Item 9.8 featured Xmas/Chanukah decorations. We note at the outset this item probably involved the longest ‘discussion’ of the evening going on for about 20 minutes. Far more than delegations, planning applications, financial reports, Amendments, etc. Good to see that councillors know what deserves top billing! We also remind readers that the razing of the conservatory was voted in on the basis that ‘restoration’ was too expensive and that council had to be frugal with its limited finances!

Lipshutz ‘expanded’ the recommendation to include lighting, Xmas trees and Chanukias in all four libraries, at the town hall and at Gesac. Seconded by Okotel.

LIPSHUTZ: said there was some ‘vexed issues’ about installing both Xmas trees and Chanukias. Stated that this is a ‘largely Christian’ society where ‘Christmas is celebrated’ so it’s ‘appropriate’ to have ‘festive lights’ and a tree. Even people who aren’t religious still ‘celebrate Christmas’. Glen Eira has the largest Jewish population of ‘anywhere in Australia’ and since Chanukah ‘falls around the same time’ as Christmas it’s appropriate that ‘we also recognise that’. Council shouldn’t be just looking at ‘bricks and mortar’ but also how ‘people feel’ and that Council should recognise that there are people who want to ‘celebrate Christmas, celebrate Chanukah’.

OKOTEL: delighted with the motion because she has been ‘envious’ of what other councils such as Stonnington do in comparison to the ‘bare town hall’ that is in Glen Eira and thought that it was ’embarrassing’ that there’s nothing at the town hall here. Even though some people might think of such decorations as ‘trivial’ she doesn’t think so. Having decorations brings ‘hope’ and a feeling of ‘celebration’. Council should ‘help’ and ‘facilitate’ people entering into ‘that festive season’. Decorations are ‘simple’ but it helps people enter ‘into that spirit’.

SOUNNESS: said he was sorry because he thought that they should be ‘doing councillor’ things and not so much about religion which ‘isn’t to my comfort’. Foreshadowed that he would abstain from the vote.

DELAHUNTY: asked anyone that since Lipshutz’s motion covered all the recommendations plus the extra one about Gesac, she wanted to know what this added to the $40,000 cost.

JONES: said he assumed that ‘we would be adding an additional’ Christmas tree and Chanukiah but ‘wasn’t quite sure’ what the answer was.

After some confusion it was decided that this would be an extra $2000 – making it $42,000

DELAHUNTY: said she was in ‘two minds’ on the issue. Was happy with lighting but not with ‘religious icons on state buildings’. Said that what needed to be ‘weighed up’ wasn’t just the money but ‘the value’. Claimed that $42,000 wasn’t a ‘relatively small amount of money’ and what was important was the ‘value that the community could get from that’ and she wasn’t sure that the value was there. Didn’t think that one the one hand councillors could argue about being treated like adults (ie the previous item on the agenda about rate capping) and then turn around and argue that $42,000 was a small amount of money. Can’t support anything but Option A because she thought that’s what would best suit the community. Nothing wrong with having the town hall lit as ‘opposed to religious events’.

MAGEE: started by saying that of the 140,000 residents that each experiences Christmas differently. For some it’s ‘spiritual’, and for others just a holiday. Didn’t see any of the options as ‘particularly religious for myself’. Said he saw this as a ‘multicultural item’ and not a ‘spiritual’ item. Just like Chinese new year and the dragon, it was good to watch but that ‘doesnt mean that I would build one’. Didn’t see the Christmas tree as a ‘religious symbol’ but just a ‘symbol of Christmas’. Even with 20% of the community being Jewish he thought that ‘every single one of them’ would have a different view and for some it would be ‘spiritual’ and for others it ‘would be just a symbol’. Saw this as an opportunity to ‘stop being politically correct’ and ‘just be ourselves’. Saw this as an ‘acknowledgement of the time of year’. Nothing wrong with that.

HYAMS: said that all they’re doing is ‘acknowledging the two largest cultures’ in the community and it’s not only about ‘recognising minorities’ but recognising ‘all cultures’ and most people would be ‘Christian or Jewish’. He knows plenty of people who aren’t religious but still have Christmas trees or Chanukiah at home at this time of year. This would ‘add a lot to the festive feel of the city’. It’s like saying that the City of Melbourne shouldn’t be spending a lot on fireworks but people do ‘get a lot out of it’ and ‘enjoy it’. Same goes for mixing state and religion because that would mean not having Carols in the Park. He goes and doesn’t feel offended by carols that have ‘got a lot to do with a religion that I don’t believe’. It’s ‘all part of being in a multicultural society’. Melbourne city council puts up a chanukiah in Fed Square and so does New York but they have a huge Jewish population. Saw it as ‘acknowledging a multicultural society’.

ESAKOFF: was ‘sitting on the fence’ and she really wanted only lighting and what the motion is, is even more than what Stonnington has got. Said she was ‘hesitating’ to go for all the options. ‘At this stage’ she was more in favour of Option B.

DELAHUNTY then asked about acknowledging the ‘traditional owners of the land’ and the past issue of putting up the aboriginal flag at the town hall.

PILLING: said that council doesn’t have a ‘continual presence’ but only during Reconciliation Week.

DELAHUNTY said that it was before her time, but she was wondering about a request for a report on putting up a flagpole for the aboriginal flag ‘in line with many other councils including Stonnington’. Wanted to know what the ‘cost of that was’.

Again, confusion and Burke said that ‘off the top my head’ he didn’t remember the cost.

Delahunty then asked if this was going to be a yearly cost. Jones said that it would be a once off cost apart from maintenance.

HYAMS then said that according to his memory cost wasn’t the only reason against the aboriginal flag but the question was about flagpoles of the same height as the Australian flag. Burke confirmed this.

PILLING: was in favour of Option A because it ‘wasn’t too costly’

LOBO: said that the Christmas tree ‘has a significance’. Asked ‘why don’t we give the same money to the charities?’ The season is meant to ‘give out things to the poor’ so it should go to charity.

LI8PSHUTZ: said this isn’t only about ‘dollars’ but ‘human capitol’. Council does have parties in the park but it’s not like Christmas and that’s the time when it’s a ‘festive season’ for everyone. Thousands show up for Chanukah in the park and they aren’t all Jewish. ‘It’s summer, it’s warm, it’s Christmas’ and ‘people feel good about it’. So it’s an ‘opportunity’ for council to ‘do something about it’. If it was a continual cost of $42,000 then he wouldn’t be in favour of it, but it’s only a start up cost and then a ‘very small’ maintenance cost and it will ‘go on for years and years’. In Australia there isn’t the ‘separation of church and state’ and ‘we’re not scared of offending’ by ‘having a Christmas tree’ and not scared of offending Muslims by having a Chanukiah, or offending Christians.’We are a multicultural society’ and when people see the Christmas trees, Chanukiah and lights they will ‘recognise it’. It’s important and council spends money on infrastructure and ‘improving our libraries’, streets, but a criticism is given about what council doesn’t do in ‘bringing people together’. It will ‘make people feel good’