Gag order on volunteers invites cynicism

Maggie Reid, who has been an unpaid visitor centre helper since 1998, quit in disgust this week following the council deciding to close the Hovell Street site. Picture: MARK JESSER

Maggie Reid, who has been an unpaid visitor centre helper since 1998, quit in disgust this week following the council deciding to close the Hovell Street site. Picture: MARK JESSER

Often in life, it’s said, the cover-up is worse than the crime.

And so it would appear in Wodonga Council’s bid to stop visitor information centre volunteers from talking to the media about the demise of the city’s tourism office.

No one is suggesting that closing the information centre was, in fact, a “crime”.

Indeed, Visit Victoria, the government-owned company responsible for attracting tourists to the state has endorsed the decision.

With people increasingly turning to smartphones, the information centre recorded a 32.5 per cent drop in visitors between 2014-15 and 2015-16, and only 20 per cent of the 10,271 people who attended were looking for assistance with holiday planning.

Based on the numbers, you can argue it’s a sound decision but the community rightly becomes skeptical when attempts are made to gag people.

Maggie Reid, who has been an unpaid visitor centre helper since 1998, quit in disgust this week following the council deciding to close the Hovell Street site.

As Wodonga Ratepayers’ Association president Ian Deegan points out, Ms Reid was a volunteer giving up her own time to help promote the city’s many wonderful features.

“That’s just bullying, it’s bloody disgraceful,” he said.

“What right do they have to do that, paid employees they may have, but with volunteers they don’t. Volunteers are the lifeblood of council, without any volunteers councils wouldn’t run.”

We’ve just had National Volunteer Week, where the slogan was “give happy, live happy”.

It would be a dreadful state of affairs if potential volunteers of the future were turned off helping the council for fear of not being able to express themselves.

It’s worth comparing Ms Reid’s situation to that of Murray Goulburn workers in the wake of the dairy company’s decision to shut down its Kiewa factory.

For all Murray Goulburn’s faults, and there have clearly been a few, at least the company’s employees weren’t muzzled and were able to voice their extreme disappointment at the latest setback.

It’s been said before in this section, but we’ll say it again: hiding problems only invites cynicism, which undermines council in the long run.

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