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State arrives late to party, demands cake

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Hardworking Councils across Victoria yesterday received a kick in the guts by the Andrews Government, which has once again shown itself to be big on blame and little on responsibility and leadership.

For more than two years the Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV) has been calling on the State Government for guidance as to what Councils do when it comes to hardship.

MAV President Cr David Clark said both policy and strategic guidance has been a blank space with this State Government, ever since the new Local Government Act passed parliament in March 2020.

“Local communities benefit hugely from consistent policy and practice across Councils,” Cr Clark said, “yet this is almost impossible without clear and consistent guidance”.

The 2021 report by the Victorian Ombudsman – that the State Government now claims to be acting on – was welcomed by the Local Government sector as the first clear direction to Councils about matters to consider in a hardship policy. The report also provided context for clear facts around debt collection by Councils, stating that in 2018/19:

  • 28 properties were sold for debt collection. That is approximately 0.00001% of all properties valued.
  • 7000 cases involved debt collectors in 18/19. That is approximately 0.002% of all properties valued.

“We were completely unsurprised by the Ombudsman’s work which found almost all Councils had a hardship policy, but that there were significant inconsistencies and differences across Councils,” Cr Clark said.

“Most importantly, all Councils used the Ombudsman’s report as the basis to rework hardship policies during 2021. By contrast we still had a blank space when it comes to guidance from the State Government,” Cr Clark said.

“Unfortunately, for a sector with 50,000 hardworking employees who turn up each day to make our communities better, yesterday’s announcement has been a cheap shot from a State Government bent on grandstanding rather than governance,” Cr Clark said.

“The proposed legislation will be as useful to the sector as arriving at the football at full time, the game has been won and everyone is heading home.

“Not only have Councils already improved their policies, but most have also been road tested during COVID and found to be delivering for affected residents.

“If – and on days like this it’s a big if – the Government wants to help communities, then there are two immediate actions of value to everyone,” Cr Clark noted.

“Firstly, work with us respectfully and we will work with you in the same way. Secondly, use the 2020 rating enquiry to reduce the rating burden on ordinary hardworking Victorians by dealing with the range of rating anomalies that currently exist across the State, which means many do not pay their fair rating share,” Cr Clark concluded.