Councils seek deferral of new Local Government Bill reforms

The Municipal Association of Victoria’s (MAV) submission on proposed new Local Government Bill reforms has expressed concern about the State’s process and lack of detail, which has prevented meaningful consultation on significant reforms that could have negative consequences for communities.

The MAV has called on the Victorian Government to defer the proposed reforms for 12-18 months to enable full examination of the issues including costs, community impacts and other unintended consequences.

Two proposed reforms – mandated single member wards and community-initiated Commissions of Inquiry – are of greatest concern as they could fundamentally shift the nature of council governance. They are significant proposals that warrant further detailed examination.

A third reform, the voter franchise, is also concerning as non-resident ratepayers would no longer be automatically enrolled to vote in council elections.

In the 2016 council elections, an estimated 620,000 people (14 per cent of all voters) were non-resident ratepayers. The State reform proposes to disenfranchise these ratepayers by requiring them to apply to go on the electoral roll before each election.

The MAV has provided support or in-principle support for a number of proposed reforms including:

  • a prohibition on foreign donations to local government candidates, a reduction in the gift disclosure threshold, and for councils to have a gift register and gift policy
  • mandatory candidate training
  • prescribed standards of conduct, a formal internal arbitration process, and disqualification of a councillor for repeated serious misconduct
  • mayoral and councillor allowances to be set by the Independent Remuneration Tribunal.

Cr Coral Ross, MAV President said further meaningful consultation was needed on proposed new reforms through release of a publicly available Local Government Bill 2019 Exposure Draft and draft regulations.

“When the State announced new reforms in June (2019), there had been no public process to inform the government’s proposals and no available modelling outlining their rationale or the community impacts.

“The MAV does not support a one-size fits all approach to electoral ward structures. We support the continuation of flexibility – including the use of unsubdivided municipalities, single-member wards and multi-member wards – to ensure local circumstances and communities of interest are taken into account.

“There are also multiple existing processes and mechanisms already in place to investigate councils or councillor conduct including Councillor Conduct Panels, the Local Government Inspectorate and the ability of the Minister to appoint a monitor or Commission of Inquiry.

“It remains unclear what inadequacies exist to necessitate a new voter petition option, or how the State will ensure procedural fairness when there appears to be no vetting process for applicants who initiate a Commission of Inquiry petition.

“We want to see the new reform proposals deferred while proper consultation is undertaken,” she said.

Source: MAV