After more than two months of consultation, the Andrews Labor Government’s draft Bill to repeal and replace the Local Government Act 1989, was met with a response by the Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV).
The bill is a once-a-generation opportunity for a complete overhaul of local governance, regulating representation structures and voting methods for council elections across Victoria, while at the same time requiring that councils adopt long-term plans and budgets backed by their local communities, and calling for most council meetings to be open to the public.
It is one of the key election commitments of the Andrews government, and one that is announced as a vast improvement on the governance of Victoria’s councils, ensuring ratepayers get the representation they deserve.
“We’re putting people first and getting it done – updating laws that haven’t been properly updated in decades,” Minister for Local Government Marlene Kairouz had said, at the bill’s presentation,pointing to the fact that the 1989 act had been amended about 100 times.The Municipal Association of Victoria has welcomed many of the proposed reforms, while at the same time raising a number of concerns including an expanded use of regulation, electoral structures, conflict of interest provisions, and a failure to properly review the rating system.
“We are pleased the Government has listened and acted on earlier feedback received from councils,” MAV President, Cr Mary Lalios said, referring to the parts of the bill that have changed from the earlier Direction’s paper. “Significant parts of the Bill have received widespread support from councils, including a new 10-year community vision and financial plan, councils determining their own community engagement policies, and the requirements for councils to have a customer complaints policy and a publicly transparent gifts policy,” she said, welcoming the opportunity to ensure the laws become more contemporary and reflect the evolution of local government.
The MAV’s response is presented in detail in a draft discussion paper, which came as the outcome of six member consultations held across Victoria and attended by more than 200 mayors, councillors and officers, alongside with subsequent submissions received from councils. One of the issues of concern for the MAV is regarding a fundamental change proposed: the intent to use regulation and guidance (best practice guidelines) rather than detail through the Act. “This change minimises Parliament’s role to determine local government practices, and instead shifts it to the Minister,” Cr Lalios said. “What regulations might be introduced and their content is also unknown and raises further concerns.”
The MAV is also opposed to the proposal to remove mixed multi-member wards and the combination of multi-member and single member wards. “These electoral structures have provided effective representation models in rural areas where populations are dispersed regionally and concentrated in towns,” Cr Lalios stressed.
The MAV submission also reiterated local government’s ongoing opposition to the State Government rate cap and called for reconsideration of the arrangements for growth councils, together with a review and streamlining of the application process for a variation to the cap. “Rates are the single biggest component of a council’s income,” Cr Lalios said, urging the Government to consult further on this matter.