Council muzzles critics as City Hall sells out to government
The cynical love-hate relationship with local councils is entering unchartered rough seas in the old gold mining town of Bendigo where councillors are ploughing ahead with a scheme that will hand ownership of their multi-million dollar iconic 1970s offices over to the Andrews State Government.
Opponents of the $100 million GovHub scheme say they can find no other council in Australia entertaining the flawed thought of swapping from landlord of the city’s headquarters to rent-paying tenant in a new building expected to end up in the hands of foreign property investors.
And their fury is not just about the Bendigo council refusing to consult its local community before committing to selling off prime CBD assets. They say the Andrew Government will make up to $25 million from the deal in a few short years while Bendigo ratepayers will fork out more than $40 million in rent alone and at least another $8 million decking out offices with new curtains, desks and chairs.
Applying the muzzle to democracy, Bendigo council this week posted on its facebook that any posts opposing the GovHub or even asking questions on the scheme will now be deleted.
For a regional city built on the riches of gold, residents are protective and parochial of what assets are still in community ownership with Bendigo today having the dubious reputation as one of the lowest socio-economic areas in Australia.
Add in a good old-time provincial stoush with regional rival Ballarat, the 21st century miners of Bendigo are up for a town hall rebellion against their council.
One of the leaders of the community campaign is former member of Parliament Max Turner.
“We’re going to lose ownership of our council home to the State Government and it’s a dud deal. What other council would literally give away its home and agree to pay commercial rent for the next four decades?
“The Andrews Government and council are not looking after Bendigo. Even a government sweetener of 100 promised new government jobs is a bargain-basement offer compared with Ballarat where the Government is bringing in 600 new jobs, building a GovHub on Crown land and not taking a dollar from the Ballarat council.”
“We’ve got a council in Bendigo – six out of nine have voted to offload our land and assets without any community consultation – that is simply doing the Government’s bidding and Bendigo is going to be more than $1 billion worse off in just 10 years according to council’s own figures.”
Max Turner says despite no final decision on the sale of Bendigo’s City Hall offices, the council has already signed a lease agreement with Bendigo and Adelaide Bank for temporary office space and is spending money installing self-help kiosks at a temporary customer centre.
“They even refuse to release any business plans. Council keeps trying to hide behind a curtain of so-called confidentiality, saying it’s all the State Government yet the government says its dud GovHub is a partnership with council.
“Anger in the Bendigo community is far greater than the usual City Hall stoush. Six councillors elected to do their best for Bendigo – and protect our assets – have sold us out. They’re betraying our past and our future.”
“Bendigo risks becoming nothing more than a branch office of the State Government – no independence, land and buildings lost and ratepayers left with a nasty bill for generations to come.
“No other council would do that. We can’t allow it to happen in Bendigo either.”