Councillors defend last-minute change of support

Geelong councillor Peter Murrihy. (Ivan Kemp) 291135_05

Matt Hewson

Two Geelong councillors have responded to public criticism over the council’s 11th hour decision to prioritise the grant application of one football netball club over that recommended by city officers.

Councillors Peter Murrihy and Melissa Cadwell made public statements at last week’s council meeting defending their roles in shifting the council’s support from Bell Park Football Netball Club to Newtown and Chilwell Sporting Club.

City officers had recommended the council support Bell Park’s Hamlyn Park application for $1 million of state government funding for new female friendly change facilities, as well as a City of Greater Geelong co-contribution of $700,000 for the project.

However, at the February council meeting Cr Murrihy moved an alternative motion to instead support Newtown and Chilwell’s bid for female change facilities upgrades at Elderslie Reserve.

The new motion,seconded by Cr Cadwell, also increased both the amount sought by the state government grant application and the council’s contribution.

A vote to replace Hamlyn Park with Elderslie Park was carried by a vote of 6-3, with Crs Trent Sullivan, Ron Nelson and Anthony Aitken voting against.

During the February meeting Cr Murrihy admitted the “optics were not good”, and that statement has proven true; during the subsequent outcry he has faced accusations of having a conflict of interest given he coached at Newtown and Chilwell for two seasons in the late 1990s.

At the March council meeting, a visibly troubled Cr Murrihy said he firmly believed he had “no conflict of interest to declare” and he would continue to advocate for the Bell Park project.

“I was not a Newtown player, I’ve never been on a committee there, I have no influence over the club, and have nothing to gain personally from any decision about funding received by the club,” he said.

“In fact, I have seen more football at Bell Park over the past few seasons than Newtown.”

He categorised the criticism as unfair, saying those who attacked him via email, messages and social media had “played the man, not the ball”, which had “taken its toll” on him.

Cr Cadwell said councillors routinely rejected or amended recommendations from City officers and had backed the application with the “strongest chance of success”.

“Facilities at both grounds are in obvious need of upgrade, and dedicated female facilities for all sporting codes are clearly needed,” she said.

“It’s not my role as a councillor to just rubber stamp whatever council officers put to the council chamber,” Cr Cadwell said.