I’m Mikhaela Barlow and I’m standing for Island Ward in the 2020 Bass Coast Shire Council Elections.
This election comes at a critical time for Phillip Island and the Shire.
I am standing on a Climate Emergency and Economic Recovery platform.
I’m passionate about my community. I’m young, and filled with new ideas, yet I am also uniquely prepared for this job due to my upbringing as a Councillor’s daughter. People should vote for me because I genuinely want to be a part of the change that will move Phillip Island, and Bass Coast Shire, into the future.
Council continues to make decisions and operate in a way which will never achieve carbon neutrality by 2030. If elected, I intend to demand real reductions in the Shire Council’s own carbon footprint, and I have a range of other environment focused initiatives which will accelerate our measurable progress to real Sustainability.
Earlier in the year, in response to the emerging disaster in the local economy due to COVID19, I got my advisors together and developed a Pandemic Recovery Plan, which will work to support local businesses during this emergency by a combination of two mechanisms. Firstly, Council must begin rate relief in some form for commercial businesses. A rate reduction target has not been set because the impact on the budget needs to be assessed and considered.
Secondly, Council needs to divert money from any non-critical capital works into a temporary fund for economic development, primarily focused around a Small Event Strategy. This money would be used to develop and assist local event promoters to stage small events, carefully targeting specific demographic and interest groups and designed to attract 500-2000 people spread across the Shire for two or three days. This diversifies and strengthens our tourist offering as we try and compete with every other Coastal Council.
Ultimately, it’s all about business survivability, improving community resilience, getting maximum bang for our buck, and in the short-term saving jobs in the process. Without a decent economy and decent jobs right now, the Island has little future.
I need your support to save our environment and our economy.
Questions 1 thru 15 are from BCRRA and 16 thru 34 are collated from the community questions received. Candidates were asked to respond to all 34
- Why do you believe the community should vote for you?
People should vote for me because I understand the issues that we are facing as a community, and further, I know what I need to do to get the ball rolling to fix it. I have a deep connection to the Island—I’ve never lived anywhere else—and I also have a deep knowledge of Local Government because of my history in that field. I know how to make an impact on our Local Economy, I know how to successfully implement real Climate Policy, and I know how to ensure our Artists and Performers are recognised and celebrated.
People should vote for me because I am passionate about my community. I’m young, and filled with innovative ideas, yet I am also uniquely prepared for this job due to my upbringing as a Councillor’s daughter. People should vote for me because I genuinely want to be a part of the change that will move Phillip Island, and Bass Coast Shire, into the future.
- What are your strengths in working with people?
I’m a friendly, trustworthy person. I’m good at going to the heart of a matter to find the source of the actual problem. I am accustomed to working with colleagues much older than I and have no trouble forming happy, productive working relationships with everyone. I’ve been a volunteer in a variety of roles, including at the Vietnam Veterans Museum and the MIF Volunteer Visitor Program. I’m a motivational team player, take defeat readily, am happy to admit a mistake if evidence proves me wrong. I think I would be an intuitive, fair, kind and calming influence.
Most critically, I know the workload involved and can guarantee that I will focus FULL TIME on Council. I’ve cleared my slate for the next four years and I give my word that the tail will not wag the dog on my watch. The devil, they say, is in the detail, and I will devote my time and energy to productive Committee work. This is the only real path to the kind of good Policy which satisfies the needs of an evolving community. Those committees on which I sit will always act in the interests of the people of the Bass Coast Shire. They will be productive, and outcome focussed. Any committees I chair will be as open to the public as it is legally possible to be. As a general principle I oppose all Government Secrecy except when legally required.
- If elected, how will you demonstrate that you stand at the front of the community rather than standing beside the bureaucracy?
