The following is Hansard parliamentary transcript of the debate in the Victorian Legislative Assembly over the bill to establish a directly elected mayor for Geelong. Grab a cup of tea (or a wee dram) and enjoy.
22 November 2011
CITY OF GREATER GEELONG AMENDMENT BILL 2011
Introduction and first reading
Mrs POWELL (Minister for Local Government) introduced a bill for an act to amend the City of Greater Geelong Act 1993 and for other purposes.
Read first time.
23 November 2011
CITY OF GREATER GEELONG AMENDMENT BILL 2011
Statement of compatibility
Mrs POWELL (Minister for Local Government) tabled following statement in accordance with Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006:
In accordance with section 28 of the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006 (‘the charter act’), I make this statement of compatibility with respect to the City of Greater Geelong Amendment Bill 2011 (‘the bill’).
In my opinion, the bill as introduced to the Legislative Assembly is compatible with the human rights protected by the charter act. I base my opinions on the reasons outlined in this statement.
Overview of the bill
The purpose of the bill is to provide for the direct election of the mayor of Greater Geelong by the voters of the municipality and to make other related amendments.
The bill achieves this by amending the City of Greater Geelong Act 1993.
Human rights issues
Section 18 of the charter act protects the right to take part in public life. Section 18 states that ‘every eligible person has the right, and is to have opportunity without discrimination, to vote and be elected at periodic state and municipal elections that guarantee the free expression of the will of the electors …’
Clause 5 (new section 11) of the bill provides that a person may not be a candidate for the positions of mayor and councillor simultaneously. This may be regarded as a limitation of the right to take part in public life under section 18 of the charter act, as it imposes a condition on a person’s eligibility to be a candidate for mayor or councillor in local council elections for the City of Greater Geelong.
To the extent that clause 5 is a limitation on the right to participate in public life, the limitation is reasonable and justified. The purpose of the limitation is to improve the electoral process for the City of Greater Geelong by ensuring a clear distinction between the roles of mayor and councillors at the City of Greater Geelong. The role of mayor is one of leadership and accountability to the entire municipality and is distinct from the role of councillors elected to represent individual wards.
This distinction minimises the possibility of bias or the perception of bias by the mayor towards a given ward in the municipality.
The mayor of Greater Geelong will have additional responsibilities and powers which distinguish the mayoral role from that of a councillor. In addition to taking precedence at municipal proceedings in the municipality, clause 6 (new section 11E) of the bill gives the mayor of Greater Geelong the additional power to appoint a councillor to represent the council as well as the power to appoint a councillor as chairperson of a special committee.
Limiting the eligibility of candidates to nominate for a single role is not uncommon in municipal elections. The City of Melbourne Act 2001 contains a similar prohibition on dual nominations. In addition some other states, namely Queensland and South Australia, also prohibit dual nominations for mayor and councillor positions.
Jeanette Powell, MP
Minister for Local Government
Mrs POWELL (Minister for Local Government) — I move:
That this bill be now read a second time.
The City of Greater Geelong Amendment Bill 2011 will amend the City of Greater Geelong Act 1993 to reconstitute that council to include a mayor who is directly elected by all the voters of that municipality.
The government made a commitment to the people of Geelong that it would allow them to directly elect their mayor. This bill will give legislative effect to that commitment.
Geelong is Victoria’s second largest city and the council is one of the largest in the state. It is important that a municipality of such state and regional significance has governance arrangements that will help it grow and prosper.
A mayor elected by the whole Greater Geelong community will be someone with the endorsement to speak on behalf of that community and to advocate for the city’s interests nationally and internationally. A mayor elected for the full four-year term of the council will also ensure consistent leadership for the council.
Before deciding what model for the direct election of the mayor was best for Greater Geelong, the government undertook extensive consultation with the community. It also consulted key stakeholders, including the Greater Geelong City Council. The model provided in this bill reflects the outcomes of those consultations.
At the next local government elections, in October 2012, the mayor of Greater Geelong will be directly elected to represent the entire Greater Geelong community. The form of election will be by preferential voting and election will be at the same time as the election of councillors. Each voter will receive two ballot papers; one for mayor and one for their ward councillor.
Candidates will be required to decide whether they wish to nominate for the position of mayor or for a position as councillor. Dual nominations will not be allowed. This is consistent with the arrangement at the City of Melbourne and with local governments in some other states.
Limiting nominations to either mayor or councillor recognises that the roles have distinct differences and will provide clarity for voters about the roles being sought by candidates. It will also ensure that the person elected to be mayor is not someone who also sought election in a particular ward and may be perceived as having a bias in favour of that ward.
At the 2012 elections, the electoral structure for the election of ordinary councillors will be unchanged — that is, voters will elect 12 councillors to represent 12 single-member wards.
