Democracy, Fremantle Style

I penned the following in response to John Dowson’s letter “Why didn’t you ask” in last week’s Fremantle Herald.  As it did not get published here it is for your perusal.

It may be a little weird, but I find democracy interesting.  Take the Arab Spring.  People in Tahrir Square put their lives on the line to gain democracy, and returned a two years later to oust Mohammed Morsi.

Back in Fremantle, former Councillor John Dowson has his own problems with democracy.  In his letter to the Editor “Why didn’t you ask?” he seems to support democracy, but only if he is on the winning side.  He dismisses the people who voted in favour of the Youth Plaza as “The Facebook/Twitter crowd  ” yet I remember being on Council with Cr Dowson and he frequently used the pages of the Herald to debate issues with his Council colleagues, rather than in the chamber.  Does John feel some media are OK to exploit whilst the use of social media is somewhat below the belt?

It is unfortunate that John also chose to return to the miss information about the Council decision on the Fremantle Markets lease.  Let us clear this up once and for all, the lease extension to Fremantle Markets PTY LTD (the business that had run Fremantle Markets since its re-opening in 1975) was a unanimous decision of Council, a decision the most experience Local Government Lawyers in WA said was legally binding.  Strong local government is based on lively debate and ultimately support of Councillors for the decisions made in the chamber, yet the then Cr. Dowson chose to undermine that decision by supporting a spurious subsequent position that would not change the original decision, but promised to land Fremantle Council in the Supreme Court on a hiding to nowhere, a move that would have cost the ratepayer dearly and not changed the lease one iota, other than to have it endorsed by a decision of that Court.  My last visit to the Markets showed the sky had not fallen in and they were vibrant and popular.

He now states the current Council would not “put the skate plaza site out for public comment.”  Once the Council made the decision to support the Youth Plaza, officers of the City contacted the Department of Planning to ascertain if a planning decision was required.  Those officers advised the Youth Plaza was consistent with the reserve vesting and did not require any additional approvals.  It would be a perverse twist of Democracy for Council to ignore such advice and initiate an ‘unofficial’ development assessment process, with nowhere to go with the outcome.

On the Warder’s Cottages issue, Council officers are pushing the State Government hard to accept their financial responsibility for the neglect the Department of Housing has inflicted on these important heritage assets.  However, I feel they are so important to Fremantle that they need saving, and Council can do nothing until the ownership is sorted out.  You cannot have your cake and eat it, Council should never spend ratepayers money doing essential maintenance work, while they are still in the hands of the Department of Housing, that would be an irresponsible use of rate-payers money.  Fremantle Prison have made it clear (as have the National Trust) they do not want the responsibility of these assets, so Council has to decide if we would support demolition by neglect or prepare a business plan for their revitalisation.

Local Government is the most open and accountable tier of Australian governance, and the easiest to join.  As a community member with no support from political parties of corporate funding I was able to get onto Fremantle Council.  I urge all who have passion and time to offer Fremantle to nominate for the October elections, it may be your last chance.  If you do nominate and get in, I also urge you to take a strong interest in democracy!

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