Published online by Cobram Courier on May 13, 2014.

This article also appeared in print on May 7.

The notorious intersection of High St and Punt Rd in Cobram is set for a $1.2million makeover next financial year.

Business owners have welcomed the change for safety reasons, but have expressed concern the development could impact already scarce car parking in the area.

Listed in Moira Shire Council’s draft 2014-15 budget’s capital works program, the project will include the construction of a roundabout at the Punt Rd and High St intersection, outside Target, and footpath upgrades.

The project is part of the Cobram Streetscape project to overhaul the CBD.

Paul Bovalina, of Redgum Photos and Computers on Punt Rd, said the construction of a roundabout at the intersection was a ‘‘catch-22’’.

‘‘For safety it’s great, for car parks it’s not,’’ he said.

Ambience Bakery Cafe owner Leanne Walsh said the development would ‘‘ease congestion’’ on Punt Rd and High St, but said council should also work to mitigate the impact of lost car parking spaces.

‘‘It’s going to cut parking here,’’ she said. ‘‘We need car parking with meters if we have to do it.’’

La Niche Cafe’s Jenni Briody said she thought it was a ‘‘disgusting intersection’’ and welcomed an upgrade.

But like the other businesses, Mrs Biody worried car parking would become an even greater issue in the area.

Cobram resident Allan Inglis said he thought council should consider creating a ‘triangle’ intersection by only allowing one-way traffic on Punt Rd between Bank and High Sts, in addition to the one-way direction in Bank St.

Moira acting infrastructure and liveability director Mark Foord issued a statement on Monday confirming the project would include a roundabout and footpath works, but no further project plans were available.

‘‘In coming months we will develop detailed designs with the works scheduled to be completed by June 2015,’’ the statement said.

Mr Foord said ‘‘some’’ car park spaces would be lost during the redevelopment, but other spaces would be made available for parking.

AuthorToni Brient

Published online by Cobram Courier on May 12, 2014.

This article also appeared in print on May 7.

About 50 people gathered at the Moira Shire Maternal and Child Health Centre in Cobram on Monday, May 5, to remember a pioneer in maternal and child health across the shire.

Judi Walmsley, who died on February 13 after a long battle with cancer, worked at Shepparton and Cobram hospitals before becoming a child and maternal health nurse in the 1990s.

At the afternoon tea, Mrs Walmsley’s colleagues unveiled a consulting room named after her.

Colleague Sonya Gullifer said it was a fitting tribute.

‘‘As with many local families, when I think of my own children as babies and toddlers, Judi’s intrinsically a part of that memory,’’ she said.

‘‘For me, and many others in the community, this will always be Judi’s place.’’

Colleague Sandra Mogg said Mrs Walmsley implemented a variety of programs including 18-month developmental assessment groups, the text message reminder service and implementation of the Key Age and Stage Framework.

‘‘She was tireless in seeking best possible outcomes for families, the nurses and the maternal and child health service,’’ Mrs Mogg said.

‘‘She possessed an extraordinary ability to transcend social boundaries and connect with clients and was loved and respected by all.

‘‘She maintained long-term relationships with families as further children were born and shared both happiness and sadness with events that shaped the lives of the families she was so committed to over the past 15 years.’’

Mrs Mogg said Mrs Walmsley also established strong links with Arabic and Indian communities in the area.

Amira Al Hassaeny, who was a support worker in providing maternal and child health services to Iraqi families, said Mrs Walmsley ‘‘deserved to be called the angel of mercy’’.

‘‘We all — women and men — appreciate what she did and we all really miss her,’’ Mrs Al Hassaeny said.

‘‘I’ll never forget the times I worked with her. Her passing away has broken our heart. She left a huge space behind.’’

Mrs Walmsley was survived by her husband Terry, daughter Erin and son Josh. Mr Walmsley and Erin thanked the community for supporting Mrs Walmsley during her illness.

AuthorToni Brient

Published online by Cobram Courier on May 9, 2014.

This article was also published in print on May 7.

Cobram Barooga Business and Tourism Development group chairman Paul Gemmill has slammed Moira Shire Council’s inaction and ‘‘mixed messages’’ on tourism and business.

Mr Gemmill said a ‘‘lack of communication inside the organisation’’ and ‘‘lack of leadership at the top’’ were delaying the tourism sector restructure process, which began last year following the dissolution of the Sun Country on the Murray tourism board.