The standard arrangement, which applies to all other Victorian councils under the Local Government Act 1989, is that there may be no more than 12 councillors for a council. Under this bill, Greater Geelong will exceed this number for its next term of office. This is because the addition of the mayor will result in 13 councillors being elected. This situation will only apply for one term of the council.
Before the following general election, in 2016, an electoral representation review will be undertaken by the Victorian Electoral Commission to recommend an electoral structure that includes no more than 11 ordinary councillors. This will realign Greater Geelong with other municipalities.
After the election, the council will be required to elect one of the councillors to be the deputy mayor. The term of office of a deputy mayor will be up to 12 months and a councillor may be elected for successive terms as deputy mayor.
The deputy mayor will perform the duties of the mayor when the mayor is unavailable. If the position of mayor is vacant for any period, the deputy mayor will become the acting mayor.
Specific provision is also made in this bill for allowances for the mayor and deputy mayor. These allowances will be set by an order in council and adjusted annually in the same way as the allowances for the Lord Mayor and deputy lord mayor of Melbourne.
The mayor of Greater Geelong will have additional powers appropriate to a leadership position elected by the entire community.
The mayor will be able to decide which councillors will be the council representatives on other organisations, except for remunerated positions which will continue to be appointed by council. In addition, the mayor will be empowered to appoint councillors to chair special committees of the council.
These additional powers of the mayor are generally similar to those of the Lord Mayor of Melbourne, except that the Lord Mayor’s powers are broader and subject to delegation by the council.
The model proposed for Greater Geelong is different from that applying at the Melbourne City Council, which is the only other Victorian council with a directly elected mayor. This reflects feedback from the Greater Geelong community about their preferred model.
After the new model has been in operation for two years, the government intends to review its effectiveness and comparison to the Melbourne model. The review will also consider whether a model for the direct election of mayors should also be available for other councils. Further advice about this review will be provided in due course.
The provisions in this bill aim to enhance the leadership and representative democracy in one of the most significant councils in Victoria.
I commend the bill to the house.
Debate adjourned on motion of Mr WYNNE (Richmond).
Debate adjourned until Wednesday, 7 December.
7 December 2011
CITY OF GREATER GEELONG AMENDMENT BILL 2011
Debate resumed from 23 November; motion of Mrs POWELL (Minister for Local Government).
Mr WYNNE (Richmond) — I rise to make a contribution to the debate on the City of Greater Geelong Amendment Bill 2011. In doing so I indicate that the opposition does not oppose the bill. We do, however, want to bring a number of matters to the attention of the government and to put some markers down for the government in terms of how it will be judged going forward in relation to the brave new world of local government reform it is embarking on.
First of all, though, I want to thank the minister and her staff for providing a briefing to me and to members from the Geelong region. A number of those members had the opportunity to attend the briefing earlier this week. Reflecting the normal practice of the office of local government, we got a thorough and expert briefing from Mr Jim Gifford and Mr Colin Morrison only a couple of days ago. I thank the government for that courtesy.
The thing that characterises this piece of legislation before us today is that there is no articulated public policy reason why the City of Greater Geelong has been chosen as the municipality for which the popularly elected mayor model is being implemented. I have asked for such a reason on a number of occasions, but to date I have not had that question satisfactorily answered. I have not asked that question in a rhetorical way, but in a genuine way. I have asked, ‘Why Greater Geelong? Why not Ballarat, Bendigo or other municipalities that are larger in terms of population or budget than Greater Geelong?’. There are some interesting questions for the government.
I am aware of the push for a popularly elected mayor by some Geelong residents and business communities. The Committee for Geelong certainly advocated for this with the previous government; there is no question about that. I have attended meetings with and enjoyed the company of members of the business community in the Committee for Geelong, as did the previous Premier and a number of other former ministers.
The committee made its position — that it sought to have a popularly elected mayor — unambiguous. I understand that, and I understand that the then coalition opposition indicated early on that it intended to go to the election with a popularly elected mayor model.
However, a broader public policy overlay ought to attend this piece of legislation, and frankly the government has been silent on this. The government has essentially responded to a request from one municipality. I understand and acknowledge that, and the opposition is not opposing that, but is this a portent of a future rollout of popularly elected mayors across the Victorian municipal structure or is it simply a one-off to satisfy a particular demand in a particular municipality? I guess we will just have to wait and see. If the government does not have a broader public policy rationale for the bill, there cannot be any sense in which it is moving forward with a clearly articulated and understood policy position.
Perhaps when the Parliamentary Secretary for Local Government makes his contribution he will elucidate this a little further.
There has been consultation on this legislation. A discussion paper and an options paper were produced and a consultative process was undertaken in the region around the popularly elected mayor model. I know my colleagues will have some views they want to put about this in their contributions. There have certainly been mixed views about the consultative process. I say this in a genuine sense, as all governments ought to learn from such experiences and see how we can always do it better. In my view there is no decision governments make that cannot be better informed by a proper and thorough community process. Whilst I acknowledge that the government undertook a consultative process, my colleagues will certainly provide some commentary as to the deficiencies we saw in that consultative process.