A Councillor’s role is to advocate for and represent the interests of their community. Their sworn duty is to represent the residents and ratepayers of the entire Shire, not just their patch. Their role as clearly articulated in the Victorian Local Government Act is to develop Policy and approve an Annual Budget and other Statutory Documents. The act clearly and unambiguously emphasises that Councillors may not under any circumstances direct or seek to influence the staff in the execution of their duties. I have yet to hear a compelling argument why staff would act against the best interest of the community in which they themselves live, sabotaging the lives of their families, friends, neighbours and workmates. I have heard endless allegations, but I have yet to see any evidence of a situation other than democracy at work; not everyone agrees, the process is slow and time-consuming and leads to outcomes full of compromise that make very few people happy. If staff recommend decisions that are either not supported by evidence or are not supported by Statutory and Regulatory Frameworks and Council Policy, then I would reject the recommendation. If there are complaints about staff those complaints are legally the sole responsibility of the CEO. If the community is consistently unhappy with what they perceive is the CEO’s failures, they are free to lobby all the Councillors to not renew the CEO’s contract when it comes up. As an Island Councillor I will always have the interests of all Island Residents foremost in mind and in all ways, I will follow the Law and the Councillor Code of Conduct as approved by the Council of which I am a member.
- What considerations, inclusions or deletions will you take when forming your new Council Plan?
Those who review my Policy Suite at www.blueskyfuturesresearch.com will understand that I am a Climate Crisis Candidate who recognizes that Covid-19 has changed everything. I seek to prioritize supporting our local economy above all else at this time. I will take those positions into negotiations in relation to the Council Plan and other matters when the time arises. It should go without saying that if I believed the current Council had an adequate Climate Plan I would not be standing. Or that if they had an effective Pandemic Recovery Plan, I would not have sought business views on order to develop one myself. Beyond that I cannot say. Anyone who says they will make this or that inclusion, alteration or deletion is lying. They can try, but they have only one vote.
- How will you demonstrate that you remain focused on financial discipline at Council
It seems to me that there are some who believe that it is Council’s role to do only what is essential in “core” areas and to do that as cheaply as possible. I do not agree. It is Council’s role to provide services across dozens of areas, over a large geographical population, to a diverse and growing community. Operating within the Rate Cap severely limits Council’s ability to provide the services the community wants. Inadequate services are the inevitable result of a focus on Financial Discipline above all other 140-odd Policy areas.
I have a Policy suite which addresses the rarely mentioned side of the Budget equation through a greater focus on securing new sources of revenue. The most obvious of these are Pay-To-Park, which could provide an annual income of millions and has 95% Local support, Public/Private Partnerships, and sponsorship. These would have beneficial effects on both Capital and Operational budgets and would relieve reliance on Rates. To my mind that is much better financial management than an obsession with wielding a razor and it is the only way to grow the Budget and fulfill the very long wish list the community has.
I must add that I will of course be guided by the expertise of the Audit Committee to ensure that public funds are never wasted.
- Is Council’s 4 year Strategic Resource Plan together with the 10 year financial plan appropriate to meet the future needs of The Bass Coast Shire Council and its Ratepayers?
The Pandemic continues to cause a deepening economic crisis across the Shire. Our Tourism and Hospitality sectors have been hardest hit. Neither of the Council plans referred to were developed with Pandemic-induced Economic collapse in mind. It is my hope that the incoming Council will consider and implement an Economic Recovery Plan similar to that described at www.blueskyfuturesresearch.com. This will of course necessitate a revision of current financial plans and the adoption of strictly temporary emergency financial plans.
- Will you be prepared to challenge the system (council officers and fellow councillors) to keep your constituents well informed?
If the current system was functioning well, I would not be standing. Challenging the system is the hallmark of any “change” candidate and I am no different.
I will keep the community well informed through my own social media, through an e-mail list that people can choose to sign up to, and through a Vlog. Utilizing evolving social media platforms effectively is the key to good communication today and I will establish a benchmark for others to follow in this regard. I will continue to advocate that all committee meetings and Council Briefings be open to the public except where meeting in camera is legally required. Where possible all committee meetings should also be livestreamed.
- Will you take action to investigate the 10 year Waste Contract details in the first 12 months of your term as a councillor? Will you review the contract model settings and make findings publicly available?