The change required local tourism associations like CBBTD to prepare business plans before accessing council funding, and handed management of visitor information centres back to the associations.

Mr Gemmill said he was ‘‘disappointed’’ the group had only received a ‘‘vague’’ letter in response to its business plan, submitted to council in March, and with ‘‘hearsay and innuendo’’ spread by council in the media.

He said council had also failed to supply the group with financial statements for the Cobram Barooga Visitor Information Centre to assist in the preparation of the business plan.

Announcing council’s draft 2014-15 budget last week, Moira Shire Mayor Peter Mansfield said council would consider paying the salaries of staff who continued to work in visitor information centres.

‘‘If Peter Mansfield is saying he wants to pay staff, we’re ecstatic,’’ Mr Gemmill said.

‘‘I would hope as mayor he would have some strong convictions, but I would hope that conviction came from something substantial and something tangible, but in saying that, we have not been in that discussion.

‘‘We were just as surprised as anyone out there when we read that.’’

Mr Gemmill would not say how much funding in the business plan was allocated for visitor information centre staff salaries, but said the funds would be redirected to events and promotion if council paid the salaries.

He said CBBTD and the other local tourism associations were feeling left out of discussions about the sector’s future, and wanted answers from council.

‘‘We’re on the same page, Yarrawonga (local tourism association) is on the same page — the shire is reading a different book,’’ Mr Gemmill said.

Moira Shire business and innovation executive manager Bruce Connolly this week reiterated his previous statement that visitor information centre staff would be re-deployed in other positions within council if their positions at the centres were lost.

Mr Connolly also said he had met with CBBTD twice since the group submitted its business plan, and said he had ‘‘a number of conversations’’ with Mr Gemmill on the issue.

The business plans are expected to be finalised by June 30.

AuthorToni Brient

Published online by Cobram Courier on May 8.

Acting Moira Shire Council chief executive Peter Bertolus says private sector investment in the shire signals ‘‘confidence’’ in council’s ability to govern.

Speaking on ABC radio on Tuesday morning, Mr Bertolus highlighted Murray Goulburn’s $74 million investment in its Cobram plant as a win for the town.

He said the Murray Goulburn development coupled with GrainCorp’s $35 million upgrade of its Numurkah plant, announced in February, signalled big business trusted council’s governance in the region.

Mr Bertolus’ comments come after months of turmoil at the embattled council, including a Fair Work Commission hearing last month.

A raft of claims ranging from bullying to financial mismanagement emerged last year following the departure of multiple senior staff, including former chief executive Gary Arnold.

Mr Bertolus said he thought the organisation was ‘‘reasonably under control’’, but more work needed to be done.

He said incoming chief executive Mark Henderson, who starts work on May 19, would be well-positioned to lead the organisation.

Mr Bertolus said Mr Henderson was ‘‘more experienced’’ than him at managing councillors.

The Courier revealed last month claims against multiple councillors were being assessed by the Local Government Inspectorate, with one council source saying the organisation’s problems ‘‘stemmed from councillors’’.

AuthorToni Brient

Published by Cobram Courier online and in print on April 30, 2014.

Many residents would be all too familiar with the Cobram police station answering machine.

‘‘The Cobram police station is currently unmanned,’’ the recording says. ‘‘In an emergency, hang up and dial 000.’’

But Moira Shire councillor Wendy Buck is urging residents to demand better from the Victorian Government.

She is leading the charge to petition government for a funding increase that would enable the station to remain open 24 hours a day.

Cr Buck said an unmanned police station was putting residents in danger.

‘‘Criminals know when the police aren’t on (duty),’’ she said.

‘‘It’s an open slather for crime here. Criminals are all over what our police are doing — they listen in to their radios.

‘‘We’re a target because we don’t have a 24/7 police station.’’

State Member for Murray Valley Tim McCurdy said he had spoken to Police and Emergency Services Minister Kim Wells about funding a 24-hour police station in Moira Shire, but said it would be up to police and Mr Wells to decide whether the station would be in Cobram or Yarrawonga.

‘‘It’s always up to police decide where best to use manpower,’’ Mr McCurdy said.