The bill before us essentially implements the public position the coalition took to the election. It is a policy position of the government and it reflects what it would regard as a consultative process. The interesting aspect of the bill is that the model the government has come up with is quite different from that of the City of Melbourne in two obvious respects. The first is that in the City of Greater Geelong it is only the mayor who will be elected, not the deputy mayor. As members of the house would be aware, in Melbourne we elect the mayor and the deputy mayor. Given the structure of the City of Melbourne — that councillors are elected at large — in essence the mayor and the deputy mayor pretty much run on a ticket basis. History tells us that in Melbourne the mayor and the deputy mayor and at least two other councillors will generally be elected to the council on the same ticket. The mayor of the day comes into the council with at least four of the nine spots — that is recognising that councillors are elected at large, which invites a ticket arrangement.
We will have quite a different circumstance in Greater Geelong, and it will be interesting to see how this pans out in the election in October next year — what the result of this election will throw up. Voters will elect the mayor at large and elect the 12 councillors from within the existing ward structure. I acknowledge that after two years the government intends to review the situation, but one of the concerns we have is that the mayor of the day may not enjoy support on the floor of the chamber. Nobody can satisfy us that the current proposition cannot throw up that outcome.
I acknowledge that the mayor has a certain prestige, cache and authority because they have been elected by the voting public, but in the day-to-day nitty-gritty of ensuring that there is stability within the council there is a serious question that frankly neither the parliamentary secretary, a person experienced in local government, nor the senior administration of Local Government Victoria can answer. None of us can answer that question because frankly we do not know.
We do not know what that outcome will look like.
I refer back to the City of Melbourne. One of the reasons why a number of models for the City of Melbourne were explored — those who know the history will know we have had ward elections and half ward, half at-large elections; we have tried pretty much every model you could conceive of at the City of Melbourne — was the key driving force of the need for stability.
Honourable members interjecting.
The ACTING SPEAKER (Mr Thompson) — Order! The member to continue, without assistance from the other side of the table.
Mr WYNNE — They are reliving old war stories over there, Acting Speaker.
We wanted stability of governance in the capital city, and you would have to say that largely that governance structure has proved to be very stable. That does not presuppose that we do not recognise there has been a strong push and a strong voice from resident groups for there to be a ward structure. The position they put is that the councillors elected at large do not bear any specialist responsibility for the issues that pertain to their wards; they operate more on a Senate-style portfolio basis, and the intimate relationship between councillor and ward has been broken.
I respect that position because I was in a ward structure, and I think there is a lot of strength in that proposition. I acknowledge that the Victorian Electoral Commission (VEC) is currently undertaking a review of the structure of the City of Melbourne, ward elections versus at-large elections and the number of councillors. We await the outcome of that and its implementation in, I think, March next year.
The other peculiarity of this new system is that the deputy mayor will not be elected at large but from within the body of the council. Again there is an inconsistency between the City of Melbourne and the City of Greater Geelong in that respect. We will await with interest to see how the deputy mayor position as elected through the body of the council manifests itself and how the council settles. We sincerely hope it settles with stability to ensure the good governance of the City of Greater Geelong.
There are two other elements that are worthy of comment. The first is in relation to the so-called extra powers that the mayor will have. The mayor will have the power to appoint councillors to various positions on external committees of the council which do not attract a salary. I certainly understand why you would not want to put the mayor in the situation of appointing people to positions that attract remuneration, given that his executive powers could be perceived to have the potential for conflict. That is a very sensible approach, but the practical reality in the working life of councils is that, generally speaking, the mayor of the day in most council operations goes through a process of decision making that ensures that the distribution of those various outside bodies is dealt with in a harmonious way. To be honest, it is a bit of window-dressing to say that the mayor has supernumerary powers to appoint people to outside bodies. Yes, he or she would have those powers, but in the end it is not that great an innovation.
There are some other aspects that I know my colleagues will want to touch upon. An argument to which I have always been attracted is that the position of the mayor of the City of Melbourne is unique in that they represent the capital city, which is quite different to other municipalities. I will retrace the earlier aspects of my contribution. While the government remains silent about the broader public policy and its rationale as to why Geelong and potentially other municipalities will have a popularly elected mayor, we are essentially in the dark. All we have at the moment is a response by the government — and I have acknowledged that — to a consistent call over a long period of time from a city, that being the City of Greater Geelong, to have a popularly elected mayor.
There is an obligation on the government to articulate its vision for local government and the issue of popularly elected mayors going forward. It is a contested space, and, as I said, my colleagues will have a view about that.
People will mount a very respectable argument about whether that will in effect preclude people from standing for the position of mayor of Greater Geelong because mounting a campaign to get oneself elected to the position will not come without a cost. There is no question about that; we know that to be the case.
