News and resources

Issue 46 October 2015

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

Issue 46, October 2015

Last week saw the convergence of many local government activities with our Annual Conference and Dinner, State Council meeting, the government introducing its rate capping legislation, the launch of Plan Melbourne’s refresh, and the Local Government Amendment (Improved Governance) Bill passed in Parliament.

Our Annual Conference and Dinner were well attended events and we received some really positive feedback from delegates. I’d like to congratulate the 66 councillors who received Councillor Service Awards to recognise their enduring commitment to serving their local communities. We handed out 51 awards for 10, 15, 20, 25 and 30 years’ service, as well as 15 Mayor Emeritus awards for serving three or more terms as Mayor. Well done to all recipients.

Our State Council meeting last week saw 50 motions (Word - 116.7KB) adopted by member councils. Our December Board meeting will decide how to implement each resolution and this report will be provided to MAV Representatives in due course.

Rate capping

As you would be aware, the Victorian Government introduced legislation last week to give effect to its local government rate capping policy. We’ve circulated further details to councils about the proposed model, which basically gives wide discretionary powers to the Minister to set either a single cap or multiple caps for different classes of councils. Much remains unknown about the model, but if the legislation is passed the Minister must announce what the cap or caps will be by the end of December.

It was disappointing this week to see the Minister criticise Northern Grampians Shire in the media for its decision about school crossing funding. The Minister suggested this was a service funded by councils since the 1970s and the council should prioritise children’s safety and continue to fund the cost of program.

Clearly the Minister is not well informed about the history of the school crossing supervisors program, which was introduced by the State Government in 1975 with 50 per cent State funding for councils to manage the program. Although there has been some growth in Victorian Government funding over time, their contribution has been fixed to CPI and not kept pace with the real costs of the service. This has left ratepayers to fund the majority of the State school crossing supervisor program, which provides a benefit to schools, while the State’s contribution has fallen to between 20-30 per cent.

Ten councils have recently been approached by the MAV to provide data on the costs of their school crossing supervisor program. This work has already uncovered many hidden costs including installation of crossings, asset maintenance, and up the line management costs to support the program. We will be using this work to further inform our advocacy efforts with VicRoads and the government.

It appears the Minister’s criticism of Northern Grampians speaks volumes about the pressure on the government to deliver on its promise that local services won‘t be affected by a rate cap. As we know all too well, it is simply not feasible to retain the same service levels for a growing population when costs go up but funding doesn’t keep pace. Now we have an opportunity to better communicate each instance of cost shifting that has left ratepayers footing the bill.

The MAV encourages councils to start thinking about developing a short reconciliation statement as part of the council budget process for next year - regardless of whether you intend to comply with a rate cap or seek a variation from the cap - that clearly articulates any cuts or changes to service levels as a result of rate capping, and particularly identifies where there is a shared responsibility for funding from other levels of government that is not being met.

Alliance for Gambling Reform

Last week a new national alliance was launched to secure a $1 maximum bet on poker machines, and complementary measures to reduce the harmful impacts of gambling.

Given that the amount lost by Victorians is rising, the MAV and 17 councils have formally joined with 22 other organisations as founding supporters of the Alliance for Gambling Reform. The work of the Alliance builds on our previous Enough Pokies campaign undertaken in partnership with councils, and the Alliance has already achieved some high profile media coverage across print, radio and national TV programs.

Australia has 20 per cent of the world's poker machines, and spends more per person on gambling than any other country. Losses from poker machines are an $11 billion problem nationally, with governments reaping $5.5 billion in revenue. I'd like to encourage other councils to join the Alliance so together we can advocate for measures that help reduce the harms caused by poker machine gambling, including increased local government and community say over the planning and licencing approval of poker machines.

Some Alliance councils have already arranged community screenings of Ka-Ching!, a powerful documentary that aired on ABC TV earlier this month uncovering the science behind the machines that leads to addiction. I encourage you to watch Ka-Ching! on iView which is available until 19 November, and to consider hosting a community screening of it to raise awareness of the powerful lure of poker machines and the harm they are causing within our communities.

WorkCare Mutual

Last week I updated State Council on the MAV’s progress to establish a workers compensation mutual for local government. Our proposed Workcare self-insurance scheme is similar to self-insurance schemes operating in other states where councils have experienced improved performance and cost savings. The scheme’s focus on preventing workplace harm can also help us to bring our WorkCover performance in-line with interstate local government.

Twenty-six councils and eligible organisations have so far elected to join our Workcare scheme, and we are approaching remaining councils over the coming weeks with a final opportunity to opt in. After a lengthy consultation period, we are hopeful that additional councils will sign up to make this a viable alternative for councils to save money and improve outcomes for staff.

If you’d like to discuss this opportunity, or any other matters with me please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Warm regards
Bill