Cr Buck said it was important for a country town like Cobram to have a station constantly manned because the ‘‘tyranny of distance’’ meant it would take too long for police from other stations to arrive at local incidents.

Mr McCurdy said he discussed other options with Mr Wells to have a round-the-clock police response in Cobram.

‘‘A 24-hour police station is not about somebody sitting in the police station with a light on 24 hours a day,’’ he said.

‘‘It’s about having police on the beat 24 hours.’’

At last Tuesday’s council meeting, Cr Buck urged other councillors to throw their support behind the campaign.

They unanimously supported Cr Buck’s motion to lobby the Victorian Government to fund a 24-hour police station at Cobram.

Cr Marie Martin, Cr Kevin Bourke and Cr Gary Cleveland spoke in favour of the motion.

Crs Martin and Bourke said they thought there was a need for a 24-hour police station in Cobram.

Cr Cleveland said he thought it would help ‘‘make sure the community was safe’’.

A spokesperson for Mr Wells said the allocation of additional police and operational hours was a matter for the Chief Commissioner of Victoria Police.

‘‘The Minister for Police Kim Wells will make enquiries with the Chief Commissioner regarding police resourcing in Cobram and surrounding areas,’’ the spokesperson said.

Victoria Police was unable to provide statistics about the incidence of crimes committed during times when Cobram police station was unmanned.

Cobram police were unavailable for comment before publication.

AuthorToni Brient

Published by Cobram Courier online on April 17.

This article also appeared in print on April 16.


Two Moira Shire Council sources have hit back at claims bullying and mistreatment allegations within the organisation are not linked to councillors.

This comes after the Courier published a story last week which quoted Moira Shire Mayor Peter Mansfield saying proposed Victorian Government reforms — which would increase mayoral and government power to rein in misbehaving councillors — would not have an impact on the current situation at Moira Shire because ‘‘councillors are not engaging’’ in bullying behaviour.

The council sources, who wish to remain anonymous, contacted the Courier last week and said multiple councillors were directly involved in troubles at the embattled council.

A Local Government Inspectorate spokesman on Friday confirmed three complaints against councillors were being assessed.

However, the first council source said they knew of as many as seven complaints lodged against one councillor.

The second source said the organisation’s problems ‘‘stemmed from councillors’’ and said Cr Mansfield was ‘‘totally incorrect’’ in absolving councillors of involvement.

The second source also said they had spoken to the Local Government Department more than 10 times in the past six months.

Cr Mansfield declined to comment on the issue.

Meanwhile, Moira Shire acting chief executive Peter Bertolus has clashed with Australian Services Union lead organiser Billy King over a separate case.

Mr King last week claimed council and the union reached a resolution in the matter against a council staff member.

However, Mr Bertolus said the matter, which was related to ‘‘the (internal) transfer of a staff member’’, was not settled.

Mr King said the matter was resolved ‘‘to what we were seeking’’, but Mr Bertolus said the union made additional claims which council did not agree to.

Moira Shire Council will today front a Fair Work Commission panel to defend a separate complaint lodged by Australian Services Union.

AuthorToni Brient

Published by Cobram Courier online on April 17, 2014.

This article also appeared in print on April 16.


New Moira Shire Council chief executive Mark Henderson has vowed to overhaul the organisation when he takes the helm next month.

He listed a better relationship with the Victorian Government and a better financial position as key priorities for council in the next two years.

But promoting a higher code of conduct for staff and councillors alike topped Mr Henderson’s to-do list at Moira.

Speaking with the Courier on Thursday, he addressed the widespread claims of bullying, harassment and mismanagement which emerged after a number of senior staff left the organisation last year.

He said he would await the findings of Local Government Inspectorate and Fair Work Commission assessments and investigations, but said he would not tolerate bullying under his leadership.

‘‘There’s no place for that in a work place,’’ Mr Henderson said.

‘‘In the immediate, they’re things I’ll be trying to address.’’

Asked whether individuals found to be acting inappropriately would be sacked, Mr Henderson reiterated his commitment to promoting a ‘‘safe’’ and ‘‘happy’’ workplace.

‘‘As incoming CEO, I don’t want to say I’m going to fire people,’’ he said.

‘‘What I’m going to do is establish a standard of behaviour that I live up to, and I expect other people to live up to it, too.

