BAW BAW // AFTER months of consultation with the shire and community the Victorian Electoral Commission handed down its recommended ward structure for Baw Baw on Wednesday, and some councillors are not happy.
Above: a map prepared by the VEC showing the proposed new ward boundaries (thick black outlines) over the present ward structure. The present wards are Warragul (darkest), Drouin (next darkest), Mount Worth (next darkest) and North Ward (white). The Mount Baw Baw resort area is not a part of the Baw Baw Shire council.
The representation review suggests Baw Baw move from its present four ward structure to a three ward plan with the same number of councillors. Presently the wards are Warragul (three councillors), Drouin (two councillors), North (two councillors) and Mount Worth (two councillors).
If adopted by the state government, the new Baw Baw structure at the next election will consist of Central (three councillors covering Warragul), West (three councillors covering Drouin and towns roughly north and south of it) and East (three councillors covering the rest of the shire, including Trafalgar, Yarragon, Neerim South and Noojee).
The changes are the first since 2007 when Baw Baw moved from nine single councillor wards to its present structure. Each of the three new wards would have around 12,000 voters.
But it is not the number of electors which has some councillors concerned, but the size of the East ward and how that affects representation. While Central will cover an area of 66 square kilometres and West an area of 669.5, East will cover a massive 3,289.83 square kilometres.
“I’m not happy with it,” present Mount Worth ward councillor Peter Kostos told the Warragul & Baw Baw Citizen. If Cr Kostos stands at the next election it is likely he would stand for East ward.
“The whole thing’s based on population, so they’ve tweaked Warragul a little bit… the West ward which includes Drouin, once again with three councillors, is [the same] population-wise, but it is still a small ward.
“East ward, with three councillors as well, takes up more than two thirds of the shire. Admittedly there’s a lot of forest in that ward but in my opinion it’s going to possibly be difficult to traverse the breadth of the ward.
“It’s very big, it’s a diverse population and I don’t know whether that’s the best fit.”
Mount Worth covers the area roughly south of the freeway, which Cr Kostos said is already difficult to cover as a councillor.
“It’s quite a big change mass-wise,” he said.
“South of the highway… is in itself a bit of travelling, but with Trafalgar, Yarragon and Darnum being the three major towns in the ward it’s a little more concentrated.
“Now they’re still going to have those towns in the ward, but adding a bit extra which may lead to difficulties.
“I know all councillors make decisions for all the shire and do their best to assess all situations, but the theory is you could have three people living out of Lardner, Yarragon or Trafalgar who have to access all of that ward. I don’t believe it’s very common sense.”
Present North ward councillor David Balfour, who throughout the consultation process advocated for a seven ward with nine councillors structure, would also represent the East ward if he stood at the next election. He said while the size difference between North and East was not much, the changed make-up of the area would further strain regional councillors.
“It looks around about the same in size and area but it has probably given another four or five different community groups to work with which is the argument I was trying to put through (to the VEC) some time ago,” Cr Balfour told WBBC.
“24 different community groups right across the site, and visit a few of them once a month and you’re out every day in a month. It’s a big task.
“My original suggestion was to go back to seven (sic) wards with nine councillors. You knew the size of your ward, you knew the community groups you were working with, and you could set your agenda, but it gets quite difficult to set your monthly agenda when you have a ward this size.
“It’s like today (Wednesday), Remembrance Day. I had a staff member ring me up and say she was going to Walhalla. She went to Walhalla and delivered a wreath, and at Erica and Rawson. She saved me 120 kilometres. I would’ve had to do that before I ended up at Neerim South.
“Whoever takes it on has got a big job to do.”
Another significant change would be the abandonment of the Drouin ward in favour of the mixed town and country West ward. The Warragul ward would be largely unchanged, and would be left the only single-town ward.
Drouin ward councillor Tricia Jones said she was “initially disappointed” by the review recommendation.
“But I’m not totally surprised because it was part of a conversation the council was having (with the VEC),” Cr Jones told WBBC.
“In terms of the broadening of Drouin, in the seven years I’ve been on the council I have frequented all of those places, I haven’t solely focussed on Drouin. I’ve been in every ward and most places, not every, but a lot, so I’m not daunted by the fact it has broadened as much as it has.
“That whole west area fits naturally, I do feel like it’s a part of my area. Having said that, as I said originally, the Drouin ward has a very particular feel, and that’s fine, that’s a part of being a councillor, you just have to go with what happens.
“You have to work with what the circumstances are and that’s okay. People are people all over the community, all over the Baw Baw Shire, and being human you have certain types of problems and concerns.
“It’s fine now and it will be fine when this comes into play at the next election, that’s if I’m voted in again of course.”
The VEC’s final report on the review stated there was a push for change in Baw Baw.
“The VEC recognised early in the representation review process that there was an appetite for change in Baw Baw Shire Council as the majority of submissions indicated a preference for introducing wards with a north-south orientation that incorporated a blend of rural and urban areas, with major townships separated into different wards,” the report states.
“Baw Baw Shire’s highly diverse geographic composition creates the possibility for a number of multi-councillor ward electoral structures, each with their own strengths and limitations.
“Using public submissions, its own research and mapping software, the VEC developed three models that met the legislative requirements for each ward:
“Option A – retaining the current structure with a slightly altered ward boundary around Drouin;
“Option B – retaining nine councillors but reducing wards to three, with three councillors elected to each ward; and
“Option C, which included nine councillors elected from three wards, with one four councillor ward, one three councillor ward and one two councillor ward.
“After considering all data and public submissions, the VEC has determined that Option B is the most appropriate for Baw Baw Shire. However, as mentioned above, Option A and Option C were also regarded viable models.
In the report a VEC spokesperson discussed the strengths and weaknesses of each structure, including the size of East ward.
“The issue of the large north ward under the current model (Option A) not reflecting the north-south road corridors was overcome in Option B, with all but the uninhabited areas of Gentle Annie and Ada contained in one ward.
“The VEC considered that this model balances competing communities of interest, ensuring minimal disruption to any land use based communities of interest across the mountainous north, while acknowledging the much referred to population movements between the centre of the shire and the rural areas.
“Option B is less favourable in the south than Option A, with the boundary between West Ward and East Ward running along the locality boundary of Hallora, dividing the dairy farming area in order to meet legislative requirements. However, this division of the south is less arbitrary in Option B than it is in Option C, which sees the southern part of the Shire split across three wards.”
The VEC received seven submissions during its review, one of which was from the Baw Baw Shire.
Click here to read the VEC’s full report
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