Mayor re­in­forces coun­cil ad­vo­cacy role

Ovens & Murray Advertiser - - FRONT PAGE - BY VANESSA

IN­DIGO mayor Jenny O’Con­nor has of­fered the shire’s vul­ner­a­ble les­bian, gay, bi­sex­ual and trans­gen­der peo­ple her full sup­port af­ter com­ments by some in the com­mu­nity that the coun­cil should not take any po­si­tion in the cur­rent na­tional de­bate on mar­riage equal­ity.

In­digo Val­ley coun­cil­lor Dianne Shep­heard drew crit­i­cism af­ter the Au­gust reg­u­lar coun­cil meet­ing when she flagged the prospect of a dis­cus­sion among coun­cil­lors later this month about the stance the coun­cil might adopt dur­ing the fed­eral govern­ment’s mar­riage equal­ity postal sur­vey.

The non-com­pul­sory and non-bind­ing sur­vey – to gauge en­rolled vot­ers’ opin­ions about whether peo­ple of the same sex should be al­lowed to marry – is un­der­way af­ter the High Court last week ruled that it could go ahead.

The Aus­tralian Bureau of Statis­tics is con­duct­ing the sur­vey and forms are be­ing mailed to vot­ers from this week.

Cr O’Con­nor said she was mak­ing her po­si­tion on mar­riage equal­ity quite clear be­cause she was con­cerned about the back­lash against some coun­cil­lors given their views put at the Au­gust meet­ing and pre­vi­ously.

She said the coun­cil last Novem­ber voted 5-2 in favour of ask­ing Prime Min­is­ter Mal­colm Turn­bull to al­low fed­eral par­lia­men­tar­i­ans a con­science vote to de­ter­mine whether the Mar­riage Act should be amended to en­able peo­ple of the same sex to marry.

“That de­ci­sion by the coun­cil on that mo­tion, as rep­re­sented in the re­sult, was a good demo­cratic process,” she said.

“Those who op­posed the mo­tion put their views and a vote was taken.

“The govern­ment sub­se­quently did not sup­port a free vote in par­lia­ment and has gone down an­other path to test this ques­tion.

“I don’t know what pro­posal Cr Shep­heard might or might not bring to the next coun­cil meet­ing, but I know there are a num­ber of coun­cil­lors who will most likely sup- port (mar­riage equal­ity).

“I re­ally want to get across to all In­digo shire res­i­dents and ratepay­ers that I’m sick of the con­stant chal­lenge that we, as coun­cil­lors, are act­ing out­side our role when we com­ment on so­cial is­sues or when we sup­port vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple in our com­mu­nity.

“It ac­tu­ally is our role and it’s re­ally im­por­tant that peo­ple un­der­stand that lo­cal govern­ment is not just about roads, rates and rub­bish.

“As com­mu­nity lead­ers, we have a re­spon­si­bil­ity around so­cial and cul­tural is­sues and that’s spelled out in the Lo­cal Govern­ment Act 1989 sec­tion 3C(2)(a) – to pro­mote so­cial, eco­nomic, and en­vi­ron­men­tal vi­a­bil­ity and sus­tain­abil­ity of our mu­nic­i­pal district.

“So the cur­rent ac­cu­sa­tion that we are not do­ing our job is ac­tu­ally wrong and I en­cour­age peo­ple to bet­ter un­der­stand that.”

Cr O’Con­nor said young les­bians, gay, bi­sex­ual and trans­gen­der peo­ple in ru­ral ar­eas were the most vul­ner­a­ble in the wider com­mu­nity.

“We are ex­pected by our com­mu­nity to sup­port our com­mu­nity how­ever we can, whether it’s dis­abil­ity ac­cess, fam­ily vi­o­lence, im­prov­ing con­di­tions for the elderly, or en­sur­ing that young chil­dren and young peo­ple get the ser­vices they need,” she said.

“So I’m sur­prised and dis­ap­pointed that there ap­pears to be so much con­cern about the coun­cil sup­port­ing the les­bian, gay, bi­sex­ual and trans­gen­der peo­ple.

“Men­tal health among th­ese vul­ner­a­ble young ru­ral peo­ple, par­tic­u­larly, is a real con­cern and yes, of course we need to pay at­ten­tion to the nuts and bolts of lo­cal govern­ment and pro­vid­ing ser­vices, but that doesn’t stop us from also be­ing able to sup­port our com­mu­nity in what­ever way they need.”

Cr O’Con­nor called on ev­ery­one across In­digo to show sup­port for the LGBT com­mu­nity.

“There will be a lot of neg­a­tive cam­paign mes­sages and com­men­tary dur­ing this sur­vey,” she said.

“I be­lieve our LGBT com­mu­nity should also hear a strong voice of sup­port let­ting them know that we care about them,” she said.

FORTH­RIGHT: In­digo mayor Jenny O’Con­nor be­lieves the coun­cil has a duty to ad­vo­cate for all groups in the shire’s com­mu­ni­ties, in­clud­ing those seek­ing mar­riage equal­ity.

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