Wednesday, 9 November 2016
Bendigo Electorate: City of Greater Bendigo
Over the last few weeks, as in many towns across Victoria, we in Bendigo have gathered to engage in our local elections for the City of Greater Bendigo. I want to take a moment today to acknowledge the contribution of five of the councillors who have retired or not been successful in the local government elections. Those that I particularly wish to acknowledge are Mark Weragoda, Lisa Ruffell, Barry Lyons, Peter Cox and Rod Campbell.
Deputy Speaker, you may remember that, in the last few years in Bendigo, we have had quite a lot of controversy around the City of Greater Bendigo and a decision these councillors made to approve a planning application for the city's first mosque. These five councillors, as well as two others that were returned, did stand up for our small Bendigo Muslim community, did stand up for those that believed in Bendigo, did stand up for the constitutional right to exercise freedom of religion, and approved the application for the city's first mosque. It was a time when people from outside of Bendigo did not like the decision that was made by our council. Our town was thrown into the national headlines when we had a number of ugly protests about the council's decision—not just in our parks, but at council meetings. So, for these councillors, the last term of council was particularly hard, with their ability to make decisions as councillors called into question.
Perhaps it is bittersweet, but recently the previous council and the City of Greater Bendigo won a Planning Institute of Australia award. They won the President's Award for the handling of the planning application for the mosque. This award was made in recognition of the council's adherence to planning laws, policy and procedures; sound governing practice; and efforts to mitigate the social impact of a highly contentious issue on staff and citizens.
Perhaps it is bittersweet that this recognition has come after the elections, but I did want to take a moment to acknowledge the fact that these councillors were from all party political persuasions. Of the names I read out, some are unaligned, some are members of the Liberal Party, and some have formal links to the Labor Party. But they made a tough decision and some of them did pay the price at the elections.
I wish the new council the best of luck, and they can go forward knowing that the previous council did make the tough decisions when they needed to be made.