Victorian local government reform bill introduced

The Victorian Government has introduced its Local Government Bill 2018 to Parliament following more than two years of review and consultation by the State with councils and communities.

Addressing Parliament, the Minister for Local Government, Marlene Kairouz, said the Bill “empowers Councils to operate to full capacity within a logical legislative framework which states with simple transparency what citizens and ratepayers can expect from their Councils.”

Ms Kairouz listed the new constraints and accountabilities required of councils as:

  • capping annual rate rises in line with inflation;

  • comparable public reporting of Council performance against a uniform set of legislated performance measures captured in the Know Your Council website;

  • strengthening of the Councillor conduct framework, through the Local Government (Improved Governance) Act 2015;

  • requirement for Councils to have four-year Budgets;

  • councils required to adopt 10-year Financial Plans and 10-year Asset Management Plans — replacing the four-year Strategic Resource Plans Councils currently apply to financial and asset planning;

  • a uniform method for determining valuations for rating purposes;

  • improved powers and independence of Council audit and risk committees to monitor financial discipline and policy compliance;

  • a new requirement for all Council administrations to have an independent complaints mechanism to make them accountable for the services they provide to the community and the actions they take on their behalf;

  • a new requirement for each mayor to report publicly on progress against the Council plan every year — signalling the elected Council's accountability for Council performance and delivery;

  • new Ministerial power to issue a governance direction to compel improved governance at a Council where an independent integrity body identifies governance failures. The Minister may appoint a Municipal Monitor enabling the Government to monitor compliance, establishing a trigger for further intervention if required;

  • a new power to suspend individual Councillors who compromise a Council's capacity to deliver good governance should an integrity body recommend such a suspension;

  • capacity for an elected Council to vote out a mayor mid-term in circumstances in which the mayor has been elected for two years but has lost the confidence of their fellow Councillors.

The Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV) expressed disappointment that a number of matters were included in the Bill that were not the subject of consultation. These included:

  • power for the Minister to suspend an individual councillor for a year if they pose a significant threat to the governance of a council

  • defining sexual harassment under the Councillor Code of Conduct and the power to remove a councillor for serious sexual harassment

  • a requirement that service charges do not exceed the cost of providing a service.

The Local Government Bill 2018 is available here.

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