The Victorian Electoral Commission (VEC) is conducting a review about the electoral structure of each local councils in Victoria. In compliance to the Local Government Act (1989), this representation review occurs before every third general election, that equates to every 12 years, sometimes allowing for unscheduled reviews if and when needed.
The purpose of the review is to ensure the electoral structure of a local council provides fair and equitable representation for all voters. Fair and equitable representation is determined by evaluating council and community feedback about:
- whether a local council has the appropriate number of councillors
- whether the local council should be un-subdivided, with councillors elected from the whole local council, or subdivided into wards
- if subdivided, the number of wards, ward boundaries and the number of councillors per ward.
The weakness of past, present and potentially future VEC reviews is that the fair and equitable representation of a council does not effectively influence its governance performance in behaving or ensuring its practices are fair and equitable. Without real commitment to assure and ensure commitment to good governance through state-wide framework of effective governance performance measures and non-compliance management, the VEC review is a potentially waste of public funds. The scope of local government responsibilities and activities have changed, but VEC practices continue to support a past and is out of alignment with today’s council practices and community expectations.
Groupthink and political party interference in some councils, will continue to disconnect council performance with good governance principles regardless of whether each council is single municipal or multi wards represented.
New 21st century models of government governance frameworks, including the one implied in the Local Government Bill, are shifting from representative democracy to deliberate democracy, where citizens can be engaged in their councils’ decision making. If a council is to be an effective representation of their communities, structural changes is not refined to changing electoral number of councillors or deciding single or multi ward representation/s, but also need to:
- Put in place visible and appropriate due processes and performance measures relating to councils’ governance and compliance matters;
- Formalize the shift from today’s ineffective representative democracy to deliberate democratic model, where councilors are really committed to engage with their communities in decision making and be accountable for the actual performance results of their decisions.
On these arguments, Ratepayers Australia views that reviewing the current electoral structure has little value to ratepayers and other local community stakeholders and is effectively a waste of public funds. The Local Government Reform Bill should be revisited and decided upon, accompanied by a future electoral review to deliver a holistic governance and compliance framework for all councils in Victoria.
A band aid solution to an ineffective current situation that Ratepayers Australia will support is to have an electoral structure that limits representation terms to 2 or 3 years for every Councillor and even at the CEO level. This will help inject new blood and partially mitigate groupthink issues and political party influences in councils.