SECOND READING – LOCAL GOVERNMENT BILL 2018
I take great pleasure in joining the debate on the Local Government Bill 2018. The overall objective of this bill is to give effect to the government’s election commitment to create a new Local Government Act. This is a government that keeps its promises. There has been an extensive period of consultation in the lead-up to this bill. It was a four-stage consultation process. There was stage 1 — reform ideas — in 2015. The government released a discussion paper, followed by statewide, face-to-face consultations and extensive submission analysis. In stage 2 in June 2016 a directions paper was publicly released and then stage 3 was the Local Government Exposure Draft Bill, which was released in December 2017. I think that gives the lie to those that would say there has not been an enormous, enormous amount of scrutiny on this piece of legislation.
I followed the lead speaker for the opposition. Obviously I only get 10 minutes. He had a very long time to go through his position on the bill. I am primarily going to use my time to refer to some of the examples and particularly the criticisms by the Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV), respond to some of them and particularly use examples within my own community that I represent. Also, being the parliamentary secretary for regional Victoria, I am frequently in discussion and consultation with small rural councils and have a great deal of empathy for the difficult job they have to do.
The first thing I want to go to is in relation to the MAV’s opposition to the discontinuation of mixed single and multimember wards and wards with varying numbers of councillors. Having an equal numbers of councillors in each ward of a municipality is essential to ensuring equity in the quota required to be elected. I am very taken with the argument put forward by the Proportional Representation Society of Australia. They made this point very forcefully, particularly in relation to Latrobe City Council, saying that in the east ward, with four councillors, there is only 20 per cent plus one required for a quota. Central ward have two councillors and 33 per cent plus one is required to be elected. Then there is south ward, with one councillor — 50 per cent plus one.
We have a similar situation in the City of Whittlesea. A previous review was done by the Victorian Electoral Commission into the City of Whittlesea. The then councillor Pam McLeod, who was also the president of the Australian Local Government Women’s Association, was at the time a north ward councillor, and most of the Yan Yean electorate and where all the growth is occurring in the City of Whittlesea is in the north ward.
Both of us contended at the time that some of the most complex issues and the greatest needs of the communities across the whole of the City of Whittlesea were experienced by those in the north ward. But what we have seen over and over again until recent times is that because the south west ward and the south east ward have four councillors each and the north ward has only three, it is constantly those communities in the north ward that are effectively done over.
Over a number of years and for the first couple of years of this government, with applications to the Growing Suburbs Fund and with sport and recreation applications, it just seemed like time and time again — which I felt quite sad about — that the Growing Suburbs Fund was supposed to be about assisting growing communities but so much of it was being invested in the southern part of the City of Whittlesea, and the north ward was continually being done over. Cr McLeod and I put that argument to the inquiry previously when ward boundaries were changed, and unfortunately we were unsuccessful. There should be equal numbers of councillors in each ward. We must ensure equity in the quota required to be elected. This is the same for us. We are elected on the same basis, and I think that it shows respect to the community to do that.
The Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV) also opposes the rating system being set as capital improved value and for that to be set by the minister for all local government rating systems. Having a single rating system makes rates more transparent for the public and removes any public perception of arbitrariness in rating. I know that there are only a handful of councils that do not use CIV; 73 out of 79 councils use CIV rather than net annual value (NAV).
I have four municipalities in my electorate, and one of those, the City of Whittlesea, uses NAV. I have been a ratepayer in both Nillumbik and Whittlesea. Everyone knows that Nillumbik has very high rates, some of the highest rates in the state. Those living in Doreen — right next door in the northern part of the municipality of Whittlesea — might even be on smaller properties, properties that are of less value than those next door in Nillumbik, and they are paying just as much or more. They are questioning that, given that the rate base of Nillumbik is so much lower. They do not find that fair.
The MAV opposes the power set out in the bill where a council can vote a mayor out of office mid-term, arguing it may destabilise the council. In response I would say that the bill limits this power to apply exclusively to mayors serving at least a two-year term. It also requires about three-quarters of the council vote for the mayor to be removed. The member for Eltham and I have seen examples, particularly in the Shire of Nillumbik, where if this power existed right now, Cr Peter Clarke might not still be occupying the mayor’s chair in that he has been completely secretive in shutting out other councillors. He has been loose with the truth. He has been caught out on national television and on the evening news. He has had the mickey taken out of him by no less than The Project, because he was so loose with the truth — he could not find the truth — in relation to the 17 plots of land that the council planned to dishonestly sell. Fortunately they backed down from that.
I also think that it is very problematic that in the leadership of the MAV at the moment we have a councillor who is actually not showing up to council meetings in her own municipality; that is Cr Mary Lalios. I think it is just disgraceful in a municipality with such great needs that she has not been seen at a council meeting for months. I do not know what the explanation is, but I have read an MAV press release with her name on it dated 19 June, so I do not think she is unwell. I do not know why she is not attending to her duties in the City of Whittlesea. I think that her continuing to hold that position and her leading the MAV when she is not undertaking her own duties is, frankly, a disgrace. She should have a good look at herself, as should the board of the MAV.
The government has gone to great lengths to consult on this bill. I commend the officers involved, and I commend the bill to the house.