Local Government Bill 2018
Mr J. BULL (Sunbury) (18:23:02) — I am also pleased to have the opportunity to speak on the Local Government Bill 2018. What we know is that the role, structure and functions of local government have evolved over the years. The expectations and the demands placed on our local municipalities by local communities have changed, but what we know and what has not changed in its entirety is the Local Government Act 1989. That is not to say of course that there have not been amendments; there have been a significant amount of amendments to this legislation — over 100 in fact — which has resulted in a clunky piece of legislation that in many parts can in fact be contradictory.
This bill, as we have heard this evening, replaces the 1989 act, modernising the governance of our municipalities and bringing the legislation into the 21st century. We on this side of the house are of course a modern government, an active government, a busy government, a government they gets on with things, and we are committed to making things fair. This is an important piece of legislation because we know that our local municipalities play a key role in supporting our local communities. Other members in their contributions have highlighted this, and I will go into that a little bit further later on in my contribution.
Local communities right across the state expect and deserve ward councillors, mayors and councils that work hard for local communities, that are responsive to their needs and that deliver services each and every day.
Earlier this year I had the pleasure of tabling in this Parliament a report of the inquiry into the sustainability and operational challenges of Victoria’s rural and regional councils. In the work undertaken by the committee we had the opportunity to travel right across Victoria to some great rural and regional communities to hear of the experiences of councils, community groups, individuals and stakeholders. Public hearings were held in Melbourne, Traralgon, Wycheproof, Kerang, Shepparton, Bendigo and Colac. The committee made 14 recommendations. We learned of the more acute challenges that our rural and regional councils face. I am not going to spend too long on that report, but I just want to highlight a number of —
Mr Richardson interjected.
Mr J. BULL — I know the member for Mordialloc was particularly passionate about this committee, which did a significant amount of work.
All of these small municipalities face significant challenges. We have of course seen that for those with smaller populations and often very large road networks, roadside weed and pest management are significant financial burdens. How does this relate to this bill? Section 4.2 of this report talks about increased responsibilities for municipalities:
The committee heard repeatedly that a major cause of the growth in expenditure was an increase in the responsibilities undertaken by local councils. The committee heard that both the number and scale of responsibilities has increased. Greater Bendigo City Council quoted a review which found that:
Historically, local government has been focussed on what are defined as ‘essential’ or ‘core services’ being roads, rates and rubbish. Today local government has become … more complex.
The concept of essential or core services has moved beyond the historic definition and today includes —
and a number of members have spoken about this in their contributions —
strategic planning, child care, waste, community development and recreation.
In addition to an evolving definition of services is the expectation that local government is not just a provider of services but should also facilitate and promote economic growth and development within the municipality and wider region.
With these additional responsibilities and additional requests from local communities there is a greater responsibility for our municipalities to be responsive to those communities, and an act from 1989 just does not support a number of these evolving municipalities the way that it should. The report goes on to note that:
Several councils informed the committee that they now offer in excess of 100 different services.
If we take the findings from the committee and then look at the extensive body of work that is involved in the Local Government Act, we can see that changes needed to be made.
I want to take this opportunity to discuss the importance of having a well-connected, hardworking, active municipality. I spoke earlier about the importance of good ward representation and good mayoral representation. I think that communities that are well serviced by good, hardworking ward councillors will then see that reflected right through the body of the work of the municipality itself.
I heard the member for Yan Yean speak about the Growing Suburbs Fund, and that is also a fund that is particularly important to my area. A good state local partnership, such as the partnership that has been struck in my electorate, can actually result in significant positive outcomes for local communities. If I take very briefly my own community and have a look at some of the projects and infrastructure that have been delivered through things like the Growing Suburbs Fund, there is $3 million for the Sunbury global learning centre, $2 million for the warm water pool, $100 000 for the BMX skate park, nearly $500 000 for the Boardman Reserve — all in partnership with the local municipality — and there are a number of other projects that are included in that. These are projects that make a genuine difference to people’s lives — projects that benefit my community — and they are important in the context of a council’s ability to service, in my case, a rapidly growing community.
As we have heard, the bill before the house this evening repeals and replaces the Local Government Act 1989, giving the Minister for Local Government the power to suspend for up to a year those individual councillors who pose a significant threat to the governance of a council. The bill will clearly define sexual harassment under the councillor code of conduct and introduce the power to remove councillors for serious sexual harassment. It will allow mayors serving two-year terms to be ousted from their roles following a motion passed by at least three-quarters of the councillors in office. New measures will be provided to ensure that service charges levied by councils do not exceed the cost of those services. Importantly, the inclusion of four-year budgets within the act to meet higher standards for strategic planning, which I mentioned earlier, and financial management will be very well received by communities.
One thing that was certainly highlighted in the committee’s work was the continuity of the delivery of services — being able to provide projects and programs that are not just on a year-to-year funding cycle but have a greater life span. That is something that I think will certainly be well received and well supported in the community.
This government stands for best practice in local government. This is a significant piece of legislation. It sets out a whole range of various items of framework that go to the heart of governance for our municipalities right across the state. The bill will help to modernise our municipalities and ensure they are more robust, and there is a new set of rules that governs the behaviour of those local representatives.
The Andrews Labor government is committed to making things fair and getting things done. I am very, very proud and very pleased that we are not just a government for today but a government for tomorrow — a government that is committed to and focused on delivering for each and every Victorian right across the state. I commend the bill to the house.