politicians to turn up at the ‘launch’ of a footpath or offer photo opportunities beside a new culvert.

Therein lies the magnificent strategy behind our bid – infrastructure! Regional Victoria is turning things on it’s head by offering a great deal to the Government, instead of the other way around. This is not a request for boring old piecemeal infrastructure. This is a significant package that offers politicians an opportunity to hang their hat on the Commonwealth Games.

Greater Shepparton sponsored Nitro Athletics in 2017

Shepparton is already positioned as the regional sporting capital of Victoria. Much required sporting infrastructure is already in place. Shepparton has a quality athletics track, an AFL standard oval, a national BMX track and already host international events such as bowls and beach volleyball. Shepparton also host the Ironman Triathlon on the banks of the Goulburn and picturesque Victoria park Lake.

We have until 2030 to deliver what we need. This allows time to upgrade sports stadiums, develop our Sporting Hall of Fame and build the passenger rail system from Melbourne airport, which could increase Shepparton’s rail services to 8 per day. It also strengthens our case for a bullet train. Ultimately, we will need long term government vision and bipartisan support to make this a reality, but it will drive regional investment of $1b and shake off the idea that State government is Metrocentric.

Greater Shepparton is developing a Sporting Hall of Fame

Look to Europe and we see good reason to embrace this idea. For instance, the Tour de France showcases regional areas to draw and spread economic benefit. As athletics champion John Steffenson points out, athletes just want to win and they will travel to Mars if it means getting ahead.

Tourism benefits will stretch across all of regional Victoria, not just Shepparton. Professional sports people will travel back and forth from 11 different regional areas. Each region will connect individually with different sports and offer up role models to improve local fitness and inspiration. People will travel in advance for preliminary race assessments, as well as after the event for seminars, or when friends and family come to visit.

The Tour De France is famous for extending out into regions

Perhaps the take home point is an event like the Commonwealth Games will put us front and centre in an international spotlight. If we achieve nothing else, this bid will raise the bar and offer hope for all our constituents that we are gaining momentum on a world stage.


SAM vs Community Engagement Strategy

Council adopted the Community Engagement Strategy on July 7th 2009. The purpose of this strategy is “…to go beyond the minimum engagement requirements so we can strengthen the relationship with the community” (p3). It’s my opinion that Council failed to consult adequately for SAM.

Under the strategy, Council made a promise to the community that they will “be involved in the decisions that affect them” (p2). However, the SAM consultation process did not “engage with a wider cross section of the community, including groups which are harder to reach” (p2). ‘Community’ for this purpose, will be defined as per the definition stated on page 8 of the Community Engagement Strategy – “Our whole community: the people who live within the City of Greater Shepparton, including rural areas and rural towns in the municipality and those who wish to live, work, visit or invest in the Municipality”

On page 7, under the heading ‘OUR PROMISE’, Council resolved to inform, keep communities involved and up to date, consult, listen to and understand community views, involve collaboratively, work with community groups, organisations and stakeholders to plan, develop and manage projects, as well as empower the community.

This strategy was intended so the “final decision will be made by the community” and should be enacted when projects impact future developments/budgets, include 1-3 year projects such as transport/infrastructure projects, tourism projects community development projects or developments for town centres. As you can see, SAM ticks every box.

Page 3 under clause 2.3 outlines GSCC consultation principles: ‘Fair and Transparent’, ‘Honesty, integrity and Respect’, Open and Inclusive Process’ and Well Informed Effective Communication’. Reasons why GSCC failed to follow these principles are listed below:


·         GS did not act on its “…commit[ment]…to go beyond the minimum engagement requirement so we can strengthen our relationship with the community” (p3). In fact, GSCC failed to table an anti-SAM document containing over 2000 objections


·         Community engagement did not increase community participation, nor enable the community to work together on issues that matter to them (p4)


·         As part of a fair and transparent process, GSCC was not accountable for monitoring, reviewing, evaluating or reporting in an impartial manner 


·         The consultation process used for SAM lacked genuine honesty, integrity and respect, as engagement was perceived as tokenistic and contrived


·         The consultation process used for SAM was not open, inclusive and enabling, as evidenced by an overwhelming number of stakeholders who expressed surprise the project was going ahead.


·         The interests and concerns of communities and stakeholders were not keenly sought, as evidenced by GSCC’s reluctance to address divergent opinions early


·         Well informed and effective communication was lacking, as the community was not given enough time to respond to consultation. Even today, it is difficult to say stakeholders are “well informed” (P4)


·         The standard of community consultation for SAM is low as participants did not represent a cross section of the community, nor were a wide range of communication methods engaged


·         The benefits of a “shared vision”, “mutual understanding” and developing a “partnership relationship” with the broader community have not been met (p5)


·         Rather than being proactive in consultation, GSCC has been reactive, ultimately resulting in the need to mitigate conflict and anger as it arises

On Page 5, Council has identified four levels of participation rated in order of engagement. These are: Inform, Connect, Involve/Collaborate and Empower. ‘Empowering’ the community was circumvented in favour of ‘informing’ the community about the outcome of a questionable consultant business case. Therefore, the consultation engagement process lost many opportunities. Some of these are:


·         Gaining new perspectives and sources of information


·         Improved quality of outcomes – practical and relevant


·         Targeted to whole of community expectations


·         Building a sense of joint purpose


·         Finding sustainable solutions to barriers such as contaminated soil and flood plain restrictions


·         Testing of assumptions to serve as a reality check 

Most importantly, GSCC continues to be in breach of our own policy by failing to evaluate engagement (p15).

