Hundreds of former Substation members, local residents and supporters are set to gather at Newport Bowls Club from 7.30pm on Tuesday 6th August 2019 for a community action meeting following the exclusion and expulsion of members from the community arts centre.
Serious concerns have been raised about the ‘governance practises and lack of grass roots community engagement within all levels of the current operations of The Substation Inc,’ with community members currently considering their legal options.
In 1994, Darren Williams started the project and led a team of local residents whom over 16 years restored and redeveloped the VicTrack-owned Newport Substation in partnership with community volunteers, local business sponsors, training organisations and government authorities.
In 1998, the Hobsons Bay Community Arts Centre Inc was formed, and Darren Williams said the committee continued to steer the five-million-dollar renovation and redevelopment, inspired to create a community arts centre for the people of Hobsons Bay.
“We constantly initiated projects to build membership and encourage support of the project. These included school exhibitions, employment creation, training projects, fundraising events, community exhibitions, artists markets, and music and theatrical performances,” Mr Williams said.
In 2016, after extended leave, Mr Williams said he returned home where he was and continues to be stopped in the street by hundreds of people who all appear to be asking the exact same question: ‘What has happened to The Substation?’
“They all felt excluded by the organisation, the management and the programming. None had received membership renewal notifications, none had received notifications of Annual General Meetings (AGMs),” Mr Williams said.
“I believe sometime around 2013 the Association Committee breached its obligations under the Associations Incorporations Reform Act 2012. From around this time only a small number (5) of Members received membership renewal notices or notices of AGMs.”
“I can provide Statutory Declarations from a large number of ‘former’ members to attest to this fact. None had been involved in a broad membership or community discussion about the future direction of The Substation.”
Darren Williams said that not one person has been inclined to explain to him, or in fact any other former members of the newly named Substation Inc, about the extraordinary disappearing act involving many hundreds of magical memberships.
“What has happened at The Substation is a very serious breach of trust and obligations to the Associations Incorporations Reform Act 2012. We will not give up our rights under the Act and we will continue to advocate of behalf of the excluded membership.”
“We have been trying to restore our membership rights for over three years. It is a very sad day when the community that created The Substation must protest to have their membership reinstated,” Mr Williams said.
“It makes you wonder what the current Substation committee fears from having a community-based membership. Even if they believe they have a legal leg to stand on, their actions show them to be morally and ethically bereft.”
In an unfathomable move, The Substation’s current committee of management has taken a ‘nothing to see here’ response to Mr Williams and the many hundreds of other former members, citing ‘efficiency’ measures and a more ‘mature phase’ for the organisation.
“There has been a change in the way the aims of The Substation have been achieved, in order to address the needs of The Substation and the way it engaged its stakeholders and with the community,” they said.
“The current membership structure of The Substation is considered by the committee to be the most efficient and practical way of conducting the organisation. The Substation has moved… to a more mature phase where it is a functional arts facility.”
Darren Williams said decisions on the future direction of The Substation occurred at a time when a senior executive from Hobsons Bay City Council was involved as a member of the Committee of Management. The Council has now branded itself the “Creative City”.
“The Substation community perceives there has been deception and collusion between senior executives from Hobsons Bay City Council and The Substation committee,” Mr Williams said.
“You have to seriously question the values and motives of a group that receives over $1 million from our local Council but will not allow the community of Hobsons Bay to elect its committee.”
It is understood that the drafting, negotiation and formulation of funding agreements between The Substation and Hobsons Bay City Council have included many returns on investment including an allocated number of free venue hires per calendar year.
A spokesperson for Hobsons Bay City Council vehemently denied any causal connection between the authority and the governance of The Substation; and was not inclined to provide any comment pertaining to ‘perceived deception and collusion’.
“The Substation is an independent organisation with its own board and governance structure. Any matters relating to The Substation should be put to them,” a Council spokesperson said.