No backers for Holt anniversary service

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THERE is little interest being shown from any level of government for a memorial service in December to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the disappearance of then Prime Minister Harold Holt from a beach at Point Nepean.

Mr Holt was presumed drowned at Cheviot Beach on 17 December 1967, although his body was never recovered.

Neither the federal, state or local governments have agreed to pay for a proposal by the Harold Holt Memorial Committee, auspiced by the Nepean Ratepayers’ Association, for a service at the beach on this year’s anniversary of his disappearance.

A recommendation that Mornington Peninsula Shire give $10,000 towards the service was withdrawn from the agenda without debate at last Tuesday’s (10 October) council meeting.

Economic development and tourism manager Tania Treasure, in a report to councillors, said the service planned by the ratepayers’ association marked an “important anniversary in Australian history”.

“Discussions are currently being held with Harold Holt’s family and other dignitaries regarding their involvement with the service, however nothing has been confirmed,” Ms Treasure said.

“Both federal and state governments along with the Liberal Party have also been asked to provide funding for the event.”

In a letter to the shire, committee chairman Colin Watson said the disappearance of Mr Holt, Australia’s 17th prime minister (26 January 1966-17 December 1967), was one of the most dramatic events in the country’s political history “and is seared into the memory of many Australians”.

He said it was anticipated the memorial service would be attended by members of Mir Holt’s family and “a host of dignitaries and those who wish to honour his memory”.

Mr Watson told The News on Thursday that the state government had declined to contribute towards the service, but he had not been told about the shire’s refusal.

The shire’s chief financial officer Matthew Green said on Friday the request for money for the Holt memorial service “was withdrawn … as the organising committee withdrew the funding request”.

A letter to Mr Watson from Rachel Cowling in the Department of Premier and Cabinet, said “the premier [Daniel Andrews] would like to thank the Harold Holt Memorial Committee for its hard work and dedication, and wishes it all the best in its future endeavours”.

Mr Watson said the service had a $30,000-$40,000 budget with up to 200 people expected to attend.

Russell Joseph, electorate office manager for Nepean MP Martin Dixon and candidate for the seat at the next election, said he had been “going round in circles” trying to get backing for the service from either the federal or state governments.

He said the Liberal party “may have been willing” but had not made any commitment.

“I’ll go myself with a mobile phone and make a speech,” Mr Joseph said.

“It’s a significant event in Australia’s history, so I might do a service myself, just for the media if no one wants to turn up. I’m gobsmacked.

“It costs taxpayers $12,000 an hour to run federal parliament when it’s sitting, so I thought they could have given something.”

First published in the Southern Peninsula News – 17 October 2017

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