Skip to content
March meeting

Table of Contents

In a city as diverse as Manningham, it's inevitable we have residents directly impacted by the conflict in Gaza. This issue dominated both the February and March meetings, with many residents turning up to ask questions. It raises the question of whether councillors can truly represent their constituents.

At the February meeting, Cr Tomas Lightbody proposed a motion on the Gaza conflict. Among other things, it calls for a recognition of the human catastrophe occurring in Gaza at the hands of the Israel military and Hamas and for Council to write to the local federal MP, the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister to demand humanitarian aid to flow quickly to civilians in Gaza.  

At the Public Question Time, a couple of residents asked Cr Lightbody to withdraw his motion, claiming the motion caused divisiveness in the community.

During the debate, Cr Stephen Mayne appealed to councillors to support the motion, arguing it's a balanced motion—it takes a humanitarian approach and supports the federal government's ceasefire position. Furthermore, more than 95% of the emails councillors have received from the community want Council to support the motion.

Cr Michelle Kleinert maintained that local government should focus on local concerns like infrastructure and community welfare rather than delving into federal or state matters. She highlighted Manningham's role as a welcoming city and expressed discomfort with motions that could lead to political divisiveness or go beyond the Council's jurisdiction.

Cr Andrew Conlon also argued that local government does not have influence over federal or state matters regarding foreign affairs and suggested that such discussions could create discord within the community without offering any solutions. 

Cr Laura Mayne expressed her support for a motion regarding overseas actions affecting the community. She empathised with those who have suffered losses and noted the motion aligned with the Australian government's emphasis on protecting civilians as per international humanitarian law. 

Cr Deirdre Diamante indicated she might abstain from voting on the motion because she believes it falls outside the scope of local government business. She acknowledged the need for humanitarian support for Gaza. Still, she argued that motions like this do not contribute to social cohesion within the Manningham community.

Cr Geoff Gough lamented the motion's proposal as "igniting division and creating sides and unease in many ethnic and faith communities within Manningham." He also made the point that local government is "subservient to state and federal laws and policies" and that councillors are there to make decisions for the local area.

Cr Anna Chen expressed a conflicted stance on the motion, acknowledging Cr Lightbody's right to propose it and the support for the motion from constituents. However, she emphasised the need for councillors to act in the interest of the entire community and to consider diverse perspectives. Despite recognising the importance of directing concerns to federal representatives, Cr Chen empathised with the local Palestinian community's feeling of being unheard. Ultimately, she decided to support Cr Lightbody's motion to address their concerns locally.

Cr Carli Lange expressed sympathy for civilian lives lost and acknowledged the local trauma caused by international conflicts. She emphasised offering practical support such as meetings with the Mayor, counselling services, collaboration with community partners to address discrimination, and promoting peace and well-being in Manningham.

After all the councillors had spoken, the motion was put to a vote. It was lost with Crs Kleinert, Conlon, Diamante, Gough, and Lange against, and S Mayne, L Mayne, Chen, and Lightbody for. The gallery reacted loudly with dismay to the result.

In contrast to the rather detached contributions from the majority of councillors on the issue, residents made statements that were both raw and impactful.

Ms R Leaver declared she is “another Jew who says ‘ceasefire now’, who says, ‘not in my name’, and who refuses to allow Jewish history and Jewish values to be distorted and perverted to justify ethnic cleansing, occupation, apartheid, war crimes, and, now, genocide against the Palestinian people.”

Dr B El-Behesy, who has lost many family members, found out at 4 pm before the March council meeting that another seven members of his family had been killed in Gaza: his cousin Nasser, his cousin’s wife, daughter and four grandchildren. He felt the need to bring a photo of them to the meeting, to show Council and councillors that his relatives were human beings, not just numbers. He withdrew his question to Council about repairing its fractured relationship with residents (Palestinians and others who stand in solidarity with the ongoing Palestinian suffering) because he felt the fracture had been deepened at the meeting.

This “fracture” is felt by some residents, let down by councillors at a time when they feel helpless and need a bit of compassion and for their voices to be heard. Saying no to a motion to mourn the tragic deaths of 30,000 civilians, mostly women and children, and saying no to writing to the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister to demand humanitarian aid may pass the jurisdiction test, but does it pass the decency test?

Note: Our regular reporter, Alex Owens, is taking a short break.