‘‘People who don’t live up to that expectation don’t have a future with the sort of organisation I like to run.’’

In addition to improving behaviour standards, Mr Henderson said he would be working to improve council’s financial position.

He pointed to last year’s Victorian Auditor-General’s report, released in December, which he said ‘‘doesn’t really paint a healthy picture’’ of Moira’s finances.

Mr Henderson said he would be working to improve key indicators — such as financial sustainability and capital investments — but it would take up to two years to notice a difference.

He said it was also important to be realistic about growing council’s finances, given its large area with extensive assets to maintain.

‘‘Moira is never going to be a very wealthy shire like one of those inner Melbourne suburban councils who have got more money than it knows how to spend,’’ he said.

AuthorToni Brient

Published by Cobram Courier online and in print on April 16.

Barooga residents have been promised a $100000 public toilet block, flag poles and a fruit fly mitigation program in the draft 2014-15 Berrigan Shire Council budget, which will go before councillors for approval this morning ahead of its public exhibition.

Barooga Advancement Group president Darrell Bowden said he hoped councillors would vote to increase allocated funding for the Barooga walking track.

A $40000 item was listed in the budget document as a ‘walking cycling track’ in Berrigan, but council confirmed yesterday the funds were for the Barooga track.

Mr Bowden estimated the track would cost $70000 to build, and a further $10000 each for two exercise stations.

He said BAG never asked council for a specific amount, but said he believed council knew the project’s cost.

‘‘That still hasn’t been passed (by councillors),’’ Mr Bowden said.

‘‘We’re hoping the shire can budget $70000 for the tracks so we can spend our raised proceeds on the exercise stations.’’

Berrigan corporate services director Matt Hansen said $40000 was the ‘‘full amount’’ for the project.

Barooga Botanical Gardens Committee president Geoffrey Brentnall welcomed the announcement of funding for a new toilet block at the gardens, and said he was eager to see the plans for the project.

He said he expected council to renovate the existing toilet block, rather than build a new one.

‘‘It’ll be a pretty good toilet block for $100000,’’ Mr Brentnall said.

‘‘I think the renovation to the toilet block would enhance the garden.’’

Cobram Fruit Growers Association president Frank Diaco said he was pleased to hear council was supporting farmers through a fruit fly mitigation program.

The budget listed $5000 for the program, which council said would contribute to the purchase of baits and an education program.

The funds add to $5000 carried from last year’s budget, with a further $5000 indicated for 2015-16.

Mr Diaco estimated it would cost council almost $20000 a year to properly control the pests, but praised council’s contribution.

‘‘You’d hope Moira Shire would contribute some (as well), but I would hope the (Victorian) State Government would come to the party, also,’’ Mr Diaco said.

Some $40000 is also set aside for flag poles in each of the four towns, with community groups required to supply flags or banners.

Mr Bowden said he was pleased with the overall budget.

‘‘We’ve got everything on our wishlist,’’ he said.

Council estimates a $24856 surplus in the budget, compared with the $469337 surplus generated during 2013-14.

Mr Hansen said revenue for the budget period was estimated at $24597320.

Council’s total expenditure for 2014-15 was estimated to be $25041801, which Mr Hansen said included the 2013-14 surplus.

AuthorToni Brient

Published by Cobram Courier online and in print on April 9, 2014.


Australian Services Union announced a victory for its Cobram members this week, reaching a resolution with Moira Shire Council over a bullying claim made by a staff and union member.

But ASU lead organiser Billy King said there was still a long way to go.

The complaint was one of many levelled recently — and, according to the union, the first to be resolved — against the embattled council.

‘‘It’s positive, but I would like to see more positive action before I could be comfortable that the wheels are turning,’’ Mr King said.

Other complaints of bullying and mistreatment against council are being investigated and assessed by the Fair Work Commission and the Victorian Local Government Inspectorate.

The Courier learned last week council would likely have fronted a Fair Work Commission panel over this claim if a resolution was not reached.

A Fair Work spokeswoman told the Courier a separate claim was expected to be heard next week.

Speaking at a union meeting with Moira staff in Cobram on Thursday, Mr King said the investigations were mostly confidential, but confirmed the case resolved this week involved senior council staff.

‘‘It relates to organisational structure changes, a lack of consultation, and alleged mistreatment of a staff member,’’ he said.

