Bill Speech: Local Government Bill 2019

Ms SPENCE (Yuroke) (16:28:52): I am pleased to make a contribution on the debate of the Local Government Bill 2019, a bill which is to replace the current Local Government Act that came into operation in 1989. That act has become outdated, and with the hundreds of amending acts there have been thousands of individual amendments to its provisions. As a result, that act is poorly drafted, unclear and even contradictory in some places. The 1989 act needs to be replaced to bring it into the 21st century and to give communities the strong, accountable and efficient local councils that they deserve. This bill seeks to clarify the functions and role of councils and provide a current legislative framework for councils and the communities in which they operate and for councillors and those who they represent. To do this the bill includes reforms to improve service delivery, strengthen local democracy, improve councillor conduct and community confidence and provide a better relationship between state and local government and the community. I was pleased to speak on the 2018 version of this bill which passed the Legislative Assembly but was not considered by the Council prior to the last election, and my comments will to an extent be a reiteration of what I said previously because this bill, in the main, retains the substance of the 2018 bill as well as including some additional reforms to simplify elections and strengthen community engagement and councillor conduct. The new bill is based on the work of the last four years in consultation with the local government sector and the community. We have heard today that this is supposedly a rushed bill, that the opposition has not had time to consider some of the detail in it. I very much challenge that, and I am going to go through some of the processes in that consultation, as I did with the 2018 bill. The consultation has included research papers, an advisory committee, technical working groups, 28 community forums held around the state, a discussion paper, a directions paper, an exposure draft, the 2018 bill and around 1300 written submissions. And I was very pleased to be a part of that process as the chair of the advisory committee under the former Minister for Local Government, the member for Sydenham, from August 2015. The terms of reference for the review were to improve local government transparency and create a more contemporary, accessible act that meets the current and future needs of Victorian communities. The review was to consider all aspects of the current act with a view to updating the legislation to provide clear guidance to the sector and the community. The advisory committee members brought a wealth of experience in local government and in government administration. As chair of that committee I would like to thank those members for the many hours of hard work that they contributed and the huge amount of knowledge and information that they shared during the process. The advisory committee members were Dr Kathy Alexander, former CEO of Melbourne City Council, who was on the committee until March 2016; Kay Rundle, former CEO of the Port Phillip, Greater Geelong and Maribyrnong city councils; Nicholas Reece, principal fellow at the Melbourne School of Government and Melbourne city councillor; Mary Delahunty, councillor at Glen Eira council; David Clark, councillor at Pyrenees Shire Council; Colleen Furlanetto, a former councillor at Strathbogie shire; Dr Ken Coghill, associate professor and former member of Parliament; and Peter Brown, former CEO of Moreland City Council. These committee members certainly brought significant experience and knowledge to the review process, both individually and collectively. The consultation process for this bill was incredibly extensive. From 2015 the bill has been informed by extensive engagement with council CEOs, mayors, councillors, senior staff, peak organisations, ratepayers and community members. There have been five stages to the engagement process, which I will go through in some detail. Stage 1 of the review included a discussion paper which was released in September 2015. It was the beginning of a conversation with the sector and the community about the legislative framework that governs local government in Victoria. The discussion paper identified issues with the Local Government Act 1989 and invited ideas on options to reform all aspects of the legislative framework, with around 350 submissions received at that time. Reform ideas were also developed via the advisory committee through background papers, community forums, technical working groups and meetings with peak council and ratepayer associations. During this stage the advisory committee members attended a number of community meetings and fed back into the review the issues and ideas that were shared at these meetings across the state. The committee also considered each of the submissions, and they worked with the department to identify themes and emerging issues. This processed helped inform stage 2 of the consultation process, being the directions paper. That paper was entitled Act for the Future: Directions for a New Local Government Act, and it was released in June 2016 and outlined the key reform proposals. Councils and their communities were invited to have their say on the proposed reforms and contribute their ideas for a contemporary, clear and comprehensive Local Government Act which supports councils as they meet future challenges and better serves a new generation of Victorians. There were 333 submissions to the directions paper, with responses also provided at community forums with mayors, CEOs and community members. In July and August of 2016 consultations on the directions paper were held at nine locations—Frankston, Kyneton, Traralgon, Ararat, Benalla, Anglesea, Mildura, Werribee and the Melbourne CBD—and at each location there were listening posts and community forums and workshops were held involving mayors, councillors and council staff, including CEOs from surrounding municipalities. During this stage the local government review website provided information and participatory forums for both the sector and the public on all of the issues and consultative documents related to the review. These documents included the discussion paper, the directions paper, all of the submissions received to both of those, a range of background papers from technical experts, fact sheets, summary documents and advice from a series of technical working groups comprising sector specialists. Some 462 individuals registered to receive information about the review, and there were 26 500 visits to the website. The discussion paper was downloaded 1950 times and the directions paper was downloaded 692 times. In addition, 130 individuals completed an online survey on the key reforms proposed in the directions paper. Stage 3 of the review process occurred in 2017, and it involved targeted consultation to inform the exposure draft bill. It involved consultation with the technical working groups, peak ratepayer groups, key stakeholders on specific issues, council peak organisations and newly elected councillors. And this led to stage 4 of the process, the exposure draft of the Local Government Bill 2017, which was released publicly for consultation in December of that year. The government received 190 submissions in response to the exposure draft bill, and the analysis of these submissions along with the extensive briefings and public meetings led to stage 5 of the consultation process, being the release of a policy reform proposal on six reforms to be added to the previously proposed 2018 bill. So this, in short, is one of the most extensive consultation processes undertaken on a piece of government legislation spanning over four years. It certainly was not rushed. It had extensive consultation all across the state. The bill will deliver five broad outcomes: improved service delivery, improved councillor conduct, community confidence, strengthened local democracy and a new relationship with state government. As I said earlier, I was pleased to speak on this bill and talk about the role that I had as the advisory committee chair. So being part of the process was terrific, but I also want to make a note of my personal experience in local government. Like many here, I did come from a local government background where I was a councillor and mayor of Hume City Council. And we are very fortunate in Hume because we have not been troubled by some of the conduct issues that we have heard have taken place at other councils. So in the short amount of time that I have got remaining I want to note that there has been some discussion on gender on councils and the importance of women. We are very fortunate at Hume. We have a terrific mayor, Carly Moore, who has just been appointed for her second year as mayor. She leads a strong council. We have two deputy mayors at Hume this year; everybody wants to be a deputy mayor, so that is great. And we work really well with that council. We are incredibly fortunate. It is a good council, there are 11 people on there, they all work well together, they all work well with the community and long may it stay that way. And with those few words I will commend this bill to the house.