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August 18, 2011  |  Second Reading

Local Government Amendment (Electoral Matters) Bill 2011

I rise to speak on the Local Government Amendment (Electoral Matters) Bill 2011. It has been outlined already that the Labor Party will not be opposing the bill. Moving the local government election date from the fourth Saturday in November to the fourth Saturday in October has some flow-on issues which are outlined in the bill.

They include matters relating to campaign donations and returns required from councillors who are elected, as well as changes in the allowances that are set and the determinations made on those by various councils, and electing mayors.

In the end those changes are small things. They are not things that the Banyule City Council, in which local government area the seat of Ivanhoe is located, has raised directly with me. I think, along with the Municipal Association of Victoria, which I have also spoken with, the council’s view is that the government has a commitment around these matters and is looking to pursue them. However, more recently in meetings I have had with Banyule City Council its representatives have raised a range of other matters which are priorities for them and which they would like to continue pursuing with the government. The local Labor members of Parliament recently met with the Banyule City Council to be briefed on the sorts of priorities that the council is keen to see pursued by the government.

When we are making amendments to local government legislation it is important to be mindful of the priorities facing local councils in our electorates, and I will come to that shortly.

I note some of the work that is being looked at in relation to the city of Melbourne. Over a long period of time there has been a lot of argy-bargy about the city of Melbourne and how we deal with it. I note that in the Melbourne Leader of 13 June this year there was a story about the government’s decision to get the Victorian Electoral Commission (VEC) to review the city of Melbourne’s boundaries. A number of residents’ groups have had a consistent view for some time that we need to have a look at the actual boundaries of the city of Melbourne as opposed to the electoral structure.

I note from the article in the Melbourne Leader a couple of months back that there was some disappointment expressed by the Leader, which ran a campaign around reviewing the Melbourne City Council boundaries, that the review will only focus on the possible reintroduction of wards and the number of councillors but not on the external boundaries.

I had some involvement in the past with regard to some of the reviews that were done in December 2007 in relation to the Kensington boundaries. There were some very fine outcomes for the member for Melbourne at the time in relation to those matters. However, residents in Carlton North, Carlton, Flemington and St Kilda Road have expressed some concerns and disappointments. They say the borders of the current city of Melbourne divide the community and produce poor planning outcomes. There are matters that still need to be addressed for local residents in the inner city about where they feel they belong in terms of their local government representation.

I would like to speak about the work that will now be done by the VEC in relation to the electoral structure in Melbourne. As a Banyule city councillor of five years, I recall we went through those VEC processes and there was a lot of community passion about wanting to ensure that we had individual ward councillors. Rather than going to a broader election of councillors across the city, it was preferred that there be accountable individuals elected by wards in the municipality. Certainly that was a strong view in Banyule.

While the VEC review in the city of Melbourne will be a matter on which local residents will have their say, I can certainly say with confidence that out in Banyule it was the community’s view that a ward structure that elected individuals who were then accountable to their communities was the system local people wanted to maintain. It was certainly endorsed by the VEC and the government at the time.

I think that is partly because, as with state and federal elections, people want to feel that if they vote for an individual, that individual has an accountability to them.

When you have councils elected at large, if you like, there is a feeling that perhaps it is a bit harder to pin down someone who feels they are actually accountable and responsible for their role, particularly where there is sometimes a mix, as we have seen in Geelong in the past, between ward councillors and councillors for the city at large, who can often seek to handball issues to ward councillors.

I also notice that some of the issues the Banyule City Council has raised with me that it would like the government to be aware of are ongoing, yet we are going to the trouble of making some amendments to change things by a matter of weeks. I understand that is a commitment from the government.

Banyule City Council earlier this month raised a number of issues with me that I know it would like to see the government pursue. Those are around a range of cost-shifting issues related to the Essential Services Commission (ESC), the electrical line clearance regulations from 2010 under the previous government, emergency management and child-care legislation. I know the Banyule City Council would appreciate me just touching on a couple of those matters briefly to shed some light on some of the priorities it would like to see pursued with the government. Some of those include changes that have been made recently to the Food Act 1984. Council wants to draw the attention of the government to the time it has invested in preparing and implementing legislative changes.

It requests that the state government continue to provide adequate support over the long term, particularly in relation to a number of changes to the Food Act 1984 that have come into force between July 2010 and July 2011.

In relation to some of the energy-efficient street lighting upgrades state government funding supports, clearly Banyule City Council is interested in this funding and this opportunity, and it would like to know the time frame in which it can make submissions. Certainly Banyule would like to know from the Department of Planning and Community Development what funding opportunities there are and the timetables and guidelines for those submissions. It would like to see the publication of the Marsden Jacobs Associates financial analysis and also to see the council assisted with improving price competitiveness among electricity distributors for the rollout of energy efficient streetlights.

Clearly those contracts come up for councils at different times, and the times that councils upgrade their streetlights need to fit with when funding submissions can be made.

There has also been some concern by Banyule City Council in relation to the Essential Services Commission and the imposition of additional reporting regimes on councils. A range of work would need to be done. I think it was the ESC’s final report in July last year that provided opportunities for further scope to cut red tape, particularly where there are some 100 separate reports required by local government — —

The ACTING SPEAKER (Mr Morris) — Order! I suggest that the member is a very long way from the bill. He is still talking about local government so I have allowed him to go on, but he needs to return to the bill.

Mr CARBINES — It is important to place on the record some of the concerns my local council has in relation to local government changes that it would like to see made. As important as this is, and given that the government is showing with this legislation its enthusiasm to make changes to the Local Government Act 1989, there are a range of matters that Banyule City Council would like to see the government take action on, and I am looking forward to seeing that get done in further discussions in the coming months.

I also note that, amongst some of the other changes that have been made, there are changes that will lead to people making declarations in relation to their finances and contributions. People need to make sure that those are made and followed up. It was not being done, as I found with some of the ones in my experience, and councils are also unsure at times as to whether they should be pursuing those matters or whether it is Local Government Victoria that should be pursuing that with candidates.

I know that at different times there was inconsistent advice provided about who was pursuing that, who was following it up and who was making sure that people who sought to be elected to represent local people in their communities were being held accountable.

I am looking forward to the debate and discussion that will flow in relation to Geelong and in relation to directly elected mayors. I know there is a range of views on those matters, and I again say that while we are going to see how the review into electoral structure in the City of Melbourne plays out, there are other commitments that the government has made in relation to the City of Greater Geelong. I know there is some anxiety in places such as Banyule in my electorate as to whether there will potentially be reforms or changes sought to the way in which they are represented. We have been through that process. We are satisfied with the arrangements we have in place, and I will be watching carefully to continue to advocate for the Banyule and Ivanhoe community.