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Welcome to Ratepayers Victoria Incorporated, advocating for Collaboration, Accountability & Transparency. Our 2022 vision is a future where Victorian ratepayers are highly connected, value adding and  engaging to increase their councils’ and state agencies’ propensity to achieve higher council rates affordability and local liveability. Our blog highlights the latest news and issues affecting ratepayers. Visit our Facebook.

Update on LG Act Reform Planning Progress

Today, we received a letter from Minister Hutchins, informing ratepayers the progress status of the reform planning milestones to date.

Last year, we organised a forum in the Knox club, to provide feedback to a discussion paper proposing reform directions and ideas. We understand that a first version (or draft) of the proposed new legislation will be released sometime this year, open to a last open review before completing a final version for Parliamentary review and approval voting. The letter we received today is in response to the summary list we submitted to the Reform team in early January  2017.

RV’s January 2017 list of priority items for reform is as follows:

  1. Effective compliance to the Act:  Without an effective policing system, non compliance , as is today, will continue business as usual where there are lacking effective penalties to no consequences for non compliance offences. As a component of a future policing system, we also recommend adopting citizen juries, to help oversee and report governance and compliance at local levels. The Minister can nominate and provide training & support for qualified ratepayers to be part of their council’s citizen jury team. Ratepayers Victoria can help implement and manage this new community driven component of governance and compliance management
  2. Rate Valuation Equity:  As seen in the latest Parliament Rate Capping report, councils and opposition parties are not supporting rates capping and they continuously steer towards blaming the Fair Go Rates policy for escalating and above CPI individual rate rises. The real cause is CIV and the ineffective use of existing rating tools by councils. We recommend moving away from adopting CIV towards adopting a modified SIV as common state-wide rate revaluation method. SIV ensures investment developers can no longer benefit the most from a CIV approach and more importantly gives some protection for our older ratepayers from excessive rate rises caused by CIV.
  3. Standard chart of accounts (prescriptive):  essential for increasing financial accountability and sustainability across all service and operational dimensions of municipal businesses. This chart of account also has to integrate a common service classification system and the LGPRF to streamline lifecycle and performance management of the many hundreds of individual municipal services claimed by councils.
  4. A uniform complaint management Registry system across all councils that allows all stakeholders, especially ratepayers to track and manage the resolution status and satisfaction measures of registered complaint processing from capture to resolution. The analytics reporting will give evidence and insights into the strengths and weaknesses of councils’ capacities and self improvement propensities to service their communities, including their performance in good governance conduct and decision making.
  5. Community Engagement: Adopt a state common standard in public participation, such as the IAP2, which can provide the standard framework dimensions for justifying council’s choice of community engagement levels and reporting their performance measures in community engagement.
  6. Confidentiality and Conflict of interest: Distinct state-wide definitions of meeting confidentiality and conflict of interest (CoI) declarations (including compliance & offence rules) need to be specific, to return integrity of council’s decision making information transparency and justification accountability.
  7. Decision making Transparency & “Best Value” accountability: Simply making up and availing information for decision making, through officers reports or on the go council meeting debates is not sufficient to achieve transparency. Mandate guidelines for better and decision making information to be more relevant and publically accessible, timely and accurate and complete. We recommend decision making publications to be proactive and provide clarity of procedural and information criteria that explain (a) how decisions are to be made, justified and risk assessed and (b) organisational project management procedures and measures to ensure and report traceable and progressing implementation accountability.
  8. Term limits on CEO and councillors (2 terms), to mitigate groupthink, incompetent and politically biased councillors and CEOs to service local communities.  We also recommend performance appraisals, supported by clear performance measures, to be adopted and published , to motivate CEO, Mayors and Councillors to be more accountable to their communities and demonstrate their capacities to achieve goals, linked to their performance measures and Below are a list of reform priorities ratepayers would like to see included in the scope of LG reforms.Councillors’
  9. Competency Assurance:  It is common knowledge that lacking councillors’ competencies in leadership, governance and interpersonal skills are some of the key factors that are fostering poor council cultures, biased and poor decision making, incompetency, mistrust and poor relationships with their communities.  Regular and progressive training can be mandated, especially for long standing councillors, to build / correct councillors’ competencies in leadership, corporate governance and people relationship management.

