GSEM attacked in ‘junket’ debate

Cr Tim Dark labelled a GSEM delegation to Canberra as a "rort". 194556_01 Picture: STEWART CHAMBERS

by Cam Lucadou-Wells

Advocacy group Greater South East Melbourne (GSEM) has come under fire during a fiery debate over Greater Dandenong Council “junkets”.

In a council meeting last week, councillors narrowly approved mayor Lana Formoso and chief executive Jacqui Weatherill’s $750 return flights to join a GSEM delegation at Parliament House, Canberra on 26 June.

GSEM will provide one night’s accommodation for the pair as well as for other mayors and CEOs from South East councils.

In opposition, Cr Tim Dark said the trip was “nothing short of another rort”.

GSEM “basically said they’ve delivered nothing to the City of Greater Dandenong” while supporting an airport “past Pakenham”, a clustered employment network in Monash Council and a biosphere framework in Mornington Pensinsula, Cr Dark said.

“Yet the City of Greater Dandenong has continually paid money into this group and has had no tangible outcome in return from this at all.”

Councillors already had the ability to have “good conversations” with Federal MPs from the region without having to “embark on a day-trip expedition to Canberra”, Cr Dark said.

Alternatively, they could join the delegation by video conference, he said.

In support of the trip, Cr Sean O’Reilly said: “I don’t think you’re going for a party in Canberra, mayor.

“If we think junkets are eating biscuits and cheese in Qantas economy, I don’t think it’s something you’d choose to do on a holiday.

“It’s work – it’s a work trip as many organisations do.”

He said residents wanted the council to lobby other governments more, not less.

Greater Dandenong had “reaped benefits” from the Federal Government recently with $20 million towards the yet-to-be-built Dandenong Wellness Centre, for example.

“It makes sense that this council advocates to the federal government and spends $750 per person to do it.

“If other councils in our region are going in person, we’d look pretty stupid if we’re just attending by video.”

GSEM includes the councils of Cardinia, Mornington Peninsula, Casey, Frankston, Kingston, Knox, Monash and Greater Dandenong.

A GSEM spokesperson said the delegation’s purpose was to launch the GSEM Jobs and Skills Roadmap.

“Delegation members will also advocate for investment in training and jobs growth across the whole region, including Dandenong.

“It is vitally important to achieve cut-through in the run-up to the upcoming federal election.”

The delegation would also meet with ministers and shadow ministers, and create awareness in the “halls of power” of the region’s “vital importance” to the state and national economy.

“The GSEM region, including Dandenong, hosts more manufacturing jobs than Adelaide and is a vital part of the national economy that cannot be allowed to fail.”

GSEM’s projects were of “immense benefit” to Dandenong, creating tens of thousands of jobs in the region, easing congestion, benefiting the environment and boosting productivity and liveability.

They included lobbying for greater support for the National Employment and Innovation Cluster in Dandenong, the proposed South East Sports and Entertainment Centre in Dandenong and extending Dandenong Bypass, the spokesperson said.