By Cam Lucadou-Wells
Casey councillors are divided on a $5500 ratepayer-funded research trip to Arizona, USA in preparation for a proposed lantern festival in 2019.
The trip sends Cr Wayne Smith and the council’s China engagement officer to investigate the Phoenix Light and Lantern Festival for a week in the upcoming Christmas-New Year period.
It would also include Cr Smith addressing a graffiti and vandalism forum hosted by Phoenix Police.
The trip is estimated to cost $5500 in airfares, accommodation and car rental.
At a 5 December council meeting, mayor Geoff Ablett said the timing of the trip couldn’t be controlled – given the Phoenix festival runs from mid-November to 2 January.
It was “certainly not a junket” but was building on ties built with Sichuan Lantern Company during the council’s delegation to China earlier this year.
“It’s getting business to create jobs in Casey,” Cr Ablett said.
“The jobs we’re creating (about 150 a week in Casey) are getting snapped up. We need to do more.”
Dissenting councillor Rosalie Crestani said she supported engagement with China but the trip didn’t meet the “pub test”.
“I believe in sticking to a yearly trip.
“This additional trip looks bad, (especially) at this time (of year).”
Cr Crestani said she’d support a single council officer, but not a councillor, to go on the trip.
Similar research on the festival’s logisitics could be achieved by conference call or online, she said.
The Phoenix Festival – the largest of its type in the US – includes about 75 Lights of the World lantern displays.
The Casey version, proposed for the former civic centre site near Bunjil Place, would be smaller.
It was expected to be the size of Frankston’s sand-sculpture drawcard, which attracted “thousands” of visitors, proponent Cr Sam Aziz said.
The investment in the trip was “minimal” and “minuscule” compared to the ensuing economic benefits, he said.
He added that successful negotiations with Chinese governments and corporations required Casey to show ongoing commitment as well as consistent political representation.
Cr Smith – who will fly to Phoenix – was also part of the council delegation to China in April.
“Are we serious about China or are we not?” Cr Aziz said.
The lantern festival was also expected to require “some financial support” from Casey as well as a suitable site, according to a council report.