Within the first 90 days, if elected, I will contact the Regional Waste Management Group and verify that the current Waste Management Contract is reflective of Regional Waste Management Group Policy, and further that cost is reflective of regional expectation. This will give me an external, independent, expert opinion upon which I can make decisions, if necessary. The community will hear of my findings when I have all the necessary information to provide an accurate description of the situation.
- Will you support continued live streaming of open Council Meetings and availability of a publicly available video archive?
I have known the importance of Live-Streaming Local Council Meetings for about a decade and have noted the ongoing reluctance of several generations of Shire Councillors to expose themselves to scrutiny in this way. I will advocate for the Live Streaming of all Council Meetings and Committee meetings, effective, search friendly archiving of those streams and would like to review the livestreamed Q&A’s to make them both more regular and accessible. I can also see the opportunity to begin Live-Streaming organisations’ and associations’ General Meetings—for example, the Library Board was discussing such a thing more than a decade ago.
- Will you take action to review the Governance Rules Policy in the first 12 months of your term as a councillor including community consultation?
I assume that the Mayor and CEO will develop a timeline for Policy Review and I will support whatever priority the Mayor gives to review of the Governance Rules Policy.
- Will you take action to Review the Media Engagement Policy in the first 12 months of your term as a councillor including community consultation?
I assume that the Mayor and CEO will develop a timeline for Policy Review and I will support whatever priority the Mayor gives to review of the Media Engagement Policy.
- If elected, what commitment will you make to improve Council engagement with the wider community and build community engagement with your local ward?
As a Councillor, I will commit to advocating as strongly as I can in Council discussions for effective and meaningful engagement with the community. By this I mean opportunities for the community to raise concerns with Council and ask questions of council in ways that ae convenient to them—the community—and I will support any initiatives which improve the community’s understanding of council and involvement with Council. I believe that an empowered and self-activated community engages with its Local Government at all levels and I will strive to make the relevant Policy changes to ensure that the Council responds in ways that satisfy the community’s needs.
- How will you ensure that the CEO and officers genuinely and respectfully answer all public questions with a sincere response that address the core of each question?
As I indicated the Local Government Act makes it crystal clear that no Councillor may direct or seek to influence the staff in the performance of their duties. Accordingly, there is nothing I can or will do to direct the staff in relation to responding to Public Questions. If the CEO treats any resident or ratepayer inappropriately, I will be concerned and will take the matter up with the Mayor and then the Council. If action is required it will be a decision of Council and presumably any issue which remained unaddressed would affect the likelihood of the CEO’s contract being renewed, which is the only real power Council has.
- Do you believe that keeping any increases to rates, fees and charges within the State Government Rate Cap or below the CPI increase is paramount for Council?
It’s clear that there is a segment of the community which believes that nothing is more important than the size of their Rates Notice. It is not clear that this group understands the financial impact of holiday homes on the Budget. As long as Federal Grants to Local Government are apportioned on the basis of a Census conducted in July, Bass Coast, as indeed are all the Seachange Councils, is deprived of Government Grants for Non-Residents. Add on the non-contribution from tourists and a different financial picture emerges. I have very clear Policy about sources of revenue other than Rates and Grants which are achievable in the intermediate term. This would reduce pressure on Rates which is currently the only mechanism Council has to raise money other than Borrowings.
In the interests of honesty and transparently I will clarify that I do not believe that the goal of Local Government is low Rates. I will never vote to increase Rates beyond the increase mandated by the State Government but beyond that I make no promises. I will generally not be sympathetic to the argument that Low Rates are more important than filling the plethora of needs demanded by the people who actually live here, expected by those with Holiday Homes and needed by tourists.
- Would you be in favour of regular virtual community connection sessions in lieu of the previous model used by Council?
One of the upsides of the Pandemic is proof that a great many things can be done online. I expect exciting developments in this space, and I’d be surprised if this wasn’t a unanimous view of the Council. I will certainly be expecting to see things like Facebook Live type events where Residents and Ratepayers could participate in some direct form—with a video format to allow for further discussion—far more regularly and efficiently than is done now. There are a range of ways of taking advantage of technology and I’m not arrogant enough to know which platform or piece of software is going to be most effective. But I can assure everyone that as a Gen Z person, I expect to see a great deal more meaningful technological development to allow the Community to participate in all kinds of things.
