By Cam Lucadou-Wells
In a bombshell move, Greater Dandenong councillor Matthew Kirwan has shocked colleagues by quitting at the next election in October.
In a video posted on Cr Kirwan’s Facebook page, he announced “my time has come” after eight years as a Red Gum Ward councillor.
He introduced Greens colleague Rhonda Garad as his hopeful successor in Keysborough South.
“I wanted to be a councillor who put in 100 per cent and do it with energy and enthusiasm,” Cr Kirwan told Star Journal.
“Looking forward to doing another four year councillor term, I don’t think I could put in as much energy and enthusiasm. So it was time to move on.”
Known for his legendary work ethic, the first and only Greens councillor has twice devoted himself full-time to the “incredibly rewarding role”.
But even while working another ‘day job’, the councillor duties consumed weeknights and weekends and cost him sleep, he said.
“I don’t have any plans for state or federal politics.
“I’m not ruling it out in future but that’s not the reason (for stepping aside).”
Councillors reacted with shock when the news dropped on Cr Kirwan’s Facebook page on Tuesday 30 June.
“WTF?” Cr Peter Brown commented on the post.
“OMG. Why? Why? Why?” wrote Cr Maria Sampey.
“One of the hardest working councillors. Worked 60 hours a day.
“We will have to remove his bed from the councillor’s office.”
Crs Sean O’Reilly paid tribute to Cr Kirwan’s “great term of service”, a saddened Cr Zaynoun Melhem praised a “great mentor” who would be “truly missed by the community”.
Tributes also flowed from former Dandenong MP John Pandazopoulos, and former councillors Sharon Harris and Alan Gordon.
Some warmly praised Cr Kirwan’s contribution even though they didn’t agree with his views.
Cr Kirwan takes pride in raising the profile of climate change, environment and sustainability, including defending the municipality’s Green Wedge.
When he was elected in 2012, the council had just a single sustainability officer.
Now there’s four-and-a-half positions on the sustainability team, which has led to a recent renewable-power purchasing agreement.
A climate change strategy, biodiversity plan and electric council-vehicle transition plan are on the way, he said.
After eight years, he’s pleased that a regional art gallery in Dandenong, an upgrade of Hemmings Street, a Keysborough South community hub and an all-abilities playground in Ross Reserve is being realised.
Other council achievements are confining high-rise development to central Dandenong and Noble Park activity centres and its advocacy for local asylum seekers and refugees.
A piece of unfinished business is the “desperately needed” Dandenong Community Hub.
“What Dandenong really needs is a much larger version of the Keysborough South Community Hub with childrens services, community meeting rooms and activity rooms.
“When you bring services together, you bring the community together.”
Cr Kirwan’s lengthy interrogation of council officers triggered time limits on questions at Greater Dandenong Council meetings.
He “guaranteed” he’ll be still raising issues in public question time.
“I plan to be an active community member.
“I feel I can be an active community member in a more meaningful way from my experience as a councillor.”