To sum up, being a major project for the City of Greater Shepparton, the SAM consultation process was totally inadequate. As GSCC failed to engage stakeholders in a meaningful and genuine way in the outset, no amount of counter-measure will stem negative opinions in the community. 

Community negativity could potentially impact the ultimate success of this project, as much depends on shifting community attitudes and expectations, to enhance the positive reputation of the City of Shepparton.


Our Goulburn Valley, Our Future – National Australia Bank economics report

I wrote this report that was published in the Greater Shepparton City Council December Minutes…

Wednesday 23rd November 2016

This morning Greater Shepparton City Councillors were invited to attend a forum lead by the National Australia Bank (NAB) at Eastbank. It offered an overarching snapshot of our current economic structure, key economic drivers and new opportunities for the Goulburn Valley.

If you compare the economic pie graph from four years ago, to the one presented at today’s forum, it paints a remarkably different picture. When SPC was in trouble, it became apparent how reliant we were on a single processor and that economic diversification was crucial in moving forward. Now it’s claimed our biggest job sector is health care, at 13%. According to statistics, we are no longer wholly reliant on agriculture or manufacturing.

However, all speakers concurred irrigated agriculture remains vital. The economic flow on effect of agriculture is the back bone of retail, transport, hospitality and basically all other sectors. Shepparton has an economic output of $2b in farming, before value adding. Despite this, an audience member claimed farmers remain the “poor cousin” in terms of perception, policy and market forces.

Although significant, the key to Shepparton’s diversification wasn’t as broad as introducing new industry. Much macro work has been done in the agricultural sector to buffer against volatile pricing and global warming. Our largest agricultural contributor is milk at 37%, fruit at 20%, followed by broad-acre products and cattle. Fruit alone contributes $400m to our economy, 70% being apples and pears. Tomatoes hold the largest portion of our vegetable production, at 54%, which indicates an opportunity to diversify further. In the wake of global warming, ‘climate mapping’ locates optimal, long term patches of land for new farming opportunities.

The forum suggested our need to diversify agriculture is due to 3 external forces that cause volatility in the market: water availability, international markets and disproportion between the number of small suppliers and large buyers.

Currently, there is a senate dispute over environmental ‘vs’ irrigated water allocations. Greater Shepparton City Council CEO Peter Harriott put this down to “politics” and I’m sure many would agree. A question from an audience member asked “At what point does water scarcity stop growth?”, to which Committee for Greater Shepparton representative Sam Birrell replied, “We are already there”. Mr Birrell explained the GMID Leadership Forum, which is currently informing the senate enquiry, indicates “No more water can leave this consumptive pool in our region without detrimental socioeconomic impact … we are at the tipping point” (Sam Birrell #C4GS). 

There was also the question of whether increased government intervention was required to regulate the free market of water trading – should survival of some agriculture sectors come down to their capacity to pay for water? Less water equals higher prices and although dairy and fruit comprise 70% of current irrigated output, water flows to those who can most afford it. Almond and cotton farms require 14L per hectare, compared to 5L per hectare, which could squeeze out dairy and wine grape farms altogether.

Unfortunately the response from the panel was less than optimistic, with NAB Economist Tom Taylor saying we are “swimming against the tide” in terms of interfering with the free market. He went on to state “there are thousands of Greenies in Metropolitan cities” who could inform and cement environmental flows, such as the 450GL water grab for South Australia.

International markets are another major factor impeding agriculture. Returns are often low and fluctuate significantly. Ongoing family agri-business are not being passed down to future generations due to this high level of risk. Some businesses have found the secret to great success by implementing systems to help combat extreme market volatility, but many are suffering. We’ve recently seen the impact of global market forces, with Fonterra and Murray Goulburn announcing low farm gate prices and financial claw-backs; due partly to competitive foreign export prices and a milk glut caused by China over-bulking in powdered dairy products. Both companies are being investigated over the seriousness of these decisions and will potentially inform changes to the Corporation Act.

The forum also explored the imbalance of bargaining power between small growers and large retailers/processors. In 2014, Coles admitted to misconduct in buying power and the AECC made a statement in July stating “Woolworths are yet to have their moment of awakening in their treatment of suppliers”. Basically, large buyers and manufacturers can squeeze prices so low it’s virtually impossible to compete with lower quality imports. The answer provided was to export ourselves, yet that doesn’t combat the issue of high overheads, such as the burden of GM Water infrastructure contributions, high minimum wage and logistics, to name a few. 

