My state MPs and public servants are at it again, united in lobbying to change the three-month old Local Government Act in all the wrong clauses for all the wrong reasons.
The brief background to the renewed furore is that the Victorian Local Government Minister Adem Somyurek has been sacked from the Ministry after sensational media reports of branch-stacking, misogyny, racial profiling and misusing taxpayer-funded staff for party political purposes.
Various Liberal and Greens MPs and some Council lobby groups are now pushing for Somyurek-specific clauses in the Local Government Act to be amended.
The clauses they’re concerned with are to do with single-member wards.This issue took up an inordinate amount of debate when the Bill was being rushed through Parliament in early April 2020. The Greens loudly opposed the clauses for single-member wards because the Victorian Electoral Commission had recommended against them. The then-Minister Adem Somyurek staunchly defended the Minister’s right to declare single-member wards in Councils.
MPs are annoyed because they claim single member wards favour the ALP and Liberals to the detriment of the Greens.
And apparently Liberal MPs think single member wards favour the ALP more than them. (Notwithstanding they voted in league with the ALP to pass the new Act.)
As a resident (and potential council candidate) I’m not too fussed about single-member wards. That’s all about party politics and rorting elections to get onto Council. It impacts seven positions on each Council.
Council elections are pretty much the same as state and federal elections, where proportional voting favours the parties with the most money and the most candidates.
What I care about is all the other crap in the Local Government Act that impacts residents and ratepayers every day...the waste and secrecy and incompetence that MPs don’t care about once their anointed candidates become Councillors.
The Local Government Act makes the CEO the supreme leader of everything and makes Councillors and ratepayers and residents impotent.
These are all the powers of the CEO:
-hire unlimited number of staff
-total control over day to day operations of Council with no interference from Councillors
-can declare any document confidential with no appeal from Councillors or residents
-work unsupervised by Councillors or ratepayers
-allocate funding from rates without Councillor approval
These are some of the extra costs on ratepayers:
-Ratepayers are charged separately for Council elections even though the Victorian Electoral Commission is state funded
-Any ward review by the VEC is also charged separately to ratepayers,
-Any investigator (state public servant) gets paid by ratepayers for investigating Council transgressions
-Councillors are now going to be paid by the Victorian Independent Remuneration Tribunal (ie the MPs pay tribunal. Remember the 11.8% payrise for senior MPs?)
Here are some major omissions from the Local Government Act.
-no whistleblower protections for staff who want to report over-spending, waste, nepotism etc
-no powers for residents to veto pet project mega-spends
-no powers for Councillors to extract information from the CEO or other Council staff if the CEO or staff decide the information is confidential.
-no mention that wasting rates is unacceptable behaviour
And finally, some of my favourite comedic clauses in the Local Government Act:
-Audit and Risk committee can act in an advisory capacity only. (So what’s the point?)
-Good practice guidelines. As long as Council staff follows guidelines unilaterally dictated by the Minister’s Department, residents can’t complain.
-The only penalty for failing to keep proper accounts is that the Council’s principal accounting officer must report the failure in the Council’s Annual Report ( No wonder Council corruption is thriving.)
But MPs and Political Parties and Council lobby groups don’t care about CEO power, double-charging ratepayers, leaving out sensible protections or even holding Parliament up to ridicule.
All the politicians care about is the power to get onto Council in the first place. The quality of the work they do once they’re elected, is irrelevant.
But it’s not irrelevant to me.