Equal participation in decision making is the highest empowerment of local democracy. This was VLGA’s legacy value to its members, until last week when majority to AGM attendees voted last week to pass a constitution change that demotes individual members to become associate members and losing their rights to vote.
VLGA’s mantra is supporting councils, councillors
and communities in good governance. Hence, one would logically think that it would support the highest standards in good governance practice, especially about inclusion and participation. One of the key reasons communicated link to concerns of loosing Board control to individual members who may have different agendas contradicting the interests of current status quo collective. Another reason was aligning VLGA to follow the business practices of other peak bodies. While VLGA continues to allow individual membership, the exclusion of voting rights will help them normalise membership management to ensure organisational control is exclusively protected for council representatives. What this means associate members can continue to access general purpose events only, including involvement in project or issues consultation, but will be deprived the rights to choose organisational leaders in its Board mix.
This VLGA change means that now all Victorian council peak bodies no longer advocate for communities, and financial sustainability becomes a business priority that changes their target advocacy markets to those who are likely to buy their business to business (B2B) service offerings, notably councils and councillors.
The conclusion is that we now have a Victorian local government system where municipal providers and advocacy peak bodies serve their self/business interests first before those of local community constituents. True inclusive community participation is blocked and practices normalise scalable inclusion to suit preferred control spans of local democracy.
While industries and government departments and agencies are adopting a growing universal customer/citizen centered approach in their governance and service provisioning, the local government system in Victoria is still very “supplier centered”. As a result, commitment to reach the highest capability level in the IAP2 standard is no longer desired, instead preferring to engage with local community representatives at lower capability levels of participation, such informing or consulting to seek information, etc.
An Animal Farm culture prevails, with the clique that “all are equal, some more equal than others” in the world of local government when it comes to supporting local democracy.