A postal vote election, which I presume will be the process by which people will be voting in Greater Geelong, is not a cheap exercise. We know that; I have some experience with the City of Melbourne in relation to the postal voting exercise. Yes, the administrative structures that are in place under the VEC provide very good opportunities for candidates to articulate their policy positions through the handbooks and so forth that are distributed by the VEC to inform voters of the various policy positions of the candidates, but it is also normal practice for candidates to supplement that with their own information.
It will not be a cost-free exercise in any way, shape or form, and we are concerned to ensure that whatever system we use for electing people to local government does not preclude people from standing for the position. We ought not preclude people simply because the cost of standing for this very important position of the mayor of the City of Greater Geelong may be prohibitive.
An honourable member — A fantastic city!
Mr WYNNE — It is a fantastic city, as my colleague said.
The final aspect of the bill that I want to touch upon briefly is the provision for the deputy mayor to assume the position of mayor if the mayor is incapacitated and unable to undertake their duties. If the mayoral position falls vacant within six months of an election, it will be up to the council as to whether it wishes to have a further election or to proceed on the basis of the deputy mayor fulfilling the duties of mayor until the election. There are a number of common-sense consequential amendments contained within the bill, but essentially the bill as it stands deals with how we go about electing the mayor.
The other important point I should make, though, is that the bill does reconstitute the council under the City of Greater Geelong Act 1993 because of the changed circumstances that it throws up.
The ACTING SPEAKER (Dr Sykes) — Order! I ask the members of the opposition who are having a conversation to show the speaker on his feet some courtesy and listen to him.
Mr WYNNE — Thank you, Acting Speaker. I will deal with my colleague at another time. He is a very big advocate of local government; I am just giving him a bit more chapter and verse on some of the finer detail that only tragics like me and perhaps a couple of others in the house may find interesting. Some of us have spent more hours than we want to think about arguing about the voting system and how we count back and various other very stimulating topics. Those topics excite some of us but perhaps not others.
The final comment I want to make is that we will have the review in 2014, so it will afford both the government and the opposition the opportunity to have a look at this and to see how it settles in over that period.
I sincerely hope that this structure does ensure stability at the City of Greater Geelong. We are worried about it; we are genuinely worried about it in the true sense of governance. We want to ensure that whatever structure is put in place is the best structure, that it does provide consistency and that it does provide good governance for the City of Greater Geelong. In that context we do not oppose the bill, but we have set out some clear benchmarks that we think the government needs to address.
In conclusion, I seek from the parliamentary secretary some further understanding about, firstly, the broader policy framework within which this decision was made. Is this a portent of how the government sees local government running in the future? Does this mean that we will have the implementation of properly-elected mayors across Victoria or will it only be in big municipalities or only in regional settings? I ask what the broad policy framework for that is.
Secondly, we indicate our concerns in relation to the stability of the council and ensuring that the mayor of the day has support on the floor of the chamber. How can we have confidence that that outcome will occur? The answer, I say rhetorically, is that I do not think we can. It is a wait and see proposition. We are very interested in the review process and how that is going to be undertaken. We want to know more about that. We raise concerns, obviously, about the potential for people to be excluded from the process because they simply do not have the necessary resources to get into the mayoral contest.
Finally, but most particularly, our most significant interest is to ensure good governance at the great City of Greater Geelong and in that context ask that these questions be satisfied. Some of them cannot be satisfied today; we will have to wait for the two-year review. But having had a good deal of experience with the City of Greater Geelong, I say sincerely that they are very good people there.
The people there — particularly the council we have now — have always sought to act in the interests of their community. We hope that the 2012 election is one that will bring forward a quality group of candidates and a quality group of mayoral candidates to further enrich the greater Geelong region.
Mr MORRIS (Mornington) — It is a genuine pleasure to rise to effectively lead the debate for the government on the City of Greater Geelong Amendment Bill 2011. It was an election commitment made by the Liberal Party in the run-up to the 2006 election campaign and a commitment repeated by the coalition in the run-up to the 2010 election campaign to deliver a directly elected mayor for the City of Geelong, and I am delighted that we have the bill in the house and that that election commitment is on track to be well in place in time for the 2012 municipal elections.
The government also made a commitment to consult the Geelong community about the model that would be used to elect the mayor. We were not so confident as to say we knew exactly how it was going to be done. We were not going to simply impose the structure that is currently in place for the City of Melbourne. The community of Geelong made it very clear to us that they wanted to have a directly elected mayor but there was not so much clarity about how that might be achieved, so we made a commitment to consult and to come up with a model that met the aspirations of the community. I believe that is what we have done in this case.