 

Community Enagement & 2017-18 Rates Variation Applications

Councils who wish to increase next financial year’s rates will need to ensure they inform their community of their business case for raising rates above the cap.

The Essential Service Commission (ESC) has issued guidelines to help councils engage effectively with their communities, to ensure they provide top quality information, to ensure their communities become well informed of their councils’ decisions to increase rates above the cap.

The guidelines are available online for the public to view and understand the evaluation criteria ESC would use to assess whether councils have genuinely engaged with their communities. Ratepayers can assist to evaluate if their councils have followed these guidlines properly. If their councils have not, ratepayer advocates can provide the factual evidence to justify the non compliance and share with Ratepayers Vic to quality assure and facilitate forwarding community concerns to the ESC. They should also discuss the concerns with their councils, to agree improvements, while also taking leadership in fostering good community rapport with councils, helping them improve their organizational learning.

ESC is also presenting the guidelines to ratepayer groups who are interested to understand their councils’ obligation in community engagement, when they apply for rates variation this year. We are collaborating with ESC to discuss with our ratepayer networks these community engagement guidelines for councils’ 2017-2018 budget planning on 4th March 2017, at the Knox Council Offices, 511 Burwood Hwy, Wantirna South VIC 315. We are also having an earlier session with Local Government Inspectorate that day. Connect with our https://www.facebook.com/ratepayersvictoria/ to keep up to date.

Regional/rural ratepayers groups can come together and contact Ratepayers Victoria (email RatepayersVictoria@outlook.com) to organise a similar workshop with ESC in regional Victoria.

Status Report on PlatformRV Project (Governce KPI Dev)

In December 2016, team members were identified and approach to form a project team. They met in early Jan 2017, and preliminary requirement research followed.

The following is a summary of the research highlights (click here for the detailed report) so far:

  • Good governance is meant to be a conduct and practice integrated performance management framework for governments and their agencies, including down to the lowest level of municipal councils and their peak bodies.
  • It is part of a bigger corporate governance framework, already defined in DTPLI’s Council Governance webpage, comprising of the following sections, categorised and re-organised as follows, for deeper gap analysis.

  • A gap analysis of the above corporate governance framework reveals the following:

Good Governance Framework

Operational Control Framework

1) There are no state-wide community engagementguidelines for councils:

2)  Operational control areas have not been structurally designed and aligned to the core operational functions of a council3) State directed service provisioning controls are missing, a major gap when municipal service provisioning is the core business of councils.

4)  Integration of these state corporate governance areas in councils’ frameworks is discretionally translated by each council. This has resulted in the growing prevalence of good governance and operational performance quality issues in and across councils, including varying and often lacking compliance policing intensities and offence handling.

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These findings have lead the project team to focus on defining the governance KPI for supporting council decision making and community engagement. The next step is to interview several stakeholders from selected council, state agencies and peak bodies, and MPs who have contributed and/or supported to developing past and present LGPRF versions.  Interviewees will be carefully selected to avoid politicized influencers and reputed good governance offenders, to choose people who are committed to improve the LG system and attain its highest governance integrity.

For full details of the findings, click here.

2017 and a brand new RV strategy

Ratepayers Victoria (RV) is starting the new year with a new five years strategy plan.  This plan directs our focus to create a 2022 future where Victorian ratepayers are highly connected, value adding and  engaging to increase their councils’ and state agencies’ propensity to achieve higher council rates affordability and local liveability. 

To realise this future, there are 3 objectives to be achieved within the next 5 years (2017 – 2022) : RV will become a platform organisation that has the capacity to

  • Connect ratepayers among themselves, and network with other local government (LG) stakeholders
  • Aggregate information resources and capabilities to better address local and statewide challenges and opportunities in LG
  • Mobilize ratepayers to engage in strategic partnerships and leveraging technology to improve problem solving and accessing governance tools.

We have commenced and planning projects to achieve these objectives – see here to view current project list.

This five years strategy plan also involve a platform strategy, of which its digital form is already in early development and available online. Click here to view the current version of PlatformRV.

