News and resources

Issue 35 September 2014

MAV President's Update - occasional report from Cr Bill McArthur, President of the MAV

Issue 35, September 2014

The past month has seen a number of MAV strategic priorities progressed, with some important wins achieved and the start of game changing local government reform proposals facing the sector.

I am pleased to report back on the positive progress we have made in our negotiations for kindergarten funding, a revised Victorian State- Local Government Agreement (VSLGA) and transition arrangements for Home and Community Care (HACC). Meanwhile, the Federation White Paper and the Georgiou electoral reform recommendations have potentially significant implications for councils and we are beginning to work through these to ensure your views are best represented.

Kindergarten funding

Following an extensive campaign by councils and the MAV, and ongoing negotiations with the Victorian and Australian Governments, we were pleased to see the Commonwealth committed to 2015 funding for the operational cost of the additional five hours preschool per week introduced in 2013 as part of the national 15 hours ‘universal access’ reforms.

While the 2015 funding commitment is welcome news, long term certainty remains an ongoing aspiration and our advocacy efforts will need to continue over the coming 18 months. In announcing the Commonwealth’s $406 million 2015 commitment, Assistant Minister for Education, Sussan Ley, noted that future federal preschool policy will be influenced by the current Productivity Commission review, findings of the independent review of the current national partnership agreement, as well as the Federation White Paper and National Quality Framework review.

The MAV will remain an active voice in all four of these reviews to ensure the collective voice of Victorian councils is represented to secure funding stability and community affordability for state-based preschool programs beyond 2015.

VSLGA signed, sealed, delivered

On 10 September I had the honour of signing the revised VSLGA on behalf of local government alongside the Premier, Denis Napthine and Minister for Local Government, Tim Bull. This is the culmination of more than three years’ work by the MAV to ensure that prior to the State making decisions to allocate councils with new, revised or expanded roles and responsibilities, thorough consultation will occur with local government and Cabinet will assess the impacts on local government, including council costs and resources.

We believe the inclusion of the Premier as a signatory to the Agreement will boost its implementation across the whole of government. You can read the new VSLGA online (PDF - 491.4KB) and watch the signing ceremony as well.

HACC transition agreement consultation

Last week we circulated details to councils seeking feedback on the proposed transition statement to guide transfer of HACC services for clients over the age of 65 to the Commonwealth from July 2015. With local government being a key funding partner, service planner and provider, retaining the benefits of Victoria’s current HACC system while reducing the financial impost on councils has been a key priority for the MAV and subject to negotiations with the Victorian and Australian governments for more than 18 months.

The other levels of government are actively seeking local government assistance with management of the transition to preserve as much stability and minimal disruption as possible for older people and the workforce. This is a significant step in acknowledging the unique and integral role of Victorian councils. The proposed Statement of Intent, which is currently under consideration by the Commonwealth and Victorian governments, also formally acknowledges local government’s aggregate $115 million annual contribution to HACC programs.

Hand in hand with the proposed transition statement is confirmation of an increase in unit prices to be paid by the State for personal care, domestic assistance and respite care by 45 per cent to $45, to be implemented this month but effective from July 2014. This is a massive win for councils. These services represent the major proportion of councils’ HACC services and follows on from MAV advocacy that resulted in the delivered meals subsidy paid to councils being doubled by the Department of Health last financial year. It is anticipated that the Commonwealth service agreements from 1 July 2015 will include the increased unit prices, providing a far more sustainable model into the future.

Your feedback on the HACC transition proposed statement of intent is due back to Clare Hargreaves by 3 October and we will keep you posted as we progress this matter further.

Federation White Paper

The first issues paper for the Review of Federation (PDF - 916.2KB) was this month released by the Prime Minister. This much anticipated review will likely result in a range of recommendations that consider the structure, roles and funding in our federation, with potentially far reaching consequences for local government. The review will be coordinated with the White Paper on the Reform of Australia’s Tax System, which is expected to look at the optimum taxation mix and framework. Combined with the Review of Federation, the fundamental tenets of Australia’s division of taxation powers and spending responsibilities will be reviewed, raising serious questions about how our structure of government should look into the future.

The Commission of Audit report, released publicly in the lead up to the 2014 Commonwealth Budget, provided many recommendations that are directly related to the four major questions now raised in the Federation issues paper: 1) limiting Commonwealth policies and funding to core national interest matters 2) reducing overlap between local, state and Commonwealth areas of responsibility 3) distinct and mutually exclusive state and Commonwealth responsibilities and their funding sources, and 4) equity and sustainability for program responsibilities of more than one level of government.

The Federation issues paper envisions a smaller role for the Commonwealth, with significant responsibility and taxation powers being devolved to the states. Major issues for local government likely to be raised in the review include:

  • what level of government will have core responsibility for funding of local government
  • whether any moves to devolve responsibilities to the states will have consequential outcomes for councils’ roles and responsibilities
  • how council services delivered in partnership with the Victorian and/or Commonwealth governments will be influenced by any restructure of the federal roles and responsibilities
  • how the sector can ensure its position and contribution is adequately recognised in debates about the appropriate structure of government.

We are pleased that the Steering Committee established to oversee development of the White Paper includes representation from the ALGA. With the MAV being the Victorian member of the ALGA, we are well positioned to engage and influence the national debates around these key matters for local government. The need to develop a clear, viable and intellectually complete view of our preferred federal structure will be imperative to ensure local government’s contribution is valued during the review process.

Electoral reforms

This month’s release of the Local Government Electoral Review stage one and two reports brings a raft of proposed reforms aimed at strengthening electoral processes, enhancing candidate conduct and improving democratic participation. Among the 55 recommendations are proposals to broaden voter and candidate eligibility; introduction of standard candidate information to be made available to voters as well as improving candidate verification processes; caps on campaign donations; a uniform postal voting system and the removal of how-to-vote cards from postal packs; and new electoral representation to set either six, nine, 12 or 15 councillors based on a simple distribution against voter numbers within a municipality.

While the MAV supports the overall intent of the review to strengthen local democracy, we know that some recommendations will result in contention among councils given there were split member views during the discussion paper phase of the review.

We are currently coordinating member feedback, due to Steve Goldsworthy by 20 October, to inform our response to the review. Individual councils are also encouraged to provide a response to the Electoral Review Panel using the online feedback form by the 3 November deadline.

On a final note, I look forward to seeing many of you at our Annual Conference and Dinner coming up on 23 October, and State Council on 24 October. Don’t forget completed nominations for our 2014 Councillor Service Awards are due in to the MAV by 9 October for presentation at the annual dinner.

Best wishes
BILL