I have to say that in this instance the opposition is not a big wrap for the democratic process. Whenever this discussion has been had there has been every reason under the sun trotted out by opposition members for saying that people should not have a say in the direct election of their mayor, that they should not be able to go in and fill out a ballot paper and cast their vote directly for the person who is going to lead their city for the next four years. However, that is what this bill is all about. We on this side of the house do not believe in guided democracy. We do not believe in developing structures that manipulate the process and manipulate the outcome. It is about putting people who have the confidence of the community in place, getting out of the way and allowing them to get on with the business of operating the municipality. That is what this bill is all about.
In terms of any future agenda, the commitment was clearly about the City of Greater Geelong and not a broader policy.
I remind members on the other side of the chamber that this bill amends the City of Greater Geelong Act 1993. We are not amending the Local Government Act 1989. It is not about any of the municipalities of Ballarat, Bendigo, Shepparton or Casey. This bill is about the City of Greater Geelong — that is the whole subject of the bill.
The City of Greater Geelong is a very large municipality. It does not have the largest population in the state, but it is well and truly up there.
Mr Wynne interjected.
Mr MORRIS — It has a big budget, as the member for Richmond suggests. It covers 1200 square kilometres and it has 220 000 people. You would have to say it is the principal provincial city of the state, and it is the most populous city outside the metropolitan area. It is a city with a long and proud history.
It was established as the town of Geelong by an act of the New South Wales Parliament prior to the separation of Victoria from New South Wales. Its most recent format was constituted under the City of Greater Geelong Act 1993, which brought together the cities of Geelong West and Newtown and the shires of Bellarine, Corio and Barwon South plus parts of Barrabool and Bannockburn as well. It is all pretty much ancient history now, but I think that amalgamation has worked well.
Currently there are 12 councillors. Under the Local Government Act the mayor of the City of Greater Geelong is now elected for a period of two years; the deputy mayor is not required to have nor recognised to have a formal role, but the council will elect a person to act as a deputy mayor.
I had the pleasure of fronting the consultation process undertaken by the government, which ran from March until May of this year.
The consultation process included the publication and release of a discussion paper in March, an invitation issued at that time for public submissions, a very good public meeting which was held in Geelong on 20 April, and listening posts at eight locations around Greater Geelong. They were well attended listening posts. We also had an excellent experience with commuters at Geelong station at 6 o’clock in the morning. I must say we had a terrific response right around the city, particularly at the station, in terms of interest from the community, and there was a real desire to engage in the process and get the governance right. It was an excellent process.
There were 65 written submissions received. I also conducted meetings with a number of key stakeholders, including a councillor of the City of Greater Geelong, the committee for Geelong, the Municipal Association of Victoria, the Victorian Local Governance Association and local government professionals. I must say all of those discussions were very worthwhile.
Sadly, there was one group who chose not to be involved, and that is the group of three members who are in this house this afternoon who represent lower house electorates in the city of Greater Geelong. They were all invited to sit down for a chat and not necessarily put in a written submission and go through the slog, because clearly we on this side of the house understand that members have the opportunity to debate these matters in this house. I am not going to stand here and insult them by saying, ‘You didn’t put submissions in’, but a genuine invitation was extended to them to have a chat and have an input into the formation of this process. Unfortunately that opportunity was let slip not only by the lower house members in this place but by the upper house opposition members and federal members as well.
We know the view of at least one of those members — the member for Lara — who raised an adjournment matter when he was a member in the other place some years ago. He proposed the direct election of a mayor for the City of Greater Geelong.
He was well ahead of his time in relation to that matter; unfortunately he was not able to convince his colleagues that that was an appropriate course to take, but I am pleased we are now doing that.
I have to say a couple of things that came out of that consultation process represented the overwhelming views of the community. Firstly, there was the desire to retain the current 12-ward structure — that was very clear. The government had an open mind regarding what the structure of the council might be. But again and again people put their position very effectively — they desired that 12 wards be retained. The other matter is that while a directly elected mayor was strongly supported in the community, there was ambivalence in terms of whether a deputy should be directly elected as well. Once again the government had an open mind on this matter; we also had an open mind on whether an individual should be able to stand for both the position of a councillor and the mayor or deputy mayor if the deputy were to be elected. Ultimately people did not mind one way or another. We felt for the sake of clarity that it would be best to be consistent with the model adopted by the City of Melbourne — that is, you put your hand up and you stand for one or the other but you cannot do both.
That will do two things: it will assist the voters in not confusing the issue; it will also mean that once a mayor is elected, they are truly elected by the whole council and will not seem to be representing a ward that may have been the ward they stood for election in.
The structure that is proposed by the bill will be a useful first step in this process. The Victorian Electoral Commission will review the situation about halfway through the term and will look at bringing the structure more in line with the Local Government Act, but I think it is a worthwhile initiative. I commend the bill to the house.
Mr TREZISE (Geelong) — I am also very pleased to be making a contribution to this important debate and following on from the member for Mornington in speaking about a democracy and this side of the house respecting democracy.
