Subject: Council backs Timor project

Stonnington Leader (Australia)

March 10, 2004 Wednesday

Council backs Timor project

By Suvi Mahonen

AFTER a long and heated debate, Stonnington Council has voted to spend $3000 on a Victorian local government friendship scheme with East Timor.

Twenty councils around Melbourne have already signed up for the scheme, including Hume and Moreland, which are not as well resourced as Stonnington.

Moreland councillor Joe Caputo said the council had been involved in the scheme since 1999 and, together with Hume, had employed a project officer to co-ordinate it.

"There's an enormous amount of community support out there for East Timor," Cr Caputo said.

The project, which will support the re-building of East Timor, is under the auspices of the Municipal Association of Victoria and the Victorian Local Governance Association.

Stonnington councillor Anne O'Shea, who introduced the initiative at a recent council meeting, said the money raised would be used to employ an East Timorese who was bilingual to work with an Australian Volunteers International volunteer with local government experience.

Governance association campaign organiser Clare Murrell said it was important to support the world's poorest country.

"The whole idea of the scheme is to remind East Timor that Australia has not forgotten," she said.

Prahran resident Jennifer Button said there was a lot of community support in Stonnington for East Timor.

"We have a support group for the development of East Timor, and this friendship relationship is designed to provide East Timor with the help and leadership they need to rebuild their country," she said.

But supporting East Timor was not an easy decision for one of Melbourne's richest councils.

Cr Sarah Davies said she was concerned establishing a sister council arrangement in East Timor would not be as beneficial as contributing the money directly to an East Timorese school. And Cr Christopher Gahan was worried about where the money would come from because the grant budget had already been allocated.

Finance committee chairman Cr John Chandler said he was horrified that a council with a Budget surplus of more than half a million dollars would be concerned about donating $1000 a year over three years.

"It's a drop in the bucket," he said. "How can we be so mean spirited when we spend so much money on the arts?" he said.

The decision to support the scheme was passed unanimously.

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