Sister City relationship with Ako a ‘gravy train’, says former Rockingham councillor

Adam Vaughan-Williams and Mal MacFetridge are disappointed with the current Sister City relationship with Ako, Japan.
Adam Vaughan-Williams and Mal MacFetridge are disappointed with the current Sister City relationship with Ako, Japan.

FORMER City of Rockingham councillor Mal McFetridge, who instigated the Sister City relationship with Ako in Japan, described the current relationship as a “gravy train” for councillors.

Sister City Committee co-ordinator from 2009-10 Adam Vaughan-Williams also criticised the relationship.

“I do not think the current ongoing relationship with Ako is value for money,” he said.

The men came forward after council approved $35,000 for a delegation to visit Ako.

The official delegation will consist of Mayor Barry Sammels, the council chief executive, Deputy Mayor Deb Hamblin, Cr Andrew Burns and two Global Friendship Committee Members.

“I was the councillor (who) put forward the motion to form a Sister City relationship with the Japanese City of Ako in the late 1990s,” Mr McFetridge said.

“One of the conditions of the relationship, which I stated in the business plan I wrote to support the motion, was that the community should be encouraged to take ownership of the relationship with the support of council.

“Although there have been some cultural exchanges between our youth, I can’t see any evidence of community ownership.

“In fact in the early days I described the relationship as a gravy train for councillors.”

Mr McFetridge said he was disappointed with how the relationship had turned out.

“If ever in a position to do so, would I propose a sister city relationship again? No,” he said.

Mr McFetridge said the $35,000 should be spent on people identified as future leaders, bringing with them constructive ideas to progress the relationship in a positive way.

“One councillor should go as a courtesy until such time as these leaders develop the relationships and skills needed to maximise the social, cultural and any economic benefits that result,” he said.

“In my opinion council should defer any overseas travel until community members chosen from schools and community groups are selected to join the delegation.”

Mr Vaughan-Williams said the name was changed from City Sister Committee to Global Friendship Committee to open up opportunities to more residents.

“If you look at the demographic of the City’s population, Japan comes in at 27th on the list, so there are many residents from other regions,” he said.

Mr Vaughan said the Global Friendship Committee was for residents to form and nurture ties with not only international areas but local and interstate as well.

“I do not think the current ongoing relationship with Ako is value for money as it does not reach enough of our residents,” he said.

“Unless the residents provide input to the committee, then they will not change from what is happening.”

Mr Vaughan-Williams encouraged people to be involved.

“That is why the name was changed to Global Friendship, to broaden and strengthen our cultural ties and relationships of our diverse community.”

The City of Rockingham declined an opportunity to respond to the men’s concerns, however Cr Sammels said letters had been sent to organisations with a past history with the Sister City asking for expressions of interest to join the delegation.

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