Today’s announcement of the Local Government Bill Reform Paper provides an important opportunity for bi-partisanship in improving local decision making in Victoria.
I will be talking and listening to local residents and councils throughout the Victorian community over the winter parliamentary recess about the proposed changes to the Local Government Act.
What ratepayers around Victoria have been saying to me is they’re sick of seeing councils spending money on campaigns with ratepayers’ money for which they have absolutely no constitutional responsibility whatsoever. They want to see councils get back to basics.
I hope to see a provision in any new Local Government Act that explicitly forbids councils from spending money, that isn’t their own, on national and global political and social issues. I look forward to working with the government on this important reform.
I will be particularly focusing on the government’s proposed reforms to non-resident property owners, and their ability to vote in local government elections. It is important that everyone who contributes to local council rates has the right to vote in that local government area.
A fundamental of our democracy is the principle of no taxation without representation, and this must be preserved at the local council level too.
One significant change from the 2018 exposure draft relates to ‘recall’ petitions for local councillors. A similar provision is now in place for elections to the United Kingdom House of Commons. I will be consulting widely on this proposed substantial deviation from past practice.
In a welcome change from the usual rancour of our policy and political debates, I am very pleased to say that I am very open to a discussion about the proposed “move to a single consistent model of single member wards, unless it is impractical to subdivide a council into wards.”
As the government notes in its document; “single member wards for each council enable residents to more effectively receive direct representation. Councillors will be more accountable to local communities, fostering true ‘local’ government. Consistent application of this model also ensures that all councillors are elected under the same system with equal vote shares within their council. This more closely reflects the way members of Parliament are elected.”
Today’s announcement specifically excludes local government rates. The government is undertaking a review into local government rates. This is a massive issue across Victoria, but particularly in rural and regional local government areas, and it is of concern that proposed reforms to the Local Government Act are ignoring the financial hardship being felt across so many households because of the impost of this significant cost of living.
I will, of course, be requesting a briefing from the Minister’s office on all of the proposed reforms.
Tim Smith MP
Shadow Minister for Local Government