Mildura report from the ratepayers vic conference

RV Public meeting Saturday 24 March 2018
As President of the above Ratepayers Association and Committee Member Ratepayers Victoria I was asked to speak on the progress of the Mildura branch and to prepare a report for our web site.
Since the formation of a ratepayers association and the subsequent evolving into part of Ratepayers Victoria, we have achieved significant milestones in Mildura.
From the time we formed in late 2015 we found ourselves under attack from a hostile council and particularly the Mayor. Whether from staff, the CEO or any councillors, the attacks in the main were via the Mayor.
Obviously Mildura Rural City Council(MRCC) saw a ratepayers association as a threat, begging the question “why?”
Through our resilience and remaining focussed on our goals we slowly turned things around. We had a young and energetic businessman elected to council in 2016 and over the past 18 months we have seen a major transformation. I believe key to our success has been my insistence of not retaliating to the negativity or attacks against us by those who viewed us as adversaries. There was plenty of it, however any retaliation I felt was wasted energy and merely gave ones critics the forum to continue the criticism.
We now have a new Mayor, a group of 5 of the 9 councillors who are approachable and we have regular meetings with the Mayor and Deputy Mayor.
I attribute our success to the strength of our team as we have been fortunate to have gathered people who have expertise that actually surpasses that of the executive of MRCC and the Mayor is drawing on that expertise. MRCC staff are finding it more difficult to pull the wool over the eyes of our councillors.
I encourage anyone thinking of forming an association to gather people around them who are energetic and dedicated in the first instance and if possible, some with accounting and business management experience. The latter 2 points are sadly lacking in many councils.
We promote the formation of regional associations as those of us in the regions are actually subsidising the state and therefore metropolitan councils. We pay up to 3.5 times the General Rate and we do not get anywhere near the services that Melbourne people take for granted.
One example, Mildura has not had a passenger rail service since the early 1990’s. This means that every regional community between Ballarat and Mildura has lost a basic service that is available to every major city across the state and services all towns en route.
I believe all regional municipalities would benefit by having their own associations, thereby creating a united force and presenting a single voice through Ratepayers Victoria.

Other matters addressed at the meeting were rate capping and Developer Contribution Plan(DCP)
The Director of the Essential Services Commission, Andrew Chow gave a presentation and explanation of rate capping and how it works.
I thank Andrew for his continued availability and willingness to speak at these functions and we must understand that his function is to explain how the system is set up and how it works, not to enter into discussion of how we would like the system to work. I believe that if Andrew’s level of professionalism was more evident across the board, we would be in a far better place.
The conversation on rates I believe has to be much broader than it is currently. Victoria appears to be the hardest on regional councils than any other state.
By way of example, the model used in Western Australia(WA) sees rates from Albany in the south to Kununurra, over 3500km to its north paying residential rates with minimal variation to Perth. WA rates are struck on the “gross rental value” rather than the “capital improved value(CIV)” as used in Victoria, resulting in a much fairer rating system that is decided by the rental market as opposed to CIV which is calculated by council.
As part of our thrust, should we be pushing for government to look at the various models around the nation?
Note: Rates are a “TAX”, an “AUSTRALIAN TAX”! This is not my opinion; it was a ruling of the High Court of Australia (Sydney Municipal Council v The Commonwealth of Australia ¬–[1904]) and is still quoted to the present day. This makes the application of this “TAX” at least questionable. How has it avoided the principles of equity and fairness that apply to taxation law?
Developer Contribution Plan(DCP)
This whole system deserves some serious scrutiny.
Billions of dollars are involved and in the main, these funds are not being managed within the legislated guidelines and the projects itemised in DCP’s
Developer Contributions, paid by developers for infrastructure is in many cases, are not being used for the projects itemised in specific DCP’s nor are councils wishing to vary from the DCP making the request to the Minister for Planning as required and appear to simply be using the funds elsewhere.
In the case of MRCC, it was found that almost $2,000,000 earmarked for a skate park and a library upgrade not only didn’t go ahead, they were not even mentioned and only came to light because our association was approached to look into the matter. Every requirement laid down in the DCP was not followed in this instance and in our opinion was not intended to see the light of day. This is but one example within a DCP that totalled approximately $48m and is one of 3 DCP’s in MRCC, just one regional council. It appears to be everywhere.
A brief search of DCP’s across the country shows similar anomalies with one council earning $4m interest on DCP funds held begging the question as to where that $4m was used. According to the guidelines, it would have to be part of the/belong to the DCP.
Finally, I want to thank Jack and Beaty Davis, Frank Sullivan and the committee for organising this meeting and look forward to the next conference.
Phil Douglass
President: Ratepayers Victoria-Mildura Branch

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