A Christmas Reflection

Hi everyone

Christmas and the end of the year are getting close. Before the new year comes, we would like to share with you a reflective update about our past achievements over the last 4 yours and the exciting future direction  Ratepayers Victoria is moving towards.

Past to Present Accomplishments:

In 2012, Ratepayers Victoria started a campaign to transform into advocacy organization. Why we carried out this strategic transformation? It is to empower our networks of ratepayer groups to become advocates for their local community, to have greater propensity and sustainable capacity to influence change in councils to better engage and response to their communities and keep rates affordable.

Far too often we heard from our networks of ratepayer groups that their councils jeered at them for being small associations, disenfranchising their individual members, including being adverse towards them. Changing these groups’ business model to become an advocacy organisations, networked and connected via a common Ratepayers Victoria’ platform, not only negates such treatment, but also increase their capacity to quickly build a stronger collective voice and be more mobilized to take enduring actions, though sometimes can be long and painful, but with endurance, persistence and resilience will ultimately lead to  improving situations and relationships.

Becoming an advocacy organisation and as part of Ratepayers Victoria’s networks also allow groups to come together as a civil society collective, linked by common interests and shared knowledge and actions to improve good governance practices in councils, the root cause of many local issues, including rates affordability. A civil society is formally recognised as the third tier of society, along with government and businesses.

Our strategic advocacy development journey over the last four years has achieved the following:

  1. Formal involvement in making LG reforms. Ratepayers Victoria represented Victorian ratepayers in the development of the Fair Go Rates policy, which benefits all ratepayers but not effectively supported by many councils and their peak bodies, because it curtails their expenses and requires showing justification transparency and financial accountability in rates setting. Today, we continue to monitor through our networks and report rates capping resistance tactics, to ensure rates capping compliance is sustained and increase effectiveness in future years.   Ratepayers Victoria also sits in the steering committee for enhancing the Local Government Performance Reporting Framework (LGPRF), which is a performance management tool for increasing and ensuring councils’ financial, service and governance performance. We are taking a hands on contribution to develop governance key performance indicators (KPIs), which currently is lacking and is no more than a tokenistic checklist.
  2. Developing ratepayers’ capacity to exercise local governance overseeing, which involves taking a agile approach in trialling processes and tools to check and report compliance violations and offences, aiming to inform higher authorities better understand and response to local grass root governance issues and practice gaps in councils.  The milestones we accomplished is having regular meeting access to higher authorities and greater and formalizing recognition as a value adding contributor to reforms development.
  3. Finding new ways to sustain ratepayers groups, create new ones with guided help, and regionalise ratepayer groups for strategic positioning. Eastern Ratepayers was formed, consolidating groups from Knox, Monash, Casey and Cardinia, who meet regularly and engage in collaborative local and regional problem solving, etc. We helped create two new ratepayer groups in Darebin and Mildura.
  4. Building and leveraging strategic partnerships with other groups and businesses, to create and innovate value adds that mutually benefit each other. The first prototype was partnering with Oursay to trial a governance evaluation survey, to better understand and confirm the common governance issues experienced by ratepayers.
  5. Prototyping processes and tools to increase ratepayer groups’ role in supporting the right candidates in council election. In the 2016 election period, we trialled the process of giving Ratepayers Victoria branded endorsement to local groups’ recommended candidates and prototyped an online information tool for helping voters make informed decisions in selecting running candidates.

We achieved these strategic milestones while continuing day to day support to our networks. These strategic and operational achievements are the effort of a small team of volunteering but high performing advocate leaders, able to create and expand their spheres of influences through sharing their knowledge, talents and networks.

The Next Strategic Positioning:

Over the festive break, we are developing a strategy plan for the next 5 years, ensuring Ratepayers Victoria is strategically positioned to strengthen and sustain ratepayers voice and influence, and increase achievements of high impact strategic outcomes that deliver both local and state-wide benefits. The scope of strategic positioning is to modernise ratepayers’ participation in council affairs and have sustainable relationships with higher authorities to increase and sustain council integrity, transparency and responsiveness to local communities and the state. Ratepayers will expand its advocacy business model to become platform oriented one, so that ratepayers can easily connect, access and share knowledge, talents and resources to increase their sphere of influence and making value adding contributions in councils. In the new year, we will share more insights about this strategy plan.

