Issue 26 September 2013

MAV President's Update

Issue 26, September 2013

Coalition Federal Government

With the federal election now over, we are getting on with the task of working with the new Coalition Government to advance the best interests of local government.

Earlier this month the ALGA board met to discuss our national approach for the coming three years. The ALGA has written to the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister requesting meetings to discuss a range of priority issues facing the sector, including resolution of funds spent on the Yes campaign before it was announced that the referendum would not proceed. The ALGA President has sought support from all political parties for ALGA to use a portion of the funds received from the Commonwealth to fully reimburse local government for the costs of the referendum campaign. We hope this will be resolved swiftly.

Other priority matters being pursued with the new Government on behalf of all councils include the honouring of funding commitments made through the Regional Development Australia Fund prior to the election caretaker period where funding agreements with councils were in train but not finalised, and funding for local road and bridge renewal projects.

The MAV has written to Senator Mitch Fifield who has assistant ministerial responsibilities within the new Social Services portfolio for ageing and disability. The Coalition’s Healthy Life, Better Ageing policy commits to working with a high level steering committee, including State and local government, to determine five year priorities for aged care reform. Senator Fifield has been provided with information on our Home and Community Care position and we’ve sought a meeting to discuss this further.

Last week we issued a media release profiling the great work and savings being achieved by councils through energy efficient street lighting upgrades. The new Government has dismantled climate change initiatives of the Labor Government and we have called on the new Minister for Environment, Greg Hunt to confirm that all pre-election funds allocated to councils through the federal Community Energy Efficiency Program will be honoured. This program aligns with the Coalition’s ‘direct action’ approach and is reaping big cost savings and reducing greenhouse gas emissions for communities across Victoria.

Electoral Reform Review

Last week the Independent Panel released a detailed discussion paper to stimulate community conversation on how we can improve the local government electoral system. The paper examines a range of issues including voting, candidates, caretaker period, the election process, post-election matters such as candidate investigations and non-voting enforcement, and electoral representation reviews. Specific matters for the City of Melbourne are also examined including voter eligibility and candidates.

I encourage you to get involved in the review and embrace it as an opportunity to improve the council election system, voter confidence and participation. Thirteen public hearings are scheduled across Victoria, commencing this week in Melbourne. Submissions can also be made until 5 November.

Following feedback provided by member council to us earlier the year, the MAV Board recently agreed that the four priority issues that we will consider in more detail are: additional candidate information; campaign donation disclosure; community awareness about council elections; and complaint processes.

Our submission will focus on these four areas and we’ve called for councils to provide examples and further details of related issues you may have experienced. Details can be provided to Claire Dunn by 11 October.

Wangaratta dismissal

It was disappointing to see the Wangaratta Council sacked by the Minister this month, with administrators taking over until the next general council elections in 2016. The situation at Wangaratta had been difficult and protracted, despite the efforts of the MAV, the Victorian Government and specialist consultants to resolve issues behind closed doors rather than have it play out in the media.

While we acknowledge there were ongoing issues at Wangaratta, we do not believe sacking a democratically elected council is the optimum solution. What this outcome highlights is the limited range of options available to provide more nuanced responses. We hope that the Minister’s current conduct and governance review will examine this in further detail. A thorough review of the Local Government Act, as advocated by the MAV for some time, is also needed.

Patchwork

Digital government presents new opportunities for the way we do business. Patchwork is an innovative web application tool developed in the UK by FutureGov to connect practitioners from different agencies working with common clients in a geographic area. The MAV has supported an initial Patchwork pilot project with five Victorian councils: Yarra, Melbourne, Brimbank, Wyndham and Kingston in relation to their maternal and child health, and youth programs.

While the pilot has focused on just two program areas, the tool could potentially be applied across all human services delivered by councils. For example supporting the ‘active services model’ approach and case coordination in the HACC program.

The idea behind Patchwork is that professionals are better able to provide services to a client when they understand and communicate with the whole team around the client. This provides added value because each person working with a client can then be on the look-out on behalf of other agencies and can communicate with those agencies in a quick and simple way.

The MAV has secured the licence for Patchwork until December 2014 and I’m pleased to advise that, based on the positive benefits identified to date, phase two of the project will commence in November. A council briefing session took place last week with Dominic Campbell, Director of FutureGov. We have received expressions of interest from a number of councils wishing to participate in the second stage, and members have until 4 October to signal your interest to Clare Hargreaves.

Annual Conference and State Council

Our annual conference and dinner is coming up next month and we’ve lined up some inspiring speakers to explore issues faced by councils in the post-election climate. Keynote presentations will include Natasha Stott Despoja; The Hon Jeff Kennett; Leah Armstrong, CEO at Reconciliation Australia; Lucy Manne from the Australia Youth Climate Coalition; The Hon Matthew Guy, Minister for Planning; and Leah Waymark from Metro Trains.

At the dinner we will be presenting our annual councillor service awards, with two new categories this year to recognise 10 and 30 years’ service to local government. Other categories to be recognised include 15, 20 and 25 years’ service plus the Mayor Emeritus to recognise councillors that have served three or more full terms as Mayor.

Following the conference, our State Council meeting will take place on Friday 25 October. Motions from member councils were due last Friday and business papers will be emailed to MAV Representatives no later than 11 October. You can register online to attend State Council and if the MAV Representative cannot attend you will need to complete the form to nominate a substitute councillor in order for them to be entitled to vote.

I look forward to catching up with you at these events. In the meantime, please get in touch if there are any issues you’d like to raise or discuss with me.

Best wishes

BILL