- Why are you standing as a Councillor?
The reason I am running for Island Ward in the 2020 Bass Coast Shire Election is because I firmly believe that it’s high time we tried something new, and I believe that I am the right person to help lead Council in a different, better direction.
I outline my complete Policy Suite on my website: www.blueskyfuturesresearch.com, and I invite you to visit it in order to find out more.
- Do you live in the ward you seek to represent, and why should we vote for you?
I live on Phillip Island, but I don’t live in Island Ward. I live in Cape Woolamai, just across the boundary of Western Port Ward. However, I grew up in Cowes.
People should vote for me because I am passionate about my community. I’m young, and filled with new ideas, yet I am also uniquely prepared for this job due to my upbringing as a Councillor’s daughter. People should vote for me because I genuinely want to be a part of the change that will move Phillip Island, and the Shire, into the future.
- Council recently commenced Live Streaming meetings (for a trial period). They also recently adopted policies defining Council engagement with social and other media. How do you feel about these?
I support live-streamed Council Meetings, and I support the expansion of livestreaming to other Council-related functions, like committee-meetings.
As for the Media Engagement Policy, I assume all 140-odd Policies will be reviewed based on a timeline decided by the Mayor and CEO based on priority. I intend to follow that timeline.
- How would you improve Council engagement with the wider community and build community engagement with your local ward?
I don’t think Council is taking advantage of social media in the most efficient way. They need to use sites like YouTube far more regularly, host more Facebook Live Q&A’s, etc. and with the support of my colleagues, I intend to explore this further.
As for how I would communicate, I’ve always been open and honest, and examples of that can be found at my website: www.blueskyfuturesresearch.com.
- Public Transparency and good Governance are at the core of BCRRA’s purpose. Council has recently adopted new policies covering Governance Rules and Public Transparency.
- Do you feel there is a need to review these policies, and if so when should this be done?
I think question 20&21 are the same question, so I’ll continue as if that’s the case:
I assume all 140-odd Bass Coast Shire Policies will be reviewed based on a timeline decided by the Mayor and CEO based on priority. I intend to follow that timeline.
- What role do you feel community consultation has in reviewing these policies?
Community consultation on all Policies is important. I don’t think that the emphasis on any one, specific Policy is needed or particularly helpful to community understanding of Shire operations.
- What measures would you put in place to demonstrate honesty and transparency in your decisions and spending of ratepayers’ money?
As I’ve already said, I am open and honest in all my communications and that will continue if elected. See my website: www.blueskyfuturesresearch.com for examples of that.
Financial Integrity and Discipline
- Do you think ‘The Fair Go’ rate cap is better or worse than limiting rate rises to CPI?
The Fair Go Rate Cap is a rather new thing, and I don’t think there has been enough evidence to draw any conclusions yet.
- Bass Coast Shire has budgeted for a significant amount of Capital Works in the coming years. How do you feel about the level of borrowing necessary to deliver these?
According to economists and experts in the field, now has never been a better time to borrow money because the Interest Rate has never been so low for Local Government. However, I don’t think this year is the right time to be focusing on Capital Works, rather we should be focusing on a Small Events Strategy to boost tourism, and I will endeavour to convince my colleagues of the same. More information on my Post Pandemic Economic Recovery Plan can be found at my website: www.blueskyfuturesresearch.com.
- What is your opinion of Council’s current financial position? And of the outlook projected in the Long Term Financial Plan?
I don’t think much of Council’s current financial position. I think that with the restrictions surrounding Rates, we have to come up with alternate sources of revenue, and it’s baffling to me that this has not been investigated. As I outline on my website: www.blueskyfuturesresearch.com, we need to implement a Pay To Park system as soon as possible.
- What is your opinion of the 10-year waste contract agreed by the last Council late in 2016?
