Mayor denies Liberal councillors are voting as a bloc

FORMER mayors have described perceived Liberal Party bloc voting in the council chamber as bad for Ballarat.

Ex-mayors David Vendy, Stephen Jones and James Coghlan all said any voting along political party lines was not in the town’s best interests.

However, current mayor Joshua Morris said bloc voting talk was “ridiculous”.

“As councillors, we are charged with voting for the best decisions for Ballarat,” Cr Morris said.

Former mayor Judy Verlin also said she believed councillors were just voting according to their priorities.

The comments follow two recent controversial decisions on changing Ballarat’s 50-metre pool depth and electing a new waste management representative.

The pool’s depth was changed from variable to a constant 1.85 metre level at the last minute earlier this month, with the councillors’ vote split five to four with councillors Joshua Morris, Vicki Coltman, Samantha McIntosh, Amy Johnson and John Burt all voting for the change.

The five are all Liberal Party members.

The four opposing votes came from councillors Peter Innes, Des Hudson, John Philips and Belinda Coates. Councillor Hudson is an Australian Labor Party member and Cr Coates is a Greens Party member.

Cr Philips and Cr Innes have no formal political allegiances.

A motion to elect Cr Belinda Coates to the new Grampians Central West Waste and Resource Recovery Region Forum was also rejected on Wednesday night, four to five, along the same voting lines.

However, a subsequent motion to elect Cr Morris instead was passed 6-3, with Cr Philips voting for Cr Morris and councillors Hudson, Innes and Coates against. 

Cr Morris said the vote showed councillors were willing to listen to the chamber debate before voting.

“Cr John Philips heard the debate and listened to it,” he said.

It also follows November’s mayoral vote in which Cr Morris was elected with the same five to four split over Cr Hudson after third nominee Cr McIntosh was knocked out of the race first.

Mr Vendy, who was Ballarat’s mayor for seven years, said there was clearly bloc voting in the council chamber, which he described as “very disappointing”.

“We’ve always been very fortunate in Ballarat to have councillors that vote with their hearts, not their political background, in my time on council,” Mr Vendy said.

He also said changing decisions at the last minute showed a lack of civic leadership.

“It’s very unfortunate for local government.”

Mr Jones, who was mayor in 2007-08, said he no longer closely followed the council’s decision making but said apparent bloc voting was “really disappointing”.

We’re not interested in voting blocs. We want strong leadership for the region.

Committee for Ballarat chairman Judy Verlin

“They have got to get beyond that because it’s not in the best interests of Ballarat,” Mr Jones said. “There has always been a little bit of that (in council) but it seems fairly heavy-handed now.

“They have to take a step back and take a good hard look at themselves.”

Mr Coghlan, who was mayor three times, said it did appear bloc voting was occurring.

“In the past, and from my own experience, there were certainly times the vote did appear to go along ideological lines,” Mr Coghlan said.

He also said it seemed there were times current voting in the council chamber was predetermined.

“It’s unfortunate if that’s the case because any issue should be discussed on its merits and on what’s best for Ballarat.

“It should transcend any notion of perceived political lines.”

But Ms Verlin said it was a shame positive news about Ballarat’s Smarter Cities Challenge grant with IBM had been overshadowed by internal council bickering.

As Committee for Ballarat chairman, she also called on the council to show “strong visionary leadership”

“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for an incredible partnership with IBM,” she said. “We’re not interested in voting blocs. We want strong leadership for the region.”

Former mayor Mark Harris did not wish to comment and John Barnes was unavailable.

How Ballarat’s councillors vote

Civic Hall, September 2013

Motion: To prepare a planning permit to demolish the Civic Hall

For: Peter Innes, John Philips, Amy Johnson, Joshua Morris, Des Hudson and John Burt

Against: Belinda Coates, Samantha McIntosh and Vicki Coltman

New mayor, November 2013

Motion: To elect Cr Joshua Morris as Ballarat’s mayor for 2014

For: John Burt, Amy Johnson, Joshua Morris, Samantha McIntosh and Vicki Coltman

Against: Belinda Coates, Peter Innes, John Philips and Des Hudson

The 50m pool, March 2014

Motion: To have a uniform-depth 50 metre indoor swimming pool

For: John Burt, Amy Johnson, Joshua Morris, Samantha McIntosh and Vicki Coltman

Against: Peter Innes, John Philips, Des Hudson and Belinda Coates

Derelict houses, March 2014

Motion: To demolish two derelict buildings at the Ballarat saleyards and showgrounds

For: John Burt, Amy Johnson, Joshua Morris, Samantha McIntosh, Vicki Coltman, Peter Innes, Des Hudson and Belinda Coates

Against: Samantha McIntosh

Waste management, March 2014

Motion: To elect Cr Belinda Coates as Ballarat City Council’s waste management representative

For: Belinda Coates, Des Hudson, Peter Innes and John Philips

Against: John Burt, Amy Johnson, Joshua Morris, Samantha McIntosh and Vicki Coltman

Subsequent motion: To elect Cr Joshua Morris as the waste management representative

For: John Burt, Amy Johnson, Joshua Morris, Samantha McIntosh, Vicki Coltman and John Philips

Against: Belinda Coates, Peter Innes and Des Hudson