Press Release: The Truth is Out There

When the rate capping policy was developed and adopted, all official communique and documentation were very clear upfront in stating that rates capping only apply to general rate and municipal charges. Other council service charges, fees, fines and differentiated rates, together with prevailing state levies (e.g. the fire levy) are excluded.

The Minister also specifically said that in some cases, ratepayers will find their rates bills would increase more than 2.5% (the capped level) because of the changes in their properties’ capital improvement value and other increases in municipal charge-outs that are not subjected to the rates cap. Most councils advocated for and changed to CIV rating system a few years back.

The Fair Go Rates policy is a real present and future threat to some councils, as it has taken away councils’ free reign of rates increases and require them to be more transparent and accountable in supporting and sustaining a fairer rating system that would deliver more visible value for money services and maintain rates affordability in the longer term. Because of this threat, most councils have come together with their peak bodies, even during the development of the rates capping policy, to defend their tuff. Their lobbying campaign is still continuing and growing strong despite the policy is now legislated and operating.

What MAV didn’t make it clear in its 30 June media release that rates capping can work if councils are committed to make it work. Influencing the public to think and eventually lead to believe that the rates capping policy does not work isn’t quite kosher.

The last two years of media stories clearly showed the lobbying resolve to campaign against and discrediting the Fair Go Rates policy. These stories, together with local ratepayer-advocates’ reports, revealed the use of:

  • media and community communication strategies, to create a series of related news and messages to social engineer people into believing that rates capping has caused more harm than good to councils and their communities, e.g. like cutting out the school crossing services,
  • diverting council funds to support collaborative projects with peak bodies, which duplicate state services e.g. the Alliance For Gambling Reform
  • many internal cost shifting tactics, to ensure the parts of council-budgets constrained by rates capping are reduced or kept unchanged, in order to minimize rates reduction. For the next financial year, some councils have already and blatantly introduced new or increased existing charges, fees and differentiated rates that are not affected by rate capping.

 Many people do not understand how their council rates, rates capping levels and fire levy are structured and calculated. It is easy to leverage this low community literacy and convince people that the State Government has mislead them, because their total rates payable for the next financial year is above the capped level of 2.5%. Now (just before the election) is also most strategically timely to leverage political pressure in any public communication broadcast.

Ratepayers are disappointed that some of their councils and their peak bodies are not willing to make rates capping policy work, eroding the opportunity of achieving longer term community and organizational improvement benefits for every stakeholder in Local Government.

Let’s cut to the chase, ratepayers would like councils and their peak bodies stop winching and continue resisting the rates capping policy. They should spend more time and effort in making the Fair Go Rates policy work, to increase efficacy in council operations and bring more visible best value outcomes in municipal service provisioning. Change is incremental and to expect full delivery of long term benefits in the first year of the Fair Go Rates policy is most misleading and laden with manipulative intents?

 

Rate Capping Policy Development

 Ratepayers Victoria Inc (RVI) has been very busy contributing to the rate capping policy development. Our committee members have been submitting several different perspectives in responding to the Essential Services Commission (ESC) papers, including the latest report proposing a rates capping solution, that has considered a balance perspective of all stakeholders’ views and interests. From that angle, the solution is also explicitly ratepayers inclusive, emphasizing the need for effective community engagement, and transparent and quality business cases when councils seek to vary their rate increases from capped targets.

We also have nominated Dr Chan Cheah to be the official RVI spokesperson in the Fair Go Rates Reference Group, who meets with the Minister, to be briefed and discuss about the incremental progress milestones of the policy development. The panel comprises of people from councils, peak bodies, unions and two ratepayers groups – RVI and the Victorian Farmers Federation, and organisers from Local Government Victoria (LGV) and ESC, and including Local Government (LG) Minister Hutchins. We had two meetings so far, and the scope of meeting agendas were also presented in public briefings organised by the ESC. If you have not attended these public meetings, the next coming ones are scheduled as follows (we already send a notice last week):

ESC is asking for feedback submissions to their report 2 – found in http://www.esc.vic.gov.au/getattachment/658ebba8-0cdc-4845-8535-a70f79b75626/Draft-Report-A-blueprint-for-Change-Local-Governme.pdf. The deadline for public submission is 28 August. RVI will be submitting several responses, facilitated by several individuals and groups who are submitting their different analytical perspectives, the purpose to give a diverse range of ideas and analytical insights for the ESC.

There is also a Parliament inquiry about rate capping – for details refer to http://www.parliament.vic.gov.au/about/news/2664-rate-capping-inquiry-invites-submissions.


LG Act Review

On Tuesday, 11 August, the office of Minister Hutchins released a press media communique announcing “The Andrews Labor Government is getting on with its election commitment to review the Local Government Act 1989, to improve accountability and create a more contemporary, accessible Act to meet the current and future needs of Victorian communities”. Details can be found in http://www.parliament.vic.gov.au/about/news/2664-rate-capping-inquiry-invites-submissions.

Collaborating with other ratepayer groups, we have formed a working group to be actively involved in strategically contributing to this second and major reform initiative. This LG Act Review is a major opportunity for Victorian ratepayer groups and advocates to influence the reshaping of the current LG Act, which is currently biased in its subjective and varying interpretative applications, which often go against ratepayers.

On Saturday November 14 , we are hosting a Victorian Ratepayers Seminar, themed “Re-engineering Local Government”. This seminar will enable us to facilitate discussions and review feedback from ratepayer groups and advocates to work out the different future scenarios of a new future LG environment.  We envisage a new and better future that will be governed by a refreshed and ratepayers inclusive LG Act, fosters a balance of stakeholders’ views and interests, requires active community/council collaborations in decision making and shows explicit evidence of good governance when addressing all matters of local municipal government. We see ratepayers will play a major and collaborative roles in prioritizing local services and exercising community driven governance oversight, assuring and ensuring services meet real community needs and that explicit good governance becomes business as usual and a future visible norm in all Victorian Councils.

We are inviting individuals and groups to present at this seminar, summarizing their local issues and root causes stemming from the 7 principles of good governance described in the Good Governance Guide. Discussions will be facilitated  to use the presented information to identify and scope appropriate and effective changes to the LG Act. Through this approach, we would be identifying changes that would help us:

  • prevent and mitigate our current issues we face with our councils today and
  •  make a sustainable LG system that is stakeholders equitable, ratepayers/communities inclusive, transparent, traceably accountable, community responsive, efficient and effective and fosters both the letter and spirit of the law.

The working group is also developing a survey to assess the good governance capacity of councils, which we are aiming to have it integrated in mainstream LG system in the future.  There are more new initiatives and creative innovations currently under early planning in our strategic development pipeline. We will keep you posted on future updates.

If you are interested to be a presenter or guest speaker or to attend the 14 November Victorian Ratepayers Seminar: Reengineering Local Government, please email either Jack Davies (jack_d@iinet.net.au) or Dr Chan Cheah (chancheah@gmail.com).