By Luke Voogt
The Victorian Government has baulked at welcoming Bruce Harwood as mayor after sacking him with the rest of Geelong’s council in 2016.
The Indy asked Local Government Minister Marlene Kairouz whether she welcomed Cr Harwood’s appointment this week but she instead raised the spectre of state-appointed monitors overseeing his new council.
“The people of Geelong have elected their new council, marking an important return to democracy for the community,” she said.
“Monitors will continue to help restore the services and good governance the people of Geelong deserve and they will remain in place until the general election in 2020.”
Cr Harwood was one of four sacked councillors returned to office last month despite Ms Kairouz’s predecessor, Natalie Hutchins, calling for “fresh faces”.
Ms Hutchins sacked the councillors citing a “culture of bullying”.
Shadow local government minister David Morris congratulated the new mayor.
“I hope that the minister would congratulate every new mayor across the state,” he said.
“I am sure that the Geelong community will draw their own conclusions from her refusal.”
Mr Morris said the State Government had appointed monitors to “intimidate a democratically elected council”, given it had wanted to delay the election.
The opposition and the Greens blocked the government’s efforts to delay elections until 2020 in Parliament.
“By keeping (the monitors) in office, the government is signalling that it doesn’t trust the community’s elected representatives,” Mr Morris said.
Former mayor Darryn Lyons described Ms Kairouz declining to welcome his replacement as “incredibly disappointing”.
“The government is threatening the mayor already – this is a major problem,” Mr Lyons said.
“I’m absolutely appalled that the government keeps fighting Geelong because it doesn’t get what it wants.”
The re-election of four sacked councillors reflected ratepayers’ “obvious” sentiment about the sacking, Mr Lyons said.
“The people have spoken in leaps and bounds – we don’t want you meddling.
“I think that if a few other former councillors had run they would have been returned as well.”
Mr Lyons threw his support behind Cr Harwood, saying he would “fight for every dollar” from the state and federal governments.
“Bruce is a great community man for Geelong and has much-needed experience.”
Mr Lyons said he envied his former deputy’s new council.
“It’s a great spread of views from Labor to Greens to conservative.
“I’m also happy the experience has been voted back in.”
He ridiculed the government’s appointment of ratepayer-funded monitors Peter Dorling and Jude Munro.
“They’re getting paid exorbitant sums, more than the mayor for goodness’ sake! They’re all getting on the Labor gravy train.”
The appointments set up the new council for conflict with the government, Mr Lyons warned.
“That’s going to cause a lot of angst and people will be literally petrified. I think that’s appalling.”