From the outset let me say that I respect the fact that the now Baillieu government went to the election in November 2010 on a platform which included the direct election of the mayor of Geelong, as it did in 2006. I respect the fact that former opposition members are now in government and are having to implement their policies. However, at the same time members of the government also need to respect the fact that I have some major concerns about the implementation of the legislation and shortfalls within it.
There are concerns about the people of Geelong having a directly elected mayor and the consultation process that took place — and I am not the only one who has concerns. Obviously other members on this side of the house are concerned, but so is the VLGA (Victorian Local Governance Association). Concerns about the process have been outlined by the Municipal Association of Victoria and the Victorian Local Governance Association. The City of Greater Geelong itself has raised concerns about the process of consultation.
Let me say to the member for Mornington that it is not just me and members on this side of the house who have concerns about that consultation process; it is also some major organisations that represent local government not only in Geelong but also across Victoria.
One of the major concerns I have raised about this legislation on a number of occasions is that from my point of view it will mean excluding the vast majority of people in the electorate from standing for the office of mayor in Geelong. There are something like 220 000 people across Geelong. Obviously all of them do not vote, but it is a large electorate. It has been estimated that it would cost in the vicinity of $250 000 plus — a quarter of a million dollars — to run some form of effective campaign for a candidate to get their message out into the electorate and to the people who are going to vote for a directly elected mayor. That cost alone will exclude the vast majority of ordinary people in Geelong from standing for mayor.
It will exclude working-class people and good community-based people.
Mr Weller interjected.
Mr TREZISE — The member for Rodney may want to listen to this, because it is an important point. With the sheer cost of running a campaign alone — $250 000 plus — the office of mayor of Geelong will essentially be put into the realm of the rich and famous in Geelong. I am concerned that it will exclude the vast majority of people. In making that point obviously let me say that I am not the only person with that concern. In June the Victorian Local Governance Association made the point in the Geelong Advertiser when its representative said:
there is little indication in most of the submissions that people have been exposed to the fundamental issues involved in the debate around directly elected mayors.
That is the VLGA re-emphasising the point I have just made.
That brings me to the second concern, which again is not only mine but is also a concern of the many people who participated in the so-called consultation process — that is, the lack of information provided to the committee by this government in relation to the issues to be considered. The consultation was based around the question of whether members of the community preferred to directly elect only a mayor or whether they preferred to directly elect both a mayor and a deputy mayor. The consultation was based around that very limited issue. As I said, the information provided was essentially non-existent. Cr Barb Abley, a former mayor of the City of Greater Geelong and a good community-based mayor, emphasised that point herself in the consultation submission to the government when she wrote:
I cannot make any decision regarding this question until the state government has provided me with clear, factual information or reasons as to how this proposal is superior to the current model for the election of mayor in our municipality, or to any flaws which exist within the current democratic model.
She does go on, but I can see I am starting to run out of time, so I will leave Cr Barb Abley’s quotes there. Cr Abley’s concern about the consultation was also raised by the City of Greater Geelong. The city’s mayor, John Mitchell, raised a concern, as did the VLGA and the Municipal Association of Victoria.
As a member of the former Brumby and Bracks governments I was always proud of the fact that when we brought legislation into this house a hallmark of that legislation was the fact that we had entered into full consultation with stakeholders. Sadly this is far from the case under this government, and this legislation is just another example of that lack of real consultation by the Baillieu government.
The member for Richmond, Labor’s shadow Minister for Local Government, also raised an important point regarding a hostile council. The point he made was that we may have a mayor elected to the City of Greater Geelong but at the same time have a hostile council — this could be a reality in a place like Geelong, and the members for Lara and Bellarine will back me up. You could have a person elected as mayor but then have a ticket of six or seven hostile councillors leading to a hostile council and an ineffective running of the city.
I know the government is going to conduct a review before 2016, or two years after the implementation of this legislation, but if we do have a situation where we have a council that is hostile to the mayor, two years is a long way down the track before the situation could be addressed. That is of major concern to me and the ratepayers of Geelong.
Another issue of concern is candidates being able to stand only for either mayor or councillor — that is, anyone who is interested in running for local government and who is interested in throwing their hat in the ring has to make a decision whether they will stand for election as mayor or as a ward councillor. Obviously the concern is that good candidates would stand for mayor, get rolled in the mayoral election and then not be able to stand for council. We will see good people who are interested in local government being lost to the system.
I think all of us in this house know it is important that we have a good pool of people — people who are interested in local council and people who are interested in standing in their local ward. It is a shortfall of the proposed system if it means people who stand for mayor are excluded from running for council and we lose them to local government. It is important that we not lose that pool of interested people. Organisations like the VLGA also made that point in their submissions.