Mr Harriott said the recent Greater Shepparton City Council delegation to China sought to combat these issues by building connections between the GV and our Chinese sister city. Government can facilitate export relations by sourcing product, linking trade opportunities between countries, streamlining export processes and cutting red tape.

Connectivity is vitally important for Greater Shepparton’s economy. It was suggested that as Melbourne grows, freight will become more problematic due to road congestion. Melbourne’s population is projected to grow from 4.5m in 2015 to 8m in 2051. Therefore, train infrastructure is absolutely imperative, including the Melbourne to Brisbane inland rail freight and High Speed Rail connecting Shepparton to Melbourne. Comparisons were made with Bendigo, where residents have the luxury of catching a train every hour so they can reside in Bendigo and work in the city. NAB Senior Analyst and Agribusiness Economist Phin Ziebel stated Shepparton is the “forgotten region in terms of public transport” and described our tracks as “rubbish”.

Overall liveability was addressed broadly. Shepparton has ample affordable housing for average wage earners, housing approvals are on the incline and our population is increasing within urban Shepparton. 

According to speakers, jobs are up and unemployment is down; going from 10% unemployment, to 8%. However, this does not factor in the continuing unemployment disparity that sits within Indigenous groups, which continues to stand at around 20%. Mr Harriott flagged a significant effort to reduce this number via tourism and the employment agreements. We have the largest Indigenous population outside Melbourne and have a remarkable story to tell in terms of our history. No doubt this will appeal to the Chinese tourism market.

Mr Harriott described Chinese tourism as “Sovereign Hill on steroids”. The Chinese middle class population will reach 450m in 2045 and it’s imperative we position Greater Shepparton as an Australian/Victorian destination, akin to Port Phillip Penguins, MONA and the 12 Apostles. Tourism generates $200m for our region – $550m with Campaspe, Moira and Shepparton combined. Tapping into regional cross border opportunities, metro Melbourne tourism and passive income streams from retirees, will unlock even more potential.

As in most areas, we are an ageing population, therefore health and aged care are critical economic drivers. Described by Mr Taylor as “the pillar of our regional economy”. GV Health currently employ 2000 staff and there are 4000 jobs in health care overall. Considering population projections and our regional catchment of over 200,000 people, the hospital upgrade is well overdue and this will undoubtably lead to more growth and employment in this sector. Despite this, migration away from Shepparton by young people between 15-24yo is high. 

A question from the audience asked how can we retain more youth in the area. Answers included our burgeoning University precinct, professional development opportunities such as ‘Young Professionals’, entrepreneurial start ups and more urban living choices. Regular public transport and strong social networks are lacking and need improvement. 

We must get the message out that Greater Shepparton is a preferred lifestyle choice by many, for a variety of reasons. We are a major events & sporting destination, encourage arts & culture, food & wine, harbour many convenient services, employment opportunities and affordable housing. Mr Harriot summed it up by saying “If you’ve got the ‘vibe’ of the place right, the feel of the place right, whether by greening or any other measure, then you’re on the right track”.

I’d like to think Our Goulburn Valley, Our Future, is most certainly on the right track!

Aviation Freight Hub

There seems to be some stirrings in the Nationals camp regarding a proposed $130m aviation freight hub. This was a project I campaigned for during the Federal election that would unlock $300b of food export opportunities to Asia.


As the next State election looms, it’s set to be a fierce battle. The Nats want to reclaim the seat of Shepparton from Independent Suzanna Sheed and no doubt it’s become clear Damian Drum’s Federal promise to relocate Government agencies to Greater Shepparton is being met with resounding silence. Couple these events with the Coalition’s Population Relocation Taskforce, which aims to decentralise Melbourne, and we have a recipe for some highly welcome pork barrelling. Would you like crackling with that..?apples

The Port of Melbourne is set to be privatised, which could price us ‘hillbillies’ out of the export trade altogether. Also, the QLD inland rail system is not planed to link with Shepparton. Further, the Nats failed to deliver the first stage of the Shepparton Bypass, instead offering the crumbs of a regional Infrastructure Fund to upgrade some roundabouts.

They need another solution to steal back the seat and capitalise on Greater Shepparton’s $2.88b GRP; $239.6m in Agriculture, forestry and fishing exports (4.4% in Victoria), on top of domestic consumption.


An Aviation hub in Greater Shepparton will put food on the plate in China overnight. We are marketed as green, healthy food, produced under best practice conditions. Organics is a popular Asian food choice. Also largely untapped markets like goat products, crayfish, mushroom, legumes etc. An aviation export hub will give farmers confidence to diversify away from stone fruit, dairy and wheat to truly Make Shepparton Greater.