Bass Coast Shire Council is part of the Gippsland Regional Waste Management Group. As a member Shire, it is required to adopt the Policy the Group approves. The Group adopted this contract, Bass Coast is required to follow that decision.
- And what do you think of the (uncapped) charge for waste services being separate to the general rate charge?
That makes perfect sense to me, as that is how it works in the vast majority of Shires around Victoria, as the Fair Go Rate Cap explanation video on the LGV website states quite clearly.
- What is important for you about township boundaries and character within the shire?
We have to figure out a way to balance population growth with keeping the relaxed atmosphere of Bass Coast. Town boundaries are set on Phillip Island and we have room allocated for growth on the Island within Town Boundaries. We also have to address the Planning Scheme to make the construction of Tiny Home Developments easier. See my website: www.blueskyfuturesresearch.com to find out more about this.
- What is your feeling about the condition of council owned roads and footpaths and bike paths?
Council needs to find an alternative way to deliver the shared bike path network, and I have outlined my idea of starting with single tracks, and upgrading to dirt shared pathways, then gravel on my website: www.blueskyfuturesresearch.com, and I explain my reasons for not supporting concrete shared pathways—the cost to the environment is too high and we need to find an alternative.
As for roads, it’s a historical fact that Councils have only ever made residential roads using Special Charge Schemes. In Melbourne suburbs, this dates back to at least the 1950’s.
Whilst everybody wants their roads made, not everyone wants to pay, and few find it easy to pay because the costs have grown to be significant per property.
It is unfair, I believe, to expect people who paid for their own road to then pay for somebody else’s. I also believe that the controversy, time and costs involved in Council trying to implement a Special Charge Scheme means that it should not proceed in my view without overwhelming support from the community in question.
If people are happy to live on dirt roads without adequate drainage in return for not paying, then they have the right to make that choice as a community, as a group of neighbours
- What are your views on the level of importance of art, culture, and indigenous recognition in the Council framework?
These are incredibly important to the Council Framework. It is a historical fact that we only know about the ancient civilisations because of their art. We only know how they fought, how they dressed, how they spoke, what their civilisation looked like because they left art behind for us to find showing us exactly how they did everything. The ones who did not have all been lost to history, and all we can do is guess at their existence. I would rather Bass Coast not slip into the archives of history, so we need art and culture at the forefront of our community.
As for Indigenous Recognition, given the fact that we stole their land, it seems entirely appropriate to involve Indigenous voices in all Council work, and to seek the views of the Indigenous Community before making any decisions about the land they rightfully own
- Statistically, one in four Bass Coast Residences has a dog. How do you feel about existing restrictions in place? What, if anything would you change?
I am one of the one in four. I have a dog. I have a Service Dog, actually. It’s essential to me that Bass Coast is a dog-friendly place to be. I think that Phillip Island needs a fenced-off dog-park, and I support the off-leash beaches. I think there is a way to balance protecting our birdlife and making sure our furry friends have fun around our Shire, and I outline that completely on my website: www.blueskyfuturesresearch.com.
- What would you like to see BCSC do to address Climate Change?
The Pathways to Zero Emissions 2030 plan has been released. I think the Plan is good. I think that it could be greatly improved, however. There are carbon-savings that haven’t been identified, for example no mention is made of alternative to concrete shared pathways, nor is there a mention of e-bikes and e-cargo bikes instead of vehicles (Cars, trucks, utes). The Plan needs reviewing and, and with the support of my colleagues, amending so urgent action can be done.
- How do you rank the importance of tourism against local amenity?
My Policy Suite aims to boost tourism and local amenity. I don’t think the two are mutually exclusive, however I think Tourists should contribute more than they do for the services they use so I propose bringing in a Pay to Park scheme for tourists and, importantly, tour buses.
Questions 35 thru 88 are ALL community questions exactly as we received them.
Candidates were given the option to reply to as many or as few as they wished.
(Questions 16 – 34 above were collated from these)
No responses to these questions have been supplied at this time.
15 June 2021
Visit my website: www.blueskyfuturesresearch.com to find out more
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