Finally, I respect that we are going to have directly elected mayors in Geelong, but there are far more important issues in my electorate than this issue at the present time, such as the upgrade of the Geelong Hospital. The Liberal Party’s commitment to build a second hospital to the south of Geelong has not been fulfilled. There is also the upgrade of Geelong High School, and Western Heights Secondary College has been short-changed by $4 million. This government has failed to deliver on its rhetoric in relation to 70 police coming to Geelong.
The government has failed to commit to nurse-patient ratios. It has failed to commit the $48 million for VCAL, and there are far more important issues in this electorate than the issue we are discussing tonight.
Mr KATOS (South Barwon) — It gives me a great deal of pleasure to rise this afternoon and contribute to the debate on the City of Greater Geelong Amendment Bill 2011. Geelong is Victoria’s second city and ranks 12th overall in Australia. It is no longer a provincial city — a sleepy hollow, as it was known as for years. It now ranks somewhere in between. It is not a capital city, but it is not a provincial town; it is a second-tier city in Australia that ranks alongside cities such as Wollongong, Toowoomba, the Sunshine Coast or even the Gold Coast.
This bill delivers on a key election commitment that the Baillieu government made to the people of Geelong.
We took to the election a commitment that if we were elected, we would seek to have a directly elected mayor for Greater Geelong City Council. As part of that commitment an undertaken was given to have meaningful consultation around the model. We took that issue to the election and said we would have a directly elected mayor. After the election, consultation took place on the model. That consultation was undertaken between March and May this year with a discussion paper launched in March which outlined potential models for the direct election of the mayor, and 65 submission were received in response. A public meeting was held at the Geelong Performing Arts Centre, and there were eight listening posts around the municipality during the consultation period.
The overwhelming majority of people who were engaged with at these listening posts and in consultations supported the direct election of the mayor of Geelong, but consultation showed that perhaps there was not as much support for the election of a deputy mayor. Support was split around directly electing a deputy mayor, but there was a clear will to maintain the 12-ward, single-councillor structure that is in place at the moment. That view was taken into consideration, and there have been no changes made to the ward structures for the next election.
There was also consultation with the City of Greater Geelong, the Committee for Geelong, the Municipal Association of Victoria and the Victorian Local Governance Association.
Mr Trezise interjected.
Mr KATOS — The member for Geelong points out that perhaps they did not agree with us, but consultation took place, nonetheless, and that is the key. When you have a consultation not every person will agree with the proposition being put forward, but you are out there to have a consultation and get people’s views and opinions. That is exactly what has been done. Even polls conducted by the Geelong Advertiser showed that 74 per cent of respondents supported a directly elected mayor.
Mr Weller — Seventy-four?
Mr KATOS — The member for Rodney is very impressed with that figure of 74 per cent. I also thank the member for Lara for his strong support.
I note that in the adjournment debate of 4 November 2004 he asked the then Minister for Local Government to consider the introduction of a directly elected mayor in Geelong. I will not read out the adjournment debate item, but I am happy to table it if the Acting Speaker would like me to. Unfortunately the request by the member for Lara in that adjournment debate fell on deaf ears, because the previous government and its ministers were not prepared to take that on. It has taken the Baillieu government to listen to the clear will of the majority of electors in Geelong and bring this bill before the house today.
I commend the Parliamentary Secretary for Local Government, the member for Mornington, on his genuine and thorough consultation with the community of Geelong. That is the clear difference between members on this side of the house and members on that side of the house. We engage in a genuine consultation; we do not make decisions and then go out and consult.
There are no shams — and it is appropriate that the member for Essendon is at the table when we are talking about sham consultations. There is genuine support for this legislation, and I believe a lot of it was born out of people being sick and tired of the grubby backroom deals that were taking place, with a revolving door and all of these secret little meetings and deals to elect the mayor each year. Obviously the Labor Party had a lot of influence on those dealings in the back rooms. I think that was also a catalyst.
As a councillor for Deakin ward prior to entering this place I have seen the undue influence that certain Labor politicians have had on councillors and how they follow orders as required. We all saw the mess created in Geelong and places like Brimbank. It is obvious that the previous government had to be embarrassed into taking action to fix situations where staffers were able to be councillors. That is the sort of thing the previous government was embarrassed into doing.
Mr Madden interjected.
Mr KATOS — The member for Essendon raises an interesting point, and I will take up his interjection. I believe there were about four staffers — —
Mr Eren interjected.
Mr KATOS — I think approaching 40 were Labor staffers, so the member for Essendon raises a good point. Going back to the bill, a candidate for mayor will be able to nominate for the mayoral role only. This issue was touched on earlier by the member for Geelong. There are no each-way bets with this: if you want to run for mayor of Geelong, you have to get out there, articulate your vision and tell people what you are going to do and what your platform is. There is no saying, ‘I might stand for Deakin ward and I will put my hat in the ring for mayor’. You cannot do that.
We need someone who is clearly articulating what their vision is for the City of Greater Geelong, now and into the future, and allow that vision to be articulated. There are no each-way bets here. The position of mayor is a leadership role, and that is another reason for people being able to nominate for the position of mayor or councillor only.
