Serge’s Column – July

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Hello dear readers of St Kilda News,

Writing a monthly column is not always easy and, I have to admit, some months I struggle to find topics to write about. But this month, there is so much happening that I don’t know where to start!

The Budget for the City of Port Phillip for 2014/15 has been adopted by Council with an average rate increase of 4.75 per cent. Some ratepayers may pay more – or less – than the average as the rate increase has been impacted by the Municipal Revaluation. All Victorian properties were revalued with a level of valuation date of 1 January 2014. The results were independently reviewed and confirmed by the Valuer-General.

I can testify that the City of Port Phillip is managing its budget in a very effective way, delivering good value for money to its ratepayers.

I am pleased to report that among other things, there is $1 million set aside for the St Kilda Seaside Precinct, which covers much of the foreshore and the Triangle. I am looking forward to starting our engagement with our community on this important project – which got me elected to Council back in 2008. This is on top of the $1 million we committed to Fitzroy Street last month. We also have a fully funded St Kilda Festival for 2015 and money for a much needed master plan for the Peanut Farm, one of the most used open space in our City. Exciting times ahead.

There has been some discussion in the media about rates and value for money. Councils deliver a range of services and I am confident most Councils like ours work very hard to keep rates as low as possible while delivering the essential services their communities need.

I don’t support proposals such as capping rates to inflation as it can hinder Councils’ abilities to deliver these much-needed services.

I have just been to Nhill in country Victoria to open the regional tour of the St Kilda Film Festival. Nhill is part of the Shire of Hindmarsh, which has a friendship arrangement with Port Phillip. Their budget is far less than ours and it would be very difficult for them to fulfil all their obligations under rates capping.

One of the issues recently taken up by a newspaper is whether Councils should have sister city relationships with other cities, here or overseas. The City of Port Phillip has three arrangements in place at different levels.

As I mentioned, before we have a friendship arrangement with Hindmarsh Shire. When I was there, I felt so welcome and people from the town were so happy that some of their city cousins were showing some TLC, especially as they are going through tough times. A group of residents will come and visit us at the end of July, make them feel welcome if you meet them!

We have taken part to in their tree planting weekends and a group of Shire residents are visiting us for a weekend next month.

We were the first or second council in Australia to enter a partnership with a place in Timor when we became friends with Suai in East Timor in 2002. As the Council representative on the Friends of Suai Committee, I can assure you that the small contribution we dedicate to this program is very well spent.

We also have a sister city arrangement with the Japanese city of Obu. What do we get out of it? Speaking with a child from the St Kilda Primary School, who has just returned from Obu, convinced me that we need to keep this going. He experienced such joy there – at his family’s expense – and learnt so much.

Elwood College had an arrangement with a college in Obu, which was followed by our sister city arrangement.

Twenty years later, we are still friends and there are numerous students going to Japan or coming to Port Phillip every year. And, as with all friends, you go and meet them. So in milestone years, a delegation comes from Japan and one goes to Japan. There is nothing wrong with that. We take the opportunity to learn about best practice in a range of areas and share our cultures. I encourage this kind of dialogue.

As the Chair of the Multi Faith Network, I had the privilege to be part of a workshop we organised at the end of June about inter and intra faith dialogue. It was a wonderful day and a unique moment when 18 different religious or spiritual groups came to together – the first time so many different groups met in our City: Anglican, Muslim, Catholic, Jewish, Buddhist, Baptist, Christian, Uniting Church, Hindu, Hare Krishna, Greek Orthodox, Sikh, Planetary Healing, Baha’i, Quakers, Brahma Kumaris…

We had the honour to have with us Chin Tan, Chair of the Victorian Multicultural Commission (in the photo with Rabbi Fred Morgan). Several great ideas have come out of this workshop to bring people of different faiths together in payers and mediation. It is so important that as a community we all communicate and understand each other.

Some food for thought… see you next month and stay warm.

Serge

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