Market debate has become ridiculous

The Drill Hall meeting

Editorial comment by Shane Scanlan

There is no doubt about the passion being expressed about the future of the Queen Victoria Market.

But what is less clear is whether this passion is based on deliberate or genuine ignorance.

A public meeting last month was explosive. Some people are really angry. Many provocative claims were made. But, curiously, no one was able to clearly articulate precisely what the problem is.

At times, the meeting at the Therry St Drill Hall on August 11 seemed to be a contest about who loved the market the most. But of course everyone loves the market.  Who doesn’t?

The question has to be asked though: if you love the market, why would you resist efforts to ensure its future?

There is clearly a reluctance by some to accept that the market is in terminal decline.  Some idealistic folks believe that it doesn’t need fixing because it isn’t broken. They shop at the market, so therefore, it must continue to prosper.

Others accept that there is a problem, but say the council’s plan to spend $250 million to fix it is over-reach. This is a more compelling argument but, again, if you really loved the market, why would you knock back a $250 million ratepayer-funded gift to be spent on its 728 small business owners?

If anyone should have an issue with this, it should be the tens of thousands of City of Melbourne ratepayers who don’t give a toss about the QVM. With serious cost-blowouts already admitted, it is the finances that don’t add up with this project, not its intentions.

Sadly, the debate about the future of the market has become ridiculous.

The August 11 meeting concluded that the way to “save the market” was to “dump Doyle” at the upcoming council elections. This is cynically and transparently shallow.

Despite the booming rhetoric, there are no “grubby deals with developers”.  The council doesn’t need to be sacked.  Dumping rotten fruit in Swanston St won’t help. And green bans don’t need to be resurrected from the Norm Gallagher days.

As a shopping centre, the market is a basket case.  The council is at fault.  It has treated it as a cash-cow for so long, it has drained all but subsistence operating revenue.

And, as a landlord, the council has presided over a culture where its tenants believe they should have permanent tenure. Imagine a Westfield or Chadstone store-owner demanding a lease forever!

This misguided sense of entitlement has seen about 200 small businesses join the National Union of Workers, which is now part of the coalition leading the “Dump Doyle” campaign.

Two Melbourne councillors, Cr Richard Foster and Jacqui Watts, are on the bandwagon.  Former federal independent parliamentarian Phil Cleary rants about the community “rising up high as a mighty storm”.  Even the normally-considered Melbourne MLA Ellen Sandell is talking about not letting “Robert Doyle and his developer mates destroy the market”.

The problem for management is that it wants to retain the spirit, heart and soul of the market.  It well understands that this is its point of retailing difference.  It gets the value of heritage and, in fact, its final vision looks and feels just like today’s market.  The only difference is that the renewed market will have a financially-viable future.

Management’s problem is that politically motivated interests have hijacked the issue and don’t want to listen.  This will change after the council election on October 22.  But, until then, don’t expect a lot of sensible discussion.

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