It looks like we've entered the era of local government by press release here in Sunbury, as one of our councilors has given up contributing to the online forum after it became too damaging for him to continue, and taken to using his media pull with local journalists by feeding them juicy content directly where he can't be openly debated.
There's no other explanation for two unsigned pieces appearing in the Sunbury Leader last week, one of which was essentially an unsubstantiated statement by the councilor, who alleges that there is a conspiracy by political opponents to silence him.
The very opposite is true, as those who are regularly entertained by some councilor Medcraft's more outrageous statements hope that he continues to alienate voters by exposing his opinions to the cold light of debate.
For those not familiar with the workings of the Hume City Council, Jack Medcraft, who is known as Steve Medcraft when he's fulminating on tabloid television against criminals, Labor politicians and other sundry scumbags, is looking down the barrel of council elections in November. His re-election strategy so far seems to be to avoid having to air his opinions in public in any forum which he cannot control or apparently threaten with legal action.
This method managed to shut down the 'Local Politics' section of Sunbury Online recently, after they gradually watered down the conditions of submission so much that any comment vaguely critical of the incumbent councilor was blocked or otherwise censored. There is now a war of spin being fought, after Medcraft (again) announced he was leaving the forum because the terrible bullies had made life impossible for him and he couldn't bear it any more. He was going back to catching butterflies and making dry flower arrangements for a quieter life.
It was difficult to take this latest pronouncement terribly seriously, as, like Dame Nellie Melba in her twilight years, he had announced retirment once or twice before, only return almost immediately, unable to cope with the loss of his adoring public.
Presently, various members of his cheer squad (known colloquially as the banana-munchers) compete to both condemn the terrible treatment the councilor received at the hands of his own constituents, and out-do each other in expressions of love and appreciation 'for all that he has done for Sunbury'. None of them actually say what this might be, however.
I would be happy to link to appropriate bits of business on Sunbury Online, but the powers behind the online forum have been frightened enough, not just to shut down the forum to further contributions, but make it impossible even for voters to see what their local representative has had to say on subjects that might interest them. Given that a few of these statements by Medcraft are actually under investigation by authorities, I would have thought the moderator of the forum was doing us a public service by allowing us to read what was said in a public place.
Dark mutterings are still made in other sections of the forum about 'legal advice' against critics. No one, however, is able or willing to say what this advice might be or even give us a ballpark idea of its content. It's enough to give readers, who might be ignorant of the law, the idea that defamatory statements have been made against this councillor, without once ever having to say which statements are defamatory, or in what way.
The most offensive aspect to this whole non-story, is that we are talking about a local government representative who systematically blustered and bullied his way all over the forum for the better part of a year against anyone who found his statements wanting. If political debate can be likened to a street brawl, then Medcraft goes in with the rhetorical equivalent of a broken bottle.
His favorite tactic, when he didn't like someone's contribution, was to make allegations about their identity. Many times unsuspecting people had contributed briefly to the forum, only to be frightened off by his hectoring and frequently abusive tone.
On one occasion, after I had posted a statement on the forum, he demanded that I answer questions he was putting to me personally that were irrelevant to the subject being discussed. Nevertheless, I answered them. Not happy with my apparent ability to answer his question directly, he changed the subject and asked a number of other irrelevant questions, and continued to do so over several different subjects under discussion.
After I had not answered to his satisfaction after a week, he demanded to know why I hadn't, asking where I was and even making insinuations about my place of employment. As it happened, I was on holidays! Instances of this kind proliferate all over Sunbury Online.
He came a cropper when he alleged (during a non-political discussion by the way), that I did not live in Sunbury and was not on the electoral roll. I did, and do, live in Sunbury and I am on the electoral roll. This lie has been repeated in the Sunbury Leader, without correction. Did I get a retraction by my local councillor then or again last week? You can guess the answer to that one.
I call on our local journalists to put their thinking caps back on when talking to this man, and understand that a politician is seeking to use them to his electoral gain. I don't have a problem with this, actually. Any politician wants to get his or her view out there, but journalists do their readers and the political process no favours by allowing deadlines to get in the way of properly investigated reporting.
Local papers showed absolutely no interest when a local government representative in their town was regularly making public statements about everything except local government matters, which is what he actually has responsibility for. They allowed him to blame 'the council' whenever things didn't go his way, or when his failings as a representative were on show. Where were Medcraft and Ogilvie when the Ardcloney stables were being pulled down by an apparently unscrupulous developer? Why do they continually abuse the state Member of Parliament because a bridge is not built when they say it should be, while the beautiful Ardcloney House moulders on Macedon Street for the lack of a good idea what to do with it?
There may be good reasons for these things, but I haven't heard them from these two.
Why did the local press not think it newsworthy when Medcraft repeatedly called for the death penalty for drug traffickers including Schapelle Corby, before her Indonesian trial had even convicted her?
Why did the papers not explore offensive remarks Medcraft made about Muslim Australians, and connect this with his refusal to stand or even stay in the room when a Muslim prayer was given at the commencement of a council meeting?
Are the papers going to do anything with the rumour that he has written to the Minister asking her to exercise her power to sack the council twelve weeks out from elections? On what grounds?
I will gladly be corrected when local press reverse the lack of care and objectivity shown in their recent reporting of most things to do with this councilor.