After languishing on the to-do list of the previous Parliament, the Local Government Bill 2019 is finally back, this time with additional reforms targeted at strengthening council election processes and councillor conduct standards.
The 2018 Draft Bill
At this stage, the Bill will retain most of the reforms proposed in the 2018 draft, which included:
- removing significant amounts of the ‘detail’ in the Act around processes and procedures, and instead placing a greater reliance on regulations, Ministerial guidelines and council policies
- a four year budget cycle, consistent with State Government budgets, with the expectation of an annual review
- 10-year financial plans and asset plans
- implementing a CEO Employment and Remuneration Policy that aligns council CEO employment and remuneration with that of Victorian public sector entities
- enabling joint meetings of councils and greater council collaboration and innovation, particularly for procurement opportunities
- empowering community members to set the agenda for their municipality through a mandated Community Vision of at least 10 years, to be developed in consultation with the local community.
Proposed reforms in the 2018 draft Bill that have now been dropped include allowing for the dismissal of a Councillor after a community-initiated ‘Commission of Inquiry’, and tighter caps and bans on campaign donations and gifts received by Councillors.
Following the re-election of the Andrews Government and the appointment of a new Minister for Local Government, the Bill has now undergone a review and six new proposed reforms have been added, including:
- simplifying enrolments to vote in council elections to more closely align council electoral rolls with State electoral rolls
- mandatory training for council election candidates and Councillors to improve competency, skills and transparency
- simplifying electoral structures to provide greater consistency of representative structures – in essence this will involve introducing a preference for single member wards to make councils more accountable
- setting clear standards of conduct to guide Councillor behaviour, and establishing a centralised internal resolution process managed by a Principal Councillor Conduct Registrar to help councils deal with low-level misconduct more efficiently
- introducing new pathways that can lead to the disqualification of a Councillor.
The Minister has, however, made clear that the current rating provisions will remain in place until the rating system review finalises its recommendations to Government in May 2020.
The Bill will now wait to be considered by the Legislative Assembly before moving to the Legislative Council. Depending on the nature of debate in the Legislative Council, the Bill could be passed in its current form, or it could be referred to a Parliamentary Committee for further public consultation and scrutiny. No doubt we will all be watching closely to see what happens next.
Maddocks will continue to monitor the new Bill and provide general observations over the coming months, including running a series of training sessions aimed at understanding the staged commencement of the Bill and the implications for the different sections of local government.
A copy of the Bill can be accessed here.
|Thomas Saunders | Senior Associate
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