May Day in Paradise

May Day was observed in appropriate style this morning in the inner-city municipality of Burchett Hill ("proudly twinned with Pyongyang").

As in past years the Mayor, Councillor Les Rhiannon (Greens Party), took the salute from the balcony of the Town Hall as massed cohorts of council employees marched through Chavez (formerly Civic) Square.

The stirring tones of the "Internationale" played over and over again by the Burchett Hill Wind Farm Technicians’ (formerly Colliery Workers’) Band set everyone in the right mood. It was somewhat disappointing that local ratepayers were almost entirely absent but the large number of official participants, all loyally cheering, to some extent made up for what Councillor Rhiannon called "this calculated snub by an outdated class of petit bourgeois to working people and their elected representatives". He hinted that a retaliatory "rates hike" might be coming in the former’s direction.

The May Day parade demonstrated once again that Burchett Hill is a "major power" among municipal councils with its ever-expanding army of employees, "the front-line troops of council’s presence in the community", as the Mayor put it in his speech. Staff numbers are up this year in all key municipal departments. The city’s Diversity Unit, for example, whose principal function is to eliminate the few surviving traces of Burchett Hill’s "Anglocentric" past – a proud recent achievement is the "recycling" of the King George VI Memorial Infant Welfare Centre as a Museum of Postcolonial Shame and the unit has recommended that English no longer be an official language in the municipality – was represented by 1400 marchers. The large contingent from Waste & Recycling (Enforcement) Services, some wheeling their range of colourful bins, others proudly holding aloft their calculators for issuing on-the-spot fines for breaches of "bin etiquette", showed that that department too is an important municipal growth area. It was unfortunate that the marchers’ progress was partly obstructed by mounds of uncollected rubbish after a month-long strike by the contract staff who are supposed to implement Waste & Recycling’s complicated refuse-disposal "strategies" by actually emptying the bins.

The Animal Management contingent was also well up on previous years, mainly as a result of council’s decision to extend the range of "registrable pets" to include cage birds, lizards and goldfish (in- or outdoors) and certain categories of spider (for example to register a huntsman, even if it only appeared one evening on the ceiling and was not "purchased or otherwise procured" by the ratepayer, now costs $45). New staff have been recruited as council "animal wardens" with the right to enter any abode to ensure that "domestic pet regulations" are complied with. Also in the parade for the first time was a phalanx of additional desk personnel employed to administer council’s policy of applying a "registration surcharge" for non-indigenous pets.

Parking & Vehicular (Restrictions) staff were also on parade in healthily increased numbers. More than a hundred new employees have had to be taken on to cope with "infrastructure issues" deriving from the fact that there is less traffic than ever in Burchett Hill, mainly on account of the anger and frustration caused to motorists by the constant revision of council’s "Road Users’ Circulation Masterplan". Under this visionary document those few streets in the municipality not blocked by rockeries are no sooner designated one-way than they are redesignated in the opposite direction, often several times in the same day. A key element of the masterplan is the progressive implementation of a "no standing" zone across the whole of Burchett Hill, with the exception of councillors’ parking spaces around the Town Hall.

The biggest contingent of all in this year’s parade was Environment & Sustainability with 2320 marchers. Their numbers were swelled by schoolchildren recruited into council’s "Kids’ Enviro-Guerrillas" programme, which rewards young people for the number of "introduced" plants and shrubs they can uproot in public parks and even, such is the zeal of youthful activists, private gardens. A number of junior marchers were carrying the results of their efforts, brandishing the stumps of rhododendron and camellia bushes like trophies in war. Residents who have complained about this invasion of their property are "advised" as a condition of "continuing to receive council services" to undergo counselling in "approved horticultural selection" and offered a small discount to stock their gardens with "attractive grasses and other colourful natives" from the council nursery.

By contrast with the "big guns" among council departments, some of the major contingents of previous years were down in numbers. Aged Care, the division of Health Services that arranges free meals for senior citizens, was represented in the march by just three elderly volunteers. The department has been "downgraded" at the behest of Councillor Rhiannon, who, echoing the philosophy of his hero the Great Helmsman towards older people, believes that "council has much more worthwhile things to spend its money on than shovelling food into ancient mouths". Similarly reduced is the erstwhile Public Libraries Department, now Burchett Hill’s "Printed Word Access Resource". It was represented by one marcher only, "resource person" (previously librarian) Ms Deirdre Kindle, all other staff having been replaced by "electronic information providers".

As in past years, seasoned council-watchers were particularly attentive to the line-up of councillors on the balcony to see who’s in and who’s out in the Burchett Hill hierarchy of power. Conspicuously absent was Councillor Randy Thompson, until recently the senior officer in council Health Services, who has been accused of "siphoning off" savings from the cutbacks in Aged Care to fund his visits to The Happy Lash, an "S&M lounge" in Burchett Hill’s red-light district. Also absent was Councillor Peter Shoe, secretary to council, suspended pending an investigation into "unrealistic" expenses claims for tram and bus tickets and bicycle hire "totalling tens of thousands of dollars". It is to be hoped that both will be back on the balcony next year. A third notable absentee was local churchman Canon Owen Featherhead, who has been replaced as mayor’s chaplain by Imam Ibn al Choppa-hedoff Poofa of Burchett Hill Mosque. Council-watchers noted that in the official line-up, "cross-dressed" Councillor Jeremy Floris, who is responsible for the Diversity Unit’s Gay, Lesbian and Otherwise Gendered Outreach programme, several times changed his position to keep as many other councillors as possible between himself and the Imam, whose eagle glare appeared to make him nervous.

Christopher Akehurst blogs at Argus-online

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