By Shane Scanlan
Locals were introduced to a new concept in government on September 13 with the first Inner Metro Assembly at Albert Park.
Some 200 people from the municipalities of Melbourne, Yarra and Port Phillip participated in a two-hour session that attempted to set priorities for the “region”.
And while there was no shortage of ideas, many participants left the evening still not clear about the purpose of the event.
The State Government, however, seems deadly serious about establishing its new “Metropolitan Partnerships”. Five ministers attended, and it would have been six had local MP Martin Foley not been ill.
In attendance were Treasurer Tim Pallas, Planning Minister Richard Wynne, Special Minister of State Gavin Jennings, Minister for Families and Children Jenny Mikakos and Minister for Suburban Development Lily D’Ambrosio.
The concept appears to flow from a desire to transplant to the city a model that has been successful in country Victoria for decades.
In opposition Ms D’Ambrosio was the ALP’s spokesperson for suburbs but was without a department when the government came to power in 2014. The Metropolitan Partnerships followed the establishment of a Ministry for Suburban Development.
Special Minister for State Gavin Jennings is driving the specifics of how the partnerships/assemblies work.
Pointedly, he said, when summing up the evening, that the assembly was not intended to “trod on the role of local government”.
“We believe there are issues that fall between the levels of state and local government,” he said.
An Inner Melbourne Action Plan (IMAP) already exists and comprises the three municipalities as well as the City of Stonnington. This group meets four times a year to “develop and deliver regionally-based actions”.
The Inner Metro Assembly intends to meet annually for the next three years. When introducing the evening, chairman Tony Keenan said: “It is not a replacement of other processes and it is certainly not a replacement of local government.”
A core group of handpicked representatives comprise the “partnership”. Supporting Mr Kennan are seven “community and business” representatives, a government deputy secretary and the CEOs of the participating municipalities. Municipal CEOs are traditionally servants of elected representatives, so it is interesting that they are being asked to help set a political agenda.
And, at least in the case of the Inner Metro Partnership, it is difficult to identify a “business” representative. Mr Keenan is CEO of a housing charity and deputy chair Robyn Miller is a social worker and family therapist. Among the six other community representatives are the director of Australia’s first pride centre, academics, the chair of Native Titles Services Victoria, a lawyer and the CEO of Destination Melbourne.
The “partnership” pre-prepared 11 “priorities” on which assembly members were asked to vote (on a five-unit scale).
The priorities can be summarised as: innovation; airport rail link; housing; rough sleeping; indigenous cultural centre; indigenous children; disabled access; greening; sustainability; microgrids and co-ordinated walking and cycling routes.
In the second exercise of the evening, tables were asked to nominate their own issues. These proposals were also put to the vote.
But voting was not anonymous. Participants were issued electronic devices which were registered to their names. Presumably, the government has access to how each participant voted throughout the evening.
The findings are to be presented to the State Government by Ms D’Ambrosio.
The government has a lot of work to do to establish this concept. Tellingly, more participants did not know how the partnership would work on their behalf after the session than at the start of the evening.