Rate rises, housing, investments, demographic growth, policing, employment opportunities and local environment care… Portfolio Councillor for Cultural Diversity of Wyndham City Council Gautam Gupta speaks to The Indian Sun on how he is promoting multiculturalism and social inclusion to foster greater understanding across the broader community. He also outlines some achievements of this City Council and highlights the areas that need stronger advocacy.
You ran a campaign to reduce rate rises. What have you done to ensure the rates remained low after you became a Councillor?
The first thing I did after winning the election was to raise the matter in the Chamber. This resulted in establishing a consultative process with the community to review its current rating strategy. This Rating Strategy Advisory Group had members from the community representing residential, commercial, industrial, farm, urban growth and retirement village property owners. This Group developed a comprehensive document with key recommendations made to Council. All recommendations were adopted and now form part of Council’s rating strategy. The Rating Strategy Advisory Group recommended no changes to how Council rates commercial properties. I also successfully advocated with the ALP to cap rate rises to CPI.
About 80 families move to the area every week and many of them invest in the property market there. Have their investments seen any growth?
A general valuation has just been completed of the Wyndham Municipality. This area is very famous for value for money properties. On 1 January this year, the average valuation for residential properties was $385,000. The average valuation of residential properties as at 1 January 2012 was $379,000. A small increase in residential values has therefore been recognised in the past two years.
This is a growing city with over 25 per cent of all residents speaking a language other than English at home. How does the Council respond to challenges of multiculturalism in Wyndham?
I have advocated for greater diversity all my life and in my current position, I continue to actively support better understanding between cultures. Wyndham City recognises the great opportunities that multiculturalism offers especially to Wyndham, and is currently developing a policy and action plan to respond to this. This policy will guide how we promote inclusion, how we engage with our diverse residents, how we make sure Council services are accessible, and how we work in partnership with other organisations. Some of the actions Wyndham City will take in 2014-15 include recognising days of cultural significance (such as Diwali, Eid and Christmas); promoting the “Racism. It Stops With Me” campaign at a local level; providing more opportunities for people to learn English with volunteers in our Conversational English program; providing bilingual story times at our libraries and working with sporting clubs to make it easier for people from all cultures to participate in social sports.
How are you actively promoting cultural diversity to foster greater understanding and help to celebrate the benefits of multiculturalism across the broader community?
I have been successful in getting consensus from my colleagues to review our vision from ‘Our People, One community our future’ to ‘Diverse People, One Community, Our Future’. Now we work as a leader and partner across the western suburbs to promote cultural diversity. We collaborate with local organisations to put on events which encourage intercultural dialogue such as the Emerge in Wyndham festival (Saturday 4 October 2014) in partnership with Multicultural Arts Victoria, and the Multicultural Fiesta in partnership with Wyndham Humanitarian Network (March every year). These are vibrant events where people of all cultures from across the broader western Melbourne community can come together to celebrate multiculturalism. I encourage people to get involved in them. Wyndham City is also proud to be hosting the Municipal Association of Victoria’s first ever multicultural policy development conference here in Wyndham later this year. This will be a wonderful opportunity for Wyndham to demonstrate our leadership in multicultural policy development with our colleagues from Councils across the state.
Demographic changes have a significant impact in infrastructure and transport, but also in policing. Can you tell me if there is a plan for Point Cook to have its first police station?
The construction and resourcing of police stations is the responsibility of the State Government. While Wyndham City continues to advocate for increased resources across the City, this is not something that Council has control over. However, the Council is encouraging the State Government to increase police numbers across the city including Point Cook. Personally, I want to see more security cameras used across the city.
In terms of the economy, in July, the unemployment rate was 6.4 per cent. The number of jobless young people has risen by 2.8 percentage points to 19.3 per cent. Are you able to empower local from your role as a Councillor local employment opportunities?
Unemployment affects every resident of the city, directly or indirectly. Unemployment should be the focus of work across all levels of government. I’m pushing the council hard to improve and increase opportunities in the city. We have also made changes to our procurement policy that will encourage more local businesses to supply products and services to the council, therefore increasing local employment.
Our Economic Development Strategy articulates four key objectives that aim to grow local job opportunities for the resident workforce like attract and promote commercial, retail and industrial investment, retain and grow existing enterprises, enhance industry skills, knowledge and education outcomes and encourage and facilitate new business start-ups.
Wyndham City has also recently released an investment prospectus in relation to employment and is also working with the Metropolitan Planning Authority in creating job opportunities in growth areas and working jointly to achieve the targeted 59,000 jobs in the East Werribee Employment Precinct.
Could you explain your posiiton on waste disposal in the city. Are people unhappy with the council on the matter?
Personally, I would like to see an action plan for RDF—Refuse Disposal Facility—that has a stronger buy in local community. I’m aware of a number of groups who are unhappy with the growing height of RDF. The introduction of a Community Reference Group which provides input into matters affecting the RDF has resulted in greater input from the community and increased focus on issues relating to impact and amenity. However the council as a whole has voted to maintain the current location and the height of RDF.
As with most other major urban Councils Wyndham’s environmental future will be shaped by urban growth patterns, energy and transport use and climate change. Wyndham City just adopted its Biodiversity Policy, which provides a blueprint for the protection of Wyndham’s natural environment—an initiative driven by Wyndham’s Environment and Sustainability Strategy 2011-15.
Another example of Wyndham’s pro-active approach to sustainability are key projects such as ‘Lighting the West’. This project has just commenced and will see the replacement of inefficient mercury vapour lights with cutting edge light emitting diode (LED) technology for our streetlight network—resulting in a 77 per cent reduction in energy use per light and $20 million saving over 20 years. This is a landmark project which is indicative of some of the innovative work happening in this area.
Published in The Indian Sun (Indian Magazine in Melbourne/News about Indians in Wyndham)