Claims of bullying and mismanagement emerged following the recent departure of a string of senior staff members including former chief executive Gary Arnold, who was sacked by councillors in October.

In a letter to Moira councillors last month, seen by the Courier, ASU assistant branch secretary Richard Duffy asked them to ‘‘instruct the acting CEO to not make any further structural changes in relation to staff’’ until the new chief executive was announced.

Mayor Peter Mansfield responded to the letter ‘‘on behalf of the councillors of Moira Shire’’, saying then acting chief executive Peter Bertolus had their ‘‘full support’’.

Last Monday, Cr Mansfield announced former Mildura Rural City Council chief executive Mark Henderson had been selected as Moira’s new chief executive.

Mr Henderson told ABC radio on Thursday bullying at the organisation ‘‘won’t be happening under my leadership’’.

Mr King said he thought Mr Henderson’s local government experience meant he could aid in putting an end to council’s problems.

‘‘I’m looking forward to meeting with the new CEO and working with him to resolve what the ASU sees as structural problems and management problems in general,’’ Mr King said.

‘‘I’m hoping he’s willing to work with us, hear us, listen to us, and involve us with any problems going forward.’’

The meeting follows a proposed reform of the sector, which Local Government Minister Tim Bull said would ‘‘set higher performance and conduct standards’’ for councillors.

The reforms were part of a bill to amend the Victorian Local Government Act 1989, introduced to Parliament last week, and included increased power for the Mayor, Local Government Inspectorate and Local Government Minister to deal with councillors found to have engaged in ‘‘serious misconduct’’.

Moira Shire Council Mayor Peter Mansfield said the reforms ‘‘wouldn’t have any impact’’ on the current situation at Moira, because ‘‘councillors are not engaging’’ in bullying or misconduct.

‘‘That is to do with the operation of the organisation, not to do with councillor conduct,’’ he said.

Cr Mansfield said he had no problem with councillors’ conduct, and had never witnessed a misbehaving councillor during his three years at Moira.

Local Government Minister Tim Bull said the reforms ‘‘predate any specific concerns relating to Moira Shire Council’’.

AuthorToni Brient

Published by Cobram Courier online on April 3, 2014.

This article also appeared in print on April 2.


Moira Shire Council received more than 50 applications from throughout Australia and New Zealand for the chief executive role before deciding on a candidate much closer to home, Mayor Peter Mansfield said.

Former Mildura Rural City Council chief executive Mark Henderson will bring decades of experience to the role when he moves to head Moira Shire Council next month.

Cr Mansfield on Monday announced Mr Henderson’s appointment, which follows six months of uncertainty after the departure of former Moira chief executive Gary Arnold in October.

Mr Arnold was sacked by councillors during a council meeting, and replaced by director Peter Bertolus in the interim, who made an unsuccessful bid for the position won by Mr Henderson.

Mr Henderson was selected by a special committee comprised of all nine councillors.

‘‘As far as the overwhelming majority of the council were concerned, he was the outstanding candidate,’’ Cr Mansfield said.

‘‘There were three candidates in the second round and Mark came out well in front of the second and third candidates.’’

Cr Mansfield denied suggestions that the widespread interest in the position was due to an attractive salary package.

‘‘The package wasn’t in the brief for the position,’’ he said.

‘‘We negotiated the package with the successful applicant.’’

A raft of claims ranging from bullying to mismanagement within council emerged after then chief financial officer Adrian Pawar quit his role last August, and intensified last month as Victorian Local Government Department and Australian Services Union officials revealed a number of complaints were being assessed and investigated.

Cr Mansfield said there had been no discussions between council and Mr Henderson about the issues, and said he hoped ‘‘everything settles down so we can get back to providing services the ratepayers require’’.

‘‘Local government is a very complex area to be CEO of,’’ Cr Mansfield said.

‘‘Mark ticks all the boxes (regarding) experience and success in that area.’’

Cr Mansfield said one of Mr Henderson’s first tasks would be to fill a director position left empty after the departure of former development and liveability director Paul Squires in October last year.

Mr Henderson could also play a vital role in debt reduction, Cr Mansfield said.

‘‘His financial controls that he’s been able to perform at Mildura held him in very good stead,’’ Cr Mansfield said.

AuthorToni Brient