By Khiara Elliott
With an election looming, Lord Mayor Robert Doyle doesn’t appear to want to talk about horse drawn carriages.
Animal activist group Melbourne Against Horse Drawn Carriages (MAHDC), on the other hand, is demanding that its voice be heard.
The issue was to have come before the council on September 6, with street trading permits by carriage operators up for renewal. But the item was withdrawn at the last moment, leading to an ugly confrontation between the Lord Mayor and MAHDC campaign director Kristin Leigh.
MAHDC held a rally outside the town hall prior to the Future Melbourne Committee meeting, where some 20 activists stood brandishing signs and slogans condemning Cr Doyle and demanding answers.
The lead up to the meeting itself was also rife with questionable conduct from the Lord Mayor’s office, with MAHDC members receiving several responses from multiple office representatives, and even having its requests to the office closed “by mistake”. The office was quick to clarify this was “not a deliberate act to cloud the issue”.
The protest continued during the meeting, where MAHDC members stood defiant, still holding their signs. Ms Leigh asked the Lord Mayor why the council’s review of the carriage trading permit extension was suddenly pulled from the agenda.
An email sent from the Lord Mayor’s email address (by his representative) granted an MAHDC member permission to make a submission at the meeting, stating: “You can make a verbal submission at the meeting on September 6 (that is, address the councillors for a maximum of three minutes).”
Ms Leigh was not, however, granted this opportunity because the item was no longer on the agenda and resorted to speaking during the public question portion of the meeting.
Cr Doyle then interrupted her by stating: “This is not a time for submissions.” When Ms Leigh explained that her words were relevant to her forthcoming question and asked to continue, the Lord Mayor said no. “No you can’t. You get 90 seconds. You’re taking up other people’s time,” he said.
In response to MAHDC’s questioning, Cr Doyle responded by denying any prior knowledge of the review being on the agenda.
“I wholeheartedly reject that there was any interference by me, or that I had seen any part of this,” he said.
When Ms Leigh rebutted with a statement explaining she had emails affirming that the review had been indeed on the agenda, Cr Doyle denied her claim by simply stating: “That’s not true.”
Ms Leigh and all other MAHDC members immediately left the committee meeting. CBD News spoke to Ms Leigh afterwards about the council’s efforts to evade her questioning.
“It’s infuriating,” she began, “Essentially they didn’t answer the question. He said he didn’t know anything about the review which I found mind-boggling because we’ve been emailing his office about it.”
CBD News asked the council for an official statement about why the item was removed from the agenda and received the following reply:
“The City of Melbourne will seek broad community input into Horse Drawn Vehicle (HDV) trading permits before long-term arrangement options are presented to council.”
“The current trading permits, which are due to expire in February, will be temporarily extended until June 2017 to allow for wider community consultation.”
“Initial feedback highlighted a need for broader input, prompting CoM to change its timeline and allowing adequate time to consider all implications including the pending works to Swanston St as part of the Metro Tunnel project. A report is expected to be presented to council in early 2017.”
A need for a broader input, or perhaps a need to eradicate any negative press for the Lord Mayor and his council so close to the election date? Either way, the permits will not be up for discussion until next year – quite conveniently – after the election.