LOCAL GOVERNMENT BILL 2019

Mr KENNEDY (Hawthorn) (12:20:07): I rise to speak on the Local Government Bill 2019, and I would like to begin by just saying a few words about one of the great marriages in heaven. One of the great marriages in heaven is the fact that the Labor member for Hawthorn is located in Camberwell Road immediately opposite Boroondara council. Boroondara council has an ascendancy of councillors from the Liberal side, probably of the Michael Kroger faction, but notwithstanding, we have a wonderful balance; we meet every month from both sides of the political spectrum. And I am just delighted with this bill because it means that we can see firsthand that there are some things that need to be improved and acted upon. Before going on about some of the fine features of this bill, I would just like to refer to the member for Euroa, who spoke earlier in this debate. She generously and kindly acknowledged consultation. She said, ‘Yes, there has been consultation’, and she said—with some reservations and so on—she recognises consultation when she sees it, as indeed do we all. That was her judgement. Her judgement started to fail a little bit there because then she was full of congratulations for the member for Kew, a previous speaker. I was a little disappointed with the member for Kew, a dear neighbour, a next-door neighbour, who allowed himself to get caught up in the what he called confusion, which I would call mayhem. It seemed to me that he was caught up in dinners, the Australian Republican Movement, debating societies, pill testing and so on and so forth, and I think we have just got to get out of that sort of rut and get on with: what does the bill do? What is the bill offering? That is the important thing here. Mr T Smith: Read my amendment. Read my amendment. Mr KENNEDY: I love that response. The bill is proposed to replace the Local Government Act of 1989 with a modern, principles-based legislative framework for the establishment and administration of a system of local government in Victoria. There is a need for the bill. Other speakers have already spoken about society having changed so much and the technology and so on since the 1989 act. Over 100 amendments have been made, and now these need to be codified and put into some sort of logical order so that you can have a more even and better application. In vitally important respects it applies reform and standards of principle, such as more equitable wards, a transparent remuneration policy, long-needed behavioural conduct standards and induction training to assist councillors in reaching and applying minimum standards to which most aspire. It introduces a sensible gift policy with a transparent register to permit local oversight and has foreshadowed a further major reform intention relating to the vexed question of foreign and local donations, for later implementation after the IBAC review is concluded. The bill now represents the Local Government Act being replaced to bring local government governance into the 21st century, reflecting progressive values and lessons learned from the past, and through the thorough consultation which has been undertaken—and so generously mentioned by the member for Euroa—giving communities the strong, accountable and efficient local councils that they deserve. So just to repeat—we have heard it before, but it is always good to hear these things again—the five themes around which this bill is centred are, one, to allow councils to improve the services they deliver for communities through better financial management and engagement with the community; two, the provision of stronger local democracy with direct accountability to the community; three, the improvement of councillor conduct with clear standards of behaviour and stronger mechanisms to address poor conduct; four, giving the community confidence by making reforms to election processes and candidate requirements; and five, providing a new relationship between state and local government and the community. The 2019 bill retains the substance of and builds on the previously prepared 2018 bill by incorporating additional reforms to simplify elections, strengthen community engagement and address councillor conduct. The new laws are a culmination of extensive consultation with the local government sector and the wider community over three years. As the second-reading speech so eloquently provides: It enshrines in law a contemporary, principles-based framework that determines how councils are created and elected; empowers councils to innovate and operate to the best of their ability; significantly improves how councils are governed; and sets out clear processes and planning tools to support and guide councils as they deliver responsive services and represent their communities. Importantly, too, the bill introduces much-needed reform to improve service delivery, strengthen local democracy, improve councillor conduct and the like. I now turn to specific elements of reform provided for in the bill now before this Assembly. There are many possible examples. Of prime importance is the single voting method—attendance, postal or online—to be now applied. By improving electoral security, the possibility of multiple voting is eliminated. With all constituents being equally represented, community confidence in the integrity of the voting method is strengthened. Consistent with the government’s efforts to call on the expertise of the local government stakeholders, so too does the bill call for local government to increasingly consult with its electors. Directly relevant to this ideal is the bill obliging councils to develop a community engagement policy that actively involves the community in the development of major council policies and plans. By this means citizens will have meaningful performance information through reporting of council performance relevant to the performance measures readily accessible on the Know Your Council website. Through the mechanism of councils being obliged to maintain a four-year council plan and budget, electors will be able to observe their council’s performance, the work of council’s audit and risk committees and the council’s community engagement policies. In a similarly transparent fashion, the bill obliges councils to develop and adopt a procurement policy that is financially sound and capable of review by electors. The expectation is that councils’ procurement policies will require councils to have public policies detailing the thresholds which oblige them to go to tender for the provision of goods and services; the tendering process itself; and how it is, shortly described, that value for money has been ensured. In focusing on best practice and sound governance, the bill obliges councils to self-regulate in important ways and to develop specific governance rules in relation to decision-making as to what matters could be delegated and as to conduct at council meetings. Having learned from the lessons of the past, the rules to be devised and applied by each council should include limits upon decision-making during an election period. As in other detailed elements of the bill, all councils will be obliged to acknowledge in their annual report compliance or otherwise with their procurement policy. The intention of such measures is to ensure that there is enhanced community engagement and reporting of the budgets and strategic plans developed by councils as they perform their work. The public sector values to which we subscribe are again at the forefront of these reforms. They are: responsiveness, integrity, impartiality, accountability, respect and human rights. The community consultation, engagement and oversight provisions within the bill reflect, in our view, contemporary expectations which are reasonable, particularly when one considers the scale of many council projects requiring complex service delivery and the effects upon the community of many public infrastructure projects. This legislation will beneficially affect all Victorians I believe, and I commend the bill to the house.