CITY councillor Michael Neoh has raised the stakes in his bid for a third term by openly criticising an administrative decision to delay the tabling of a petition signed by more than 220 people backing pokies for Rafferty’s Tavern.
The petition, delivered to the council offices on September 26, will be tabled almost a month later at tonight’s meeting, but must sit until the next meeting before it can be debated.
By then the elections will be over and there will be a new council.
Cr Neoh and tavern licensee John Hodge questioned motives behind the long delay.
“The first time I knew of it was when I read the agenda Friday afternoon,” Cr Neoh said.
“It wasn’t even mentioned at the council-officer discussions (CODS) last Monday night.
“I’m a bit miffed, to say the least. There is no excuse at all why it couldn’t have been mentioned at the CODS meeting.”
He was the sole supporter of a planning permit for an $800,000 renovation of Rafferty’s and the installation 19 electronic gaming machines when his colleagues voted to refuse it in October last year. The majority of councillors also called for a blanket ban on pokies in Warrnambool, despite two-thirds of respondents to an earlier survey showing they supported the Rafferty’s bid.
Rafferty’s later lost an appeal to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT), but subsequently won a Supreme Court ruling that the issue should go back to VCAT for review, which is yet to happen.
“Why wasn’t the petition tabled at the October 1 meeting which would have allowed it to be discussed this Monday night?” Cr Neoh said to The Standard at the weekend.
“Surely voters in west Warrnambool and Dennington deserve to know what election candidates think of the Rafferty’s issue.
“But now we have only a week left of the election process.”
City council communications manager Kim Sweetnam said the October 1 agenda had already been prepared when the petition was lodged at the council offices.
“It was not deliberately held over,” she said.
“This is the first available meeting for it to be tabled.”
Mayor Jacinta Ermacora also denied influencing the decision to delay tabling the petition.
“I don’t know why it was held over. It was purely an administrative decision,” she said.
Mr Hodge said he had tried unsuccessfully to speak with the mayor before the postal elections process started.
“I think this issue is just a game with the council,” he said.
“I’m very disappointed and I’m sure all those who signed the petition will be too.
“This issue is not just about pokies, it’s about giving people the right to decide for themselves.
“In the overall scheme of things pokies is just a small part — there’s a huge amount of money going out in online gambling.”
Tonight’s meeting starts at 5.30pm.