Fears Victorian plan to boost local council diversity will see fewer minorities elected


July 14, 2019 15:07:24

There are fears a Victorian Government plan to boost diversity in local council ranks will instead reduce the chances of women and minor parties being elected into local government — with the Greens particularly worried.

Key points:

  • The State Labor Government proposal would see council sizes shrink
  • The Government has said the changes would improve community confidence
  • The Greens are trying to rally against the plan, which they have said “doesn’t make any sense”

The state Labor Government wants councils to move to single-member wards, with some exceptions for rural areas, in what it says is a bid to improve community democracy.

The Government said the proposed reforms, which also include new standards of conduct and mandatory training, will make it easier for constituents to reach their local councillor.

The majority of councils are currently elected by multi-member ward structures where many councillors are elected for each ward.

Like the Upper House in Parliament, councillors in these wards are elected via proportional voting.

But Local Government Minister Adem Somyurek wants change, proposing that all wards become smaller and have only one councillor for each spot.

He argued this would make councils more consultative, boost accountability and boost equity.

“What we’re doing here is lowering the barriers to entry for new participants in the democratic process,” Mr Somyurek told the ABC.

Just over one-third of all councillors across Victoria’s 79 local government areas are women.

The move has not been popular among councils, with a survey by the Local Government Association finding two-thirds of its members oppose the reforms.

A recent Victorian Electoral Commission review of the City of Boroondara, which has single-member wards, found multi-member wards would give minorities a better chance of being elected.

Greens lead push against plan

The draft Local Government Bill 2019 is in the consultation phase and could pass easily through the Labor-dominated parliament when it is submitted.

Victorian Greens leader Samantha Ratnam said she feared the proposal would stymie her party’s chances at local elections.

“This proposal from the Government, and the rationale from the Government, has very little evidence, very little to back it, which is why they’re really baffled about why they are proposing this, because it doesn’t make any sense,” Ms Ratnam said.

She said multi-member wards encouraged collegiality and a focus on improving the whole council.

“What we don’t want to happen is to move back to this idea of territoriality, which is you just fight for your own patch,” she said.

The Greens leader, a former mayor of Moreland, said there had been a lack of consultation with councils on the plan.

She has written to councillors to gauge support for a push to oppose the plan.

But one City of Port Phillip councillor, Andrew Bond, a Liberal party candidate at last year’s state election, wrote back supporting single-member wards, saying: “Lazy councillors always get found out”.

“Had your Greens councillors actually concentrated on local issues, and engaged with their local community, and not state and federal issues, whilst ignoring the local community, this action by the local government minister wouldn’t have been necessary,” Mr Bond wrote.

The state Opposition is yet to adopt a position on the proposal, with Shadow Local Government Minister Tim Smith saying he was open to a discussion about the reform.

Councils split on support for single wards

Mayor of the City of Darebin, independent Susan Rennie, was vehemently opposed to the reforms.

Darebin is a diverse council — two-thirds of its members are women and Labor, Greens and independents are all elected.

She said there was no rationale for the overhaul.

“Perhaps it’s political, it’s certainly not backed up by evidence,” Cr Rennie said.

She said multi-member wards in Darebin brought an end to Labor-aligned councillors dominating council and had improved services for residents.

She said she feared dozens of women would lose their spots if the changes were made.

But Boroondara Mayor Jane Addis backed single-member wards, saying they made councillors more accountable.

“We know our community very well,” Cr Addis said.

The eastern suburbs consistently ranked among the highest with voter satisfaction, which Cr Addis said was due to single-member wards.

Consultation on the draft legislation closes on Friday.
















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July 14, 2019 08:44:43

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