Issue 29, February 2014
As you will be aware Jeanette Powell, Minister for Local Government has recently announced she will not contest the state election later this year.
I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the significant contribution that Jeanette has made to local government over a long period of time. She has been a councillor, shire president, commissioner and shadow minister so had extensive hands on experience with local government when she took on her portfolio responsibilities in 2010.
She has maintained a strong and energetic interest in local government through this long career.
Minister Powell’s time at the helm of the Aboriginal Affairs portfolio also deserves our acknowledgement. Notably, her introduction of the Indigenous Honour Roll is a proud legacy for all Victorians. I’d like to thank Jeanette for her commitment to local government and wish her all the best for her future life outside of politics.
Councillor candidates in the state election
From time to time the MAV is asked to provide advice about councillors who intend to stand as a candidate at a state or federal election. The MAV Board will be reviewing our 2010 guidelines at our meeting next week.
In the interim the MAV recommends that councils, at a minimum, adopt the following guidelines as part of the Code of Conduct or to supplement the Code:
If a councillor becomes an endorsed candidate for a state or federal election he/she should advise the CEO, in writing, as soon as practicable, who will then advise all councillors.
A councillor who is a candidate for state or federal election should declare this at a meeting of the council as soon as practicable after the nomination date.
Any councillor / staff relationship protocol should apply from the nomination date, with additional provisions if necessary.
Where a councillor speaks on council issues as a candidate in an election the councillor should clearly identify this fact.
The councillor must not use council resources, including council equipment and facilities in relation to his/her candidacy.
We will circulate the reviewed guidelines to all members following our March Board meeting.
Conduct and performance reporting reforms
Following release of the state’s Conduct and governance discussion paper and request for feedback last year, a series of recent announcements by the Minister will see a range of councillor conduct reforms introduced through legislative change. To date proposed changes include:
to suspend misbehaving councillors from council meetings
for the Inspectorate to examine serious misconduct, with two new offences for breach of confidentiality and improper direction of council staff to be included in the Local Government Act 1989
Tightened code of conduct rules
including a mandatory induction session and adoption of the code within four months of taking office, as well as greater capacity for conduct panels to deal with allegations of serious misconduct.
The MAV does not believes these reforms will have a major impact on the sector as most councillors do the right thing and there isn’t a need for interventions of this nature. However, we have sought more details on the reforms before the legislation is introduced to parliament so we can report back to the sector in more detail.
The new performance reporting regime for local government also moves another step closer with last week’s release of the proposed Local Government (Planning and Reporting) Regulations 2014 exposure draft and the Regulatory Impact Statement (RIS).
The proposed regulations intend to support operation of the new performance reporting framework for councils, which comes into effect from July. All councils are now participating in the State’s pilot project.
The MAV remains concerned about costs associated with compliance, council data variability for the performance reporting indicators and the MAV is holding a workshop next Tuesday. We are also preparing a response to the RIS and will circulate it for member feedback. Councils have until 5pm on 19 March to respond to the RIS.
It’s hard to keep up with so many changes afoot. However, we are also awaiting the imminent release of the Stage One report from Petro Giorgiou’s electoral review, which will address electoral process, participation and integrity. Watch this space!
Strategic planning sessions
We have now hosted six regional strategic planning sessions across the state (Warrnambool, Wangaratta, Latrobe, MAV x 2, and today in Yarriambiack). Attendance levels have been high, with an average 30 councillors, CEOs and officers at each meeting.
Member feedback to date has included a strong emphasis on the need to secure ongoing funding for capital works. This will certainly be an MAV priority this election year, and has already been raised in our State Budget submission and through our Renew – Revive – Revitalise Funding Regional Communities campaign. Concerns around the new regional waste management model and fire services levy have also been prominent.
Just two sessions remain - in Geelong (3 March) and Bendigo (12 March). Don’t miss this final opportunity to inform the directions of our priority work program for the coming 12 months. A draft Strategic Work Plan will go to the MAV Board meeting in April before circulation for member feedback ahead of State Council on 16 May.
Bushfire response and recovery
A total of 24 municipalities have been affected by bushfires during January and February, and councils continue to work with other agencies to help communities through this difficult period. Most councils are now in the recovery phase, and the MAV continues to represent local government’s interests on a number of State-level emergency management committees to ensure local challenges are being addressed. Our focus at the moment is on Latrobe and ensuring that they get adequate support during the current difficult circumstances with the ongoing Hazelwood open mine fire.
We are pleased that our ongoing advocacy this week resulted in Minister Powell announcing an extension to the much-valued Municipal Emergency Resourcing Program (MERP), which has benefitted 64 councils in the CFA area. A further two years funding ($9.12 million) will assist councils to continue improving their emergency planning and preparedness, develop collaboration strategies with neighbouring municipalities, and build community resilience.
Cultural Diversity Week & Harmony Day
Finally, I know many councils will be hosting events for Cultural Diversity Week from 15 – 23 March. Councils can register your community events for free online. Harmony Day on 21 March has a theme of ‘Everyone Belongs’ and coincides with the United Nations’ International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
The MAV has registered our staff lunch with A Taste of Harmony, which aims to celebrate diversity in Australian workplaces. I encourage councils to also register your workplace to participate in this great initiative.
Free promotional kits are available from all three websites to help support and promote council events.
Please get in touch if there are any matters you would like to raise or discuss with me.
All the best