Folks, do have a wonderful and joyful Christmas, and a very happy and safe new year.

Merry cheers,

RV Executive Team Changes

Effective from 31 October 2016, Ratepayers Victoria’s new President is Dr Chan Cheah. RV Founder and long time President, Jack Davies, decided to be Vice-President. Chan and Jack will continue to work closely together, continuing to contribute their different areas of expertise, to bring Ratepayers Victoria to the next level.

The new nominated committee members are:

  1. Beaty Davis
  2. Frank Sullivan
  3. Joe Lenzo
  4. John Presley
  5. Kim Nguyen
  6. Lynnette Saloumi *
  7. Marlene Bottrell
  8. Phil Douglass.

Over the last 6 months, we accomplished some strategic quick wins:

  1. The start-up of 2 ratepayers groups in Mildura and Darebin (Melbourne Metro)
  2. The development of Eastern Ratepayers Inc, to better connect ratepayer groups in the eastern region, to share knowledge and resources and engage in ground breaking collaboration projects, to improve the LG system
  3. Ratepayers Vic representation in the Local Government Performance Reporting Framework (LGPRF) steering committee, who is responsible for enhancing key performance indicators of councils.
  4. Increasing the formal acknowledgement of Ratepayers Vic as a key stakeholder among upper authorities, including the Local Government Ministry office,  in reforms development.
  5. Started up Ratepayers Vic’s facebook  – https://www.facebook.com/ratepayersvictoria/  to facilitate stronger ratepayers communication and knowledge sharing.
  6. Collaborating with Knox and Monash ratepayers groups, we successfully prototyped two services that RV can provide to its members in the next election cycle – the collaboration process between RV and local ratepayer groups to endorse locally suitable candidates, and the provision of a candidates survey to help voters make an informed decision about their local candidates.

These value adding accomplishments are in addition to our other operational advocacy activities, such as laboriously writing submission papers to respond to LG programs, etc.

In the next two months, working with several committee members, we will set the new objectives and 4 years strategic directions for Ratepayers Vic, to be a stronger advocacy and more influential platform enabler for all ratepayers in Victoria.

Platform RV is our new strategic initiative.  Watch this space develop and we will publish this exciting and ground breaking RV strategy plan in due course.

 * Lynnette Saloumi resigned in December, 2016, to avoid conflict of interest risks in her new Councillor duties.

RV Response to ESC Response to Peter Brown Report

Essential Service Commission (ESC) is the state government agency for overseeing compliance to the Fair Go Rates System (FGRS) aka rates capping policy. It called for an independent review of its implementation of the FGRS, which was conducted by Peter Brown. The review was completed in October 2016, with the publication of a review report.

ESC has responded to this review report, see http://www.esc.vic.gov.au/document/local-government/36176-escs-response-peter-brown-report/. The conclusion is:

“The community consultation required for applications should not be a standalone process to satisfy a higher rate cap application but rather part of councils’ ongoing planning and consultation processes outlined in the current Local Government Act and further expanded  within the proposed new Act”.

Synopsis of RV Response

(Click here for the full report):

Ratepayers Victoria has reviewed both reports and agreed with most of ESC responses. We also highlighted additional recommendations to:

  1. Include a representatives of the community in any pre-application submissions, especially to verify with evidence that community engagement was satisfactory
  2. The provision of a model chart of account should be a first and high priority for improvement.
  3. Councillors and officers should have to attend compulsory training on the subject of participative democracy and their community engagement performance be monitored by LGV
  4. There is a need to define and measure value for money, to improve compliance to the best value principles in the LG Act
  5. Participatory budgeting should be a future mandatory, to enable collaboration with the community in planning council budgets.

RV disagrees with several responses, notably we see no value but more risks if:

  1. Councils are advised of ESC’s decisions regarding the rates application before public release of the final decisions
  2. Councils are provided a copy of the final decision and an opportunity for a debrief and comment prior to public release
  3. ESC presumes that if a mayor signs off that the criterion concerning community consultation on the higher rate cap has been undertaken in accordance to the framework
  4. Councils are given at least 2 opportunities within the calendar year for Councils to apply for a higher cap.

