Facebook News Block

Like many non-news sites, my councillor Facebook page has been blocked today. If you visit it, you’ll be able to see some general information but no posts. Many health-related and government pages were blocked, although some have been restored. For example, the City of Greater Bendigo page was blocked for a time, but is now restored, and I hope Facebook sorts out the health-related and government sites pronto, especially as a vaccine is starting to roll-out.

That my page has been blocked is not a big deal, in my opinion. I’m still on Instagram and I have a website, so my ability to communicate with the public through online media has hardly been compromised. But it has given me pause to consider how I communicate with people online. Even though my councillor page is not a news site, I often link to local news sites and give a related comment. As far as I understand it, these posts would be invisible because they are linking to a news site. So, I will start putting a bit more content up on this website. If you want to be notified each time I do that, then you’ll need to plug your email into the widget on the right of screen where it says “Get new posts by email.”

Reflecting more widely on the actions by Facebook, I hope that it will drive people to visit the actual websites of news organisations. Sure, you may not be able to comment on the news article, but the ability to discuss issues on Facebook is overrated – it is rare that you see a respectful yet robust discussion. Can I encourage people, when they visit a news website, to consider paying for its content, or even buying a hard copy version? It’s the only way that we’ll continue to have any journalism worth the name in Australia. Right now, our local daily newspaper is charging $3 per week to view all its content online – I know many are doing it tough, but that is cheap as chips for media content.

Council Report – March 2021

Hi all. The last couple of months has been busy as usual, full of meetings with local residents, reading up on policies and strategies that council is pursuing, and thinking through the “bigger picture” issues. Here is a snapshot of that time.

I chaired, for the first time, our municipal fire management committee – it was excellent to connect with so many qualified people who are working together to ensure we are prepared for fire in our region.

The Budget. You may have heard it said that Budgets are not just financial documents, but “moral” documents. That is, they say something about what we value. It has been a challenge to work through the balancing act of following through on past decisions, acknowledging the effects of Covid-19 on the local economy, and advocating for projects that are supported by our community. As we wrangle over what is in and out, we need to keep in mind that the end product will communicate our priorities as a council. I will be advocating for increased youth services, resources to ensure councillor’s are supported to engage with the community, and improvements to our open spaces.

I took part in a tour of some of the city’s swimming pools. There are difficult decisions to make regarding the number and maintenance of our pools, and ensuring there is fairness in access to pools. As councillors I think we need to start ramping up the discussions we are having with the community about the future of our pools. There are hard decisions to be made and our community needs to understand the rationale for them.

I attended the season launch of the Eaglehawk Football Netball Club. It was fantastic to experience the excitement of members as they anticipated returning to a season of club sport after being denied the opportunity last year. The club is a great example of a community club that is run professionally.

I am encouraged that the beginnings of a process for a community plan in Long Gully have begun. I was at the first meeting of a small working group is beginning to emerge – this working group will enable community input into a plan for the Long Gully neighbourhood, which is long overdue. I wish the working group all the best as they begin their work.

Finally, I want to recognise the Loddon Consortium for Gender Equality and Violence Prevention, who organised the March 4 Justice in Rosalind Park. The event was not a party political event, but a simply and powerful call to end violence, harassment and sexual assault against women. I was pleased to be able to attend and listen to the many insightful and courageous speakers.

(Photo Credit: Darren Howe, Bendigo Advertiser)

Have you been invited?

Have you got an envelope in the letterbox that looks like the one in the photo? If so, then congratulations! You have been randomly invited to put your name forward for a “community panel”. What is this “community panel”? It is part of the Imagine Greater Bendigo project that is happening at the moment, which is all about planning for Bendigo’s future.

If you have received an invitation, you can put your name forward to express interest, and then out of those people who have expressed an interest, 50 people will be selected to be on the panel. You’ll consider feedback received from the community, and help to form a community vision as well as considering how council will achieve this vision.

