Across Victoria there is increasing concern regarding the role of local government and whether state regulation of council’s ensures best value. This is exacerbated in rural and regional councils where the issue of financial sustainability is reaching crisis point. Failure to clearly state the purpose of council and to link budget and reporting processes to statutory roles leads to situations like that experienced by our member in Ararat last year. Poor processes can lead to decisions that threaten the viability of key industries and employment in the regions.
The Exposure Draft does not take up the opportunities that the State has to clearly define the role of council. Councils have its powers wholly established by State Government and therefore the enabling legislation should place clear expectations as to the roles and functions on councils and the limits to its powers.
The exposure draft will exacerbate the problems that led to the introduction of ‘rate capping’. It fails to outline that the main role of Council is to operate in accordance with a wide range of statutes to deliver services. By supporting a wide range of activities of State and Federal Governments, this effectively delegates responsibility to local council without providing the associated necessary funding base. Furthermore, this enables the pursuit of activities that may represent sectional councillor interest over broader community need.
By failing to outline key ‘base line’ services for Councils to deliver as a priority, the Bill will not resolve the funding issues or ensure that Councils focus on the key services their communities expect to be delivered.
VFF seek the following changes:
- Rewriting of Division 1 to:
- Clearly describe core statutory responsibilities of council (via reference to statute);
- Require the exercise of council duties and responsibilities in accord with Victorian Government statute and policy;
- Limit advocacy to seeking a change to statute or policy on behalf of the community;
- Establish a maximum expenditure of 5% for any non-statutory role or activity;
- Establish a statistically significant survey process to demonstrate clear ‘whole of community’ support for any non-statutory role or activity; and
- Require mandatory training for councillors and executive on statutory roles and responsibilities.
- Rewriting of Division 3 to clearly state that a local law cannot be gazetted which is contrary to an existing statutory requirement (eg livestock on roads).
- Revising Division 4 to:
- Introduce mandatory reporting on how each council activity responds to a statutory responsibility;
- What percentage and dollar expenditure of the budget relates to each statutory duty;
- Clear reporting on funding of discretionary action;
- Applying ‘asset gap’ principles across all statutory responsibilities so that strategic plans, budget and reporting areas to indicate the ‘gap’ between the expenditure and total compliance with the duty (eg amount spent on pest plant and animal management responsibilities under the Catchment and Land Protection Act vs amount required to wholly comply with council’s duty); and
- Specify that in regional Victoria any council proposal or rating change should include a consideration of the impact of the proposal on agriculture.
- Introduction of a new division to place a levy on metropolitan councils to be distributed as grants for local regional road infrastructure projects – recognising urban communities utilise these roads even if they do not travel to these areas (food and fibre).
These actions are critical to ensure transparency and good governance. The community has lost confidence that Councils are focused on getting the basics right. They want to see that their rate money is being spent appropriately and for the best interests of the community as a whole.