LG Review: Our Submission Paper

Public responses to the LG Review Discussion paper closed last week.

We issues our submission paper. The key highlights of our submission are:

  1. We conclude that the State Government’s proposed reform drivers for change are underpinned by the need for improving good governance capacity building in councils,  based on the principles of the Good Governance Guide.  The discussion paper identified the areas of significant improvements aka reforms are needed:
    • Community engagement
    • Integrated strategy planning and reporting
    • Decision making
    • Exercising Ministerial powers
    • Human resource & performance management
    • Ensuring fair & affordable property taxation

Ratepayers Victoria’s Position on Councils Amalgamations

Recent news indicate a possible scenario of councils amalgamations if Victorians support this future option – refer to:

  1. The Age - http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/local-government-minister-natalie-hutchins-says-government-open-to-amalgamations-20160908-grcahq.html
  2. The Herald Sub – http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/victoria/victorian-council-amalgamations-local-government-minister-open-to-move-if-community-wants-it/news-story/8b1e897f7e00ed4748277d282b1ebe14

We issued a press release to respond to this possibility:

Ratepayers Victoria do not support forced councils’ amalgamations .  We support that every council should engage and collaborate with its community to review the pros and cons of amalgamation in its own municipal and if there are better best value benefits arising, by all means progress further.

We prefer to take a more 21st century perspective of restructuring the Local Government sector.  Councils have always been operating as decentralised units of the State’s LG portfolio. This decentralised business model is the cause of many councils’ inefficiencies and barriers to optimized service provisioning and good governance leadership.

It is time the sector should examine options of reducing council’s decentralised operations and identify more shared in house and community services to improve efficiency, good governance and best value outcomes for their communities. A lot of councils’ back office functions, including administration operations can be shared and this will release millions to billions of money that can be better used to provide more relevant and high value services and amenities to communities and reduce councils’ expenditure that can result in lower rates and consequently lesser CIV effects on individual ratepayers, ultimately increasing and sustaining rates affordability.

The centralisation of councils’ operational and management processes is certainly a viable and high impact option for LG reform, without compromising local democracy.  The process of local democracy also needs to be reviewed, as the question is whether councillors have the right leadership and organisational competencies to lead multi million to multi-billion councils’ operations?

Using code of conduct policies to stifle both debate and transparency

Many of our members are reporting their councils’ abuse in establishing Councillor Codes of Conduct. Joe Lenzo, leading RV’s special investigation task force into this matter, is confirming that many councils are using the code of conduct policies to stifle both debate and transparency. The most publicized case is from Monash Council (case 1, case 2).

Joe Lenzo’s reports:

“What it happening is that the block of councillors in power are setting up the code to stop councillors in disagreement from debating issues or bringing issues to the public.  Some of the wording in the codes is so vague and ambiguous that anything a councillor does could be a violation and, here again, give cause to shut down opposing points of view. A couple of good examples:

  • The shire’s draft charter prohibits distribution of material marked “confidential or which by its content could be reasonably considered to be of a confidential nature”.  I mean really, who is to decide this?
  • “An overriding concern ought to be in achieving a balance in the matters that are communicated and strive to achieve an outcome that presents Council as effective, cohesive and competent”.  Even if not true.
  •  The word “accurately” in the Model Code becomes “adequately” in the shire code. “Adequately” rather than “Accurately”!

Why do we need 79 councillor codes of conducts when one will suffice?

Local Government Victoria should write the councillor code of conduct which will insure consistency across councils. It will insure consistency of councillor conduct and stop the bullying tactics of the block in power at the time the code is written.  It would take the politics out of the code.

If councils want to expand on the code to go into more detail about what it means and how it is applied then that would be OK.  But they must be reined in from their current practices.

This concept should be followed in writing officer code of conduct also.

One must wonder if the violations of the code of conduct are actually bad conduct or just rebellion against stupid codes (like putting your hands on top of your head before you can make a motion).

This is just another example of councils abusing their powers to thwart transparency by expanding the rules of confidentially.”