Being a panel member is a challenging yet exciting opportunity. You’ll be asked to help decide our goals for the future, but also consider the difficult elements of achieving those goals. What goals should be prioritised? What’s most important to invest money and time in? What do these choices mean for other council services? These are the questions that councillors and council wrestle with every day, and you’ll have input into this process.

I encourage you, if you’ve received an invitation, to strongly consider putting in an expression of interest. You have until March 28th to do so. If you’d like to have a chat with me first, please email me on d.fagg@bendigo.vic.gov.au.

Report to Council – January 2021

Hi all. Each month at the public council meeting, a councillor gets to give a longer report to council. This is mine from 25th January 2021.

I want to start my report with a small anecdote which I think helpfully opens up a few of the opportunities and challenges of council over the next few years.

I had a request from a resident in the Whipstick Ward – let’s call him Rob. Rob lives in an older house right next to a relatively new housing estate. Thus, the new asphalt roadside, and kerb and channel which the developer had been required to build, did not extend to his property, nor to the sweeping bend of road beyond the estate. Just a gravel edging was left. Rob contacted me with 2 concerns: a pothole was developing where the new and old road met. This was annoying for Rob as he backed out of his driveway, but he was also concerned about cars sweeping around the bend and losing control on the gravel. I visited Rob, put a request into the Council for information, and pretty soon Rob reported that someone from council had been out to assess the situation and hopefully action would be taken soon.

I think this small snapshot of a councillor’s life shows a few things.

First, the simple things we do as councillors can have a large impact on people’s trust in local government. Rob told me that he was so impressed by the quick response of council that he would be telling all his friends about it. It’s by these small actions and large that we can begin to rebuild the trust that so many of our citizens seem not to place in council.

Second, I have been impressed by the professionalism of council staff, and their hard-working ethos. I know everyone will have a story about being disappointed by council, but disappointments always speak louder than the everyday work that council staff put in to make our city a better place.

Third, we have a serious issue in Bendigo regarding the tension between population growth and liveability. Apparently, we will grow to about 200,000 people by 2050, made up of infill development but also many new housing developments. We need to be asking whether that is an outcome we want, and whether we can implement the kind of measures needed to ensure our city remains a healthy place to live.

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On a day to day level, I have really enjoyed the first few months of being a councillor. The everyday issues that people contact me about may seem mundane from the outside – parking issues for their business, safety of road crossings, noise issues, pool opening hours, an idea they have for their local area. But these small things, along with the larger things, are what makes a neighbourhood tick. It’s a privilege to try to help get a good outcome.

In particular, I have really enjoyed the listening posts Ward councillors have conducted – they are invaluable for allowing ordinary people to talk about what is important to them. I also look forward to our ward meetings this year which will allow people to come together for deliberative discussion and decision making on the issues that concern their area.

As a big picture thinker, I have relished getting my teeth into council strategies, and to putting my mind to future plans and priorities:

  • for the Peter Krenz Leisure Centre development
  • for a comprehensive walking and cycling network around Bendigo
  • for giving local people a voice through community plans in places like Long Gully and smaller towns
  • for a wide-ranging vision for how we work with young people in our city
  • the necessity to keep our eyes open when it comes to the real poverty in our city.
  • for the difficult and thorny issue of swimming pools across the municipality.

I must also thank my fellow councillors for the way in which we have melded together as a group so far. The more experienced ones among you have been so generous with your advice and guidance, which has made my landing into council very smooth. I hope our current ability to work together continues into the future despite the inevitable disagreements that will come.

Lastly, I want to keep encouraging all my fellow citizens to positively contribute to our civic life in whatever way you can. Join a local club or committee, object to a planning application, come to councillors with a great idea for your local area, call up a councillor to ask us to explain a decision we’ve made. It’s only by contributing in small and large ways that we will make our neighbourhoods and our city as a whole a better place for all of us.