On November 13 the new Bill was introduced to Parliament. It will deliver on the Victorian Government’s commitment to modernise how local government works in our state.
The Bill is the result of 4 years’ work on the Local Government Act Review. The review featured extensive engagement with councils, ratepayers, stakeholders and communities to develop the new Bill.
What are the changes?
There are five key themes to the reforms:
Improved service delivery
Allow councils to focus on better financial management and engagement with their communities to deliver better services
Improved councillor conduct
Set minimum training requirements for candidates and
councillors and clearer standards of behaviour with stronger mechanisms to address poor conduct
Stronger local democracy
Increase council and councillor’s direct accountability to the community
Reforms election processes and candidate requirements to increase transparency
Remove any unnecessary Ministerial approvals and arbitrary powers to build a new relationship between the State, local government and communities
The key reforms in the bill are:
A simplified franchise
Only residents of a council area will be enrolled to vote automatically from 2024. Property owners who don’t live in a council area can still vote in the 2020 elections but must opt in to vote afterwards (see the City of Melbourne section below for how franchise changes apply to the City of Melbourne council).
This will build a stronger local democracy by making elections easier to administer. The current electoral roll system is complex. This reform will make voters rolls more accurate and free up councils to focus on improving and representing their local communities.
Consistent electoral structures
A consistent, state-wide voting system and single-member wards for all councils except rural shires and Melbourne City Councils.
This will build a stronger local democracy by encouraging a closer and more active relationship between councillors and the community. People will know who their councillors are and councillors will be more in touch with local issues and more accountable to voters. Single Member Wards also encourage diversity of candidates by lowering the cost of running for council, removing a significant barrier to participation.
Compulsory candidate and councillor training
Compulsory training for candidates and induction training for new councillors to ensure they know what is expected of them and learn what the role requires.
This will build community confidence in local government by ensuring councillors are better equipped to do the job.
A state-wide Councillor Code of Conduct
The code will establish expected behaviour for Councillors and set up a new, independent process to investigate potential breaches.
This will improve councillor conduct and give communities confidence their representatives will act with integrity.
The new investigation process will mean an independent, swift and thorough examination of alleged misconduct so councils can get on with serving their community. The small minority of councillors who don’t live up to the conduct standards will be held to account.
There should be strong penalties for councillors who disregard their obligations as elected representatives.
Councillors will be disqualified from holding office for four years if two or more findings of serious misconduct are made against them in an eight-year period.
This will build a stronger local democracy by holding councillors responsible for their actions. It will also improve councillor conduct as it’s important there are strong penalties for councillors who disregard their obligations.
More of a say for local communities
Councils are required to work with their communities to develop long-term visions, 4-year council plans and budgets, and 10-year financial and asset plans.
Mayors will need to lead discussions with the community on these plans and report back on progress each year.
This will improve services and build community confidence through increased engagement, transparency and accountability. Councils will need to ensure they have a clear process for engaging communities and giving them the opportunity to shape big decisions.
More transparent appointments
Councils will bring CEO employment and remuneration policies in line with state government standards.
This will build community confidence by increasing the transparency of the CEO appointment process. Council CEOs have important and influential positions —it’s important the process to appoint them is efficient, fair and transparent.
Red tape cleared out
Convoluted rules from the 1989 Act will be scrapped and replaced with a much simpler framework for how councils operate, emphasising accountability, transparency and flexibility. Councils will also be required to develop their own procurement policies appropriate to their communities, replacing rigid one-size-fits-all approval thresholds.
This will build a new relationship between State and local government and the community. The Local Government Act 1989 has been amended more than 100 times in 30 years. It’s full of unnecessary Ministerial approvals which prevent councils from getting on with the job.
Focus on improved service delivery and sustainability
There will be more freedom for councilsto innovate and work with other councils, government agencies, community organisations and the private sector.
This will improve services by giving councils freedom to find innovative solutions and become more sustainable, particularly smaller councils.
Melbourne City Council
The Melbourne City Council is an exception to some of the reforms, reflecting its higher profile as the capital council:
- Melbourne City Council will retain an unsubdivided electoral structure
- The requirement for non-resident property owners to register to vote will not be applied to Melbourne City Council elections
There has been an extensive consultation program with councils and the community conducted in five stages between September 2015 and July 2019.
Local Government Victoria is developing an implementation plan for the Bill.
The Bill helps councils deliver improved services through more rigorous planning and engagement.
The Bill will build stronger local democracy through a range of measures to increase accountability and transparency.
The Bill will introduce reforms to ensure councillor conduct meets the standards expected of elected representatives.
The Bill will strengthen community confidence through an improved electoral system which will see better prepared candidates running for council and clearer processes for voting in council elections.
A new relationship
Councils are a separate and distinct tier of government. The Bill will deliver a stronger relationship between local government, the state and communities.
The Local Government Bill 2019 addresses concerns raised by public watchdogs in recent years about various aspects of council integrity.
City of Melbourne
Melbourne City Council has its own legislation which reflects its unique role.
The broad range of reforms in the Local Government Bill 2019 will apply to the City of Melbourne and a tailored approach will be taken on election and ward reform.
Page last updated: 13/11/19