SOS has tried to get multiple meetings with various Ministers and with local members (and candidates for local seats in the November 2014 election).
We have been given only one meeting by each of our local members of parliament (Jaala Pulford (also Minister for Regional Development -the lead agency in the station Redevelopment); Sharon Knight (Wendouree) and Geoff Howard (Buninyong)-all in early 2017, but never since. When the replacements for the retiring Knight and Howard were announced, we met with the two candidates, Juliana Addison and Michaela Settle, together in January 2018. It is fair to say that in each of these meetings, they heard us out, gave no feedback and failed to follow-up on any issues we raised with them. SOS Ballarat, on the other hand, spelt out clearly what its successive actions would be to ratchet-up pressure, as they failed to step back at critical times in the pursuit of their misguided project.
Public Transport Minister, Jacinta Allan simply does not respond to our requests to meet with her. She has never given us an audience in the last 2 years we have been campaigning. Both she and Dan Andrews do not make their visits to Ballarat public until it is reported in the media.
Not the Premier, nor the Public Transport Minister, nor the Regional Development Minister (who lives and has an office in Ballarat), nor the sitting Labor members for Wendouree and Buninyong, nor the Labor candidates for the 2018 Election for the seats of Wendouree and Buninyong, have ever attended a public meeting on the Station Redevelopment (SOS has had 7 such meetings and invited the locals to everyone), nor have they ever called a public meeting to explain why the sale of public land at the Station to a private developer for future non-transport uses, is justified or desirable. IS IT FEAR? IS IT CONTEMPT FOR THEIR ELECTORATE? IS IT BOTH?
The next Public Meeting is scheduled for Saturday 16 June 2018 at 10:00 am. The venue is the Provincial Hotel. Everyone is welcome.
Legislative Council member for Western Victoria, the Liberal’s Joshua Morris has raised questions and tabled petitions from the people of Ballarat on the station redevelopment in the House on more than a dozen occasions. The topics covered include loss of public car parking from the precinct, the lack of timely response to FOIs on the issue, the Lydiard St bus terminus, and The Courier survey in early 2017 which showed 92%
opposition to sale of Station land for non-transport uses. In an early response to him, Jaala Pulford replied that she would be happy to take him on in a public debate at any time over the Station Redevelopment. When he later accepted her challenge in the Parliament she refused to acknowledge her earlier statement recorded in Hansard. She absolutely refuses to face the public on this issue.
Letters and emails to Ministers and local members are often not even acknowledged. On the rare occasions where they are, responses are either not provided to the issues raised, or they advise that the matter has been referred to another minister, and that is the last heard of the matter. Hundreds of letters and articles to local media from SOS Ballarat and its many followers have been published regularly over the last 2 years. Only on one occasion, did this provoke a response from Sharon Knight over a Ron Egeberg Letter to the Courier. The rest of the time our Labor politicians have shown great restraint. By playing every criticism with a dead bat, they kill public debate. So much for democracy! So much for being accountable!
The electronic media seek comment from all parties when they do news items, but the adversaries are never together. The politicians never have to defend their positions against those who are most articulate in opposition. Now that would be interesting TV and Radio, but it doesn’t happen.
As a means of attracting media attention to our cause, we have held three public rallies and events like the unrolling of the Monster Petition (referencing Ballarat’s unique Eureka history) down the steps of the Victorian Parliament building. Our most recent in May 2018 was the distribution of flyers into more than 20,000 letterboxes entitled No
Station Sell-Out, and to which more than a thousand responses were made. Unfortunately, this did not get the mass media coverage we had hoped for.
We have made several on various topics, including the business case supporting the redevelopment of the site for a hotel and convention centre, and the rationale for declaring the land being sold at the Station as surplus to future transport needs. Both of these took over a year for responses to be made to us, and to our eyes, they did not provide the documents we might have expected. Both were appealed to the Office of the Victorian Information Commissioner (OVIC) and remain unresolved two years and 18 months later, respectively.
The FOI on the rationale for selling the land did not turn up any analysis of future demand for land and transport services in the precinct resulting from population growth or from a modal shift toward train and bus services in future. The Station has served Ballarat’s needs for the last 160 years. SOS Ballarat believes a responsible and competent public service would have modelled demand for at least the next 50 years, and offered advice to ministers impartially. It is apparent from this FOI that no advice was offered at all. Somewhere between 2010 when Ballarat City Council produced its CBD Action Plan, and 2014 when the Ballarat Station Master Plan was published, VicTrack (the owners of the land) had agreed that they didn’t need it and Regional Development Victoria (part of the Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources) could use it how they liked. RDV called for tenders to build a high-end hotel and a 3000 square metre Convention centre on the site and ended up contracting for a block of 47 flats, a meeting room of half the original capacity, and some shops. To entice the private developer to spend $19m on purchasing the land and Goods Shed, they are throwing in a further $27m of taxpayer funds to be spent on refurbishing the Goods Shed before it is ‘sold’ and on providing car parking to offset the losses of spaces because of the land sale. Of course, our FOI on the business case, which would state plainly how much the land is being sold for compared to the subsidy being provided, has been denied on the grounds that it is commercial-in-confidence. SOS Ballarat estimates that the land and building sale proceeds are $5m to $6m, which will go to VicTrack. RDV’s subsidy of $27m to facilitate the sale is a very generous use of taxpayer funds, for what return to taxpayers, and at what cost to the future use of the Station Precinct to meet a growing Ballarat’s transport needs in the decades ahead?
SOS Ballarat has taken advice on the likely success of challenging the Minister for Planning, Hon. Richard Wynne over his failure to ensure the plans he approved for the developers (Pellicano Group) met the conditions he had established in the amendments he made to the Ballarat Planning Scheme to facilitate this specific project. Two factors work against us getting traction on this issue:
- The delays at VCAT mean that we would be likely waiting around 7
months until we got a hearing.
- During that time the Minister could, with the stroke of a pen, change the Ballarat Planning Scheme to ensure that we no longer had a case. He holds all the cards.
SOS Ballarat is building alliances with other parties, and legal action will be taken on other matters.