Recently I put forward a Motion on Notice to our Council meeting in response to a letter to all Victorian Councils from the Public Transport Users Association (PTUA). The motion was to support PTUA’s letter to the Premier to seek priority upgrades to public transport, cycling and walking infrastructure and proper maintenance of arterial roads ahead of the East West tollway. This means priority upgrades across the state, including Ballarat. This issue is highly relevant to Ballarat residents who use local roads as well as public transport such as local buses or the rail service. It’s relevant to local cyclists who ride their bikes for recreation or for transport. It is also relevant to those who walk for recreation, or from ‘A to B’ around the city of Ballarat. Therefore, it’s relevant either directly or indirectly to most local residents.
It’s misguided to suggest that advocating for improved local transport services and infrastructure is somehow not for the benefit of Ballarat or should not be raised by local Councillors because it’s too politically charged.
Transport is a local, state and federal issue. All levels of government have some responsibility for delivery of transport services and infrastructure. Local government operates within the context of what happens regionally, statewide and nationally. Councils have primary responsibility for walking and cycling infrastructure and many local roads. State government has primary responsibility for public transport (Public Transport Victoria) and arterial roads (Vic Roads). Federal government also contributes funding to some transport projects and roads. It is the business of local government to advocate to state and federal government regarding the areas of transport that are outside of Council control.
It is disappointing that other Councillors did not feel free to debate increasing the pressure on the government regarding transport services and infrastructure for Ballarat. We should add our voices to statewide concerns about the proposal for an estimated $18billion of the state infrastructure budget to be poured into an East West link ahead of other transport priorities across the state. It is particularly relevant to regional areas like Ballarat where improvements are critically needed.
To add some further context, it should be noted that Ballarat Council committed in the current Council Plan to develop and implement a Sustainable Transport Strategy. This aims to prioritise active transport (walking and cycling) and public transport.
State government contributions to cycling and walking infrastructure are certainly worth advocating for. In urban areas across the globe there is a shift towards creating public places that are pedestrian and cycling friendly and more accessible for all. The United Nations International Walking Charter is well supported by many local councils. International charters are of interest and relevant to local government as well as federal and state policy and funding issues.
Public transport for Ballarat requires significant investment. Whilst the state government spruiks additional funding on the Regional Rail Link there are still numerous unfunded projects. Rail commuters will wait years for significant service improvements at the current rate. Local bus services need additional funding to improve frequency, connections and increase patronage.
Disappointingly, these issues weren’t debated when my motion was discussed in the Council chamber. I would have been open to other Councillors amending the motion to note the PTUA request and to continue to advocate for local transport projects. Instead, in an attempt to stifle debate, the criticisms of the motion were that dealing with state or federal issues is not the business of this Council and that the motion was a political/partisan issue.
These arguments don’t stack up. Transport issues should concern all politicians and political parties at all levels of government. Local councils should, and frequently do, advocate and lobby on state and federal issues concerning their communities such as gambling (pokies), rail services and human rights issues, to name just a few.
The criticism about bringing politics into the chamber is hypocritical. We have seen the partisan election of two Liberal mayors by a Liberal party voting bloc within this Council. We have had a motion to work with the current Liberal government on an election promise to relocate a Vic Roads office to the Civic Hall site (only amended later to include working with the opposition). Also, some Liberal Councillors are on the public record stating that the East West link will mean great things for Ballarat.
Councils debate and lobby in regard to state and federal issues and funding at times. Some Victorian Liberal Mayors and Councillors have publicly expressed concerns that the East West link project is absorbing transport funds and will delay projects across the state for years to come. Some Labor Mayors and Councillors have spoken out about proposed Labor policy for local government rate capping to consumer price index (CPI).
Ballarat would be better served by Councillors willing to raise, discuss and openly debate issues relevant to local constituents. I will continue to raise issues relevant to the community for discussion and open debate.