What a Merri-wreck

Renaming Moreland spokesperson Peta Slattery says the community has been shut out of an important decision about the future of our city
Friday, August 26, 2022

SECRET meetings, broken promises and a budget written on the back of an envelope, is how the Moreland Mayor, CEO and Director of Community kick-started the process to change the name of the city.

They excluded their fellow councillors, their employees and the community from this meeting. They also withheld any mention of it in the council governance report.

In November 2021, Mayor Mark Riley made a ‘captain’s call’ that there would not be a community vote about the renaming as it would apparently be “divisive and cause further hurt to our community.”

The Mayor wrote to the (then) Minister for Local Government outlining CEO Cathy Henderson’s commitment to “a broad and comprehensive community engagement process … in 2022 to consider community suggestions for a new name. It is likely that

Indigenous names will be particularly considered” .

Broad and comprehensive are somewhat subjective terms, however the general person could reasonably assume this meant something more than what the council delivered.

Perhaps pre-empting the failure of meeting that promise, the council did not share or publish that letter to the Local Government Minister. The contents of this letter were published only after our group obtained a copy via Freedom of Information six months later. That is not a transparent and accountable approach.

However, the timing was interesting, as just days after their secret communications and meetings, the Mayor featured in a media campaign expressing his ‘shock’ at the indirect plantation site connection in Jamaica in the 1800s.

In an attempt to squash community feedback, a special council meeting was held on December 13, 2021 to push councillors to vote for the name change.

We believe the council’s rules were not followed, allowing Uncle Andrew Gardiner to speak for several minutes on the matter without the suspension of standing orders. No one else in the community was allowed the same opportunity.

The council established working groups for the renaming that failed to share their minutes and summary of outcomes. It is unclear whether the working groups had declared all conflicts of interests. In several cases, no council resolution was made to form the groups.

In March 2022, a council meeting proposed the community no longer be given the option to nominate names. Instead they were able to vote for the three names the Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung Cultural Heritage Aboriginal Corporation through Uncle Andrew Gardiner put forward. None of the naming options received consultation beforehand.

It is unclear whether the Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung Cultural Heritage Aboriginal Corporation and Uncle Andrew Gardiner, its deputy chair, approved this change or the community engagement process.

Whilst the Council began this initiative to change the city’s name in November 2021, the community consultation process did not commence until May 2022. By this time it was too late to truly participate or have any material influence. In the final three weeks of the consultation, some residents received a flyer which looked no different to an ordinary council communication.

A survey asking for residents’ input on the three names had no mention of how to oppose the change, only an “other comments” section below the other survey question asking which of the three names they most liked.

An oversight from council meant that this survey did not include a privacy collection statement, nor did it detach the person’s private information from their feedback.

“We have no opposition to changing the name, however we are opposed to being deceived, led astray and denied any input into our community’s future.”

The Mayor claims that all residents, ratepayers and business owners received this flyer, however many have told us that was not the case and were blindsided by council.

Of the over 170,000 residents in Moreland, only 6315 responses were received as a result of the council survey. If the council wanted genuine consultation, this would have started in December 2021 before the vote to rename went ahead. It would also have allowed the community to nominate names as was initially promised.

By comparison, in 1994 residents voted 57% in favour of the Moreland name. The response rate was 9.19%. The response rate for the 2022 council renaming was less than 7.36%.

Despite council resolutions and the Mayor informing us no-one would be given the right to oppose the name change, council deliberately includes a statement that “only 6% opposed (the name change)”. This option did not exist and was a false method whereby someone did not tick the three names and wrote explicitly against the change in “other comments”.

Wurundjeri Elder Ian Hunter informed us along with several other Wurundjeri Elders that the most popular of the three names, Merri-bek, has no connection to Woi-wurrung people or their language.

The closest translation is ‘beek’ which means earth. Or ‘biik’ which would mean country/land. The term Merri doesn’t exist. This concern was raised with CEO Cathy Henderson and the Mayor. They assured us that the proper anthropological and linguistic checks were done, but no proof or documentation was provided.

Research shows that only Moreland has used “bek” for Brunswick’s naming of a park. The term comes from an English man’s transcription of what was believed to be Indigenous names. These questions were again ignored by the council.

Read more:

There has been overwhelming support for the process involved in choosing a new name for Moreland, writes Mayor Mark Riley

There has been overwhelming support for the process involved in choosing a new name for Moreland, writes Mayor Mark Riley.

Throughout this ordeal, the community has been shut out of this process.

The Renaming Moreland: Give Our Community A Say group now calls for the Minister for Local Government Hon. Melissa Horne to go back and request Moreland City Council re-engage the community in a fair, transparent and reasonable timeframe.

In response to a resident’s message, Peter Khalil, Federal MP for Wills acknowledged: “I understand that many people here in the electorate of Wills have made the point that they have not received enough opportunities to voice their views. When people feel like they have been left out of the process, it can be damaging to trust in public office and officials. I have certainly relayed these concerns to my colleagues on the council.”

We have no opposition to changing the name, however we are opposed to being deceived, led astray and denied any input into our community’s future.

Peta Slattery is a long-term Brunswick resident, and is a member of the Renaming Moreland group.