The mayor’s term will be four years, commencing after the council election in October 2012. Having the mayor elected by the entire community will provide a great deal of stability for the mayoralty. They would be able to project that onto the national and perhaps even international stage, as required. Obviously the directly elected mayor will fulfil the normal functions of a mayor. They will chair council meetings and be the primary spokesperson for council, as is the case with nearly all councils in the state. It is logical that, with this direct election, they should be given some additional powers to extend that power into certain committees — for example, to be able to appoint chairs to the council’s planning committee or property strategy committee. Obviously they would not be able to appoint chairs to paying positions, as we do not want any conflicts of interest — as the member for Richmond rightly pointed out earlier.
The deputy mayor will be elected from the 12 councillors. That will be for a 12-month term. There is no possibility of council extending that 12-month term, but at the end of the 12 months the councillor who has been elected deputy mayor could seek re-election. There is no issue around that.
Obviously there are certain provisions to ensure that if for some reason the mayor were to be incapacitated or unavailable the deputy mayor would fill that position and that role. Even if the mayor resigned, unfortunately passed away in office or something of that sort, the deputy mayor would take on that position as acting mayor. There would be a by-election if it was more than six months out from the next general election. If it was within the six-month period then it would be at the discretion of council whether or not to have a by-election, as it obviously would be a costly exercise, being so close to a general election. As I said earlier, the 12 councillors will be maintained in the single-member wards. There will also be the mayor at large over the whole municipality, so that ward will have 13 councillors, which will be unique in Victoria. That will only be for the next four years, after which an electoral review will take place. That will recommend having a directly elected mayor along with between 4 and 11 councillors, to bring it back in line with other councils throughout Victoria.
Obviously Geelong would be a bit closer to 12, but because of the size of the municipality it would be not such a heavy workload. With that comment, I am happy to commend the bill to the house.
Ms NEVILLE (Bellarine) — I am pleased to make a contribution today to debate on the City of Greater Geelong Amendment Bill 2011. As other members have said, this is an election commitment made by the government, which was then in opposition, in two elections, last year and in 2006. Certainly over the years there has been discussion from time to time about whether a directly elected mayor would make a difference for the city and for residents of the city of Greater Geelong.
As the local member for Bellarine over the last nine years I have had some representations from groups, certainly from businesses and the Committee for Geelong — groups that I hold in very high regard — which have advocated for the need for a directly elected mayor. These groups have argued that this legislation would give greater capacity to promote and develop the city of Greater Geelong. However, in that time I have had — and this would be a generous approximation — a handful of local residents in my electorate speak to me about the need for a directly elected mayor. I certainly have had many hundreds of residents coming to see me, ringing and emailing me about the City of Greater Geelong — but this has related to issues ranging from the need for council to prioritise certain community infrastructure investments in Bellarine to the need for improvements in footpaths and local roads. Many people have raised issues about the responsiveness of council to their concerns or, of course, about rate increases. I am sure many members in this place have experienced that.
From my experience these seem to me to be bigger issues in the minds of residents, certainly in Bellarine, than the issues that go to the question of whether we have a directly elected mayor of Geelong.
The other big issue over those nine years has been the issue of the Bellarine area breaking away from the City of Greater Geelong and re-establishing a Bellarine shire. In terms of the numbers of people concerned, that has been way above the issue of a directly elected mayor. In fact, during the last two election campaigns the Liberal Party candidates have given a pretty strong indication that this is something on the agenda of any elected Liberal state government. It was interesting today to hear the parliamentary secretary say that this is ancient history. I hope that message — that that is the real case — will be sent clearly to Bellarine residents and that a future Liberal candidate will not use this as a mechanism on which to campaign in future.
Having said that, as I mentioned, there have also been groups in the community who have argued strongly for a directly elected mayor. Geelong is Victoria’s second most important city, in my view, and it plays a very significant role in Victoria’s overall economic development. That is why, for example, we invested in very significant infrastructure to ensure that Geelong continues to play that role in Victoria. That has included the Geelong Ring Road funding, and I am sure on Friday, when the flyover is opened, the local members down there might actually receive an invitation to go along to that event. There also have been the issues of the Transport Accident Commission moving to Geelong, support for Ford, and the development of Avalon Airport, which commenced during the previous Labor government. I think the potential for Geelong to play an even bigger role is enormous.
It certainly is argued that a directly elected mayor could bring a stronger voice for advocating for Geelong and its future here in Victoria, as well as nationally and overseas. It is possible that this new model for the council will assist in securing Geelong’s future. I would say that over the last few years the council has played that role in a greater way than it had in the past, in terms of being a very strong advocate for itself and for the city that the councillors have represented. We will all have to wait and see whether a directly elected mayor will achieve that.
Certainly there are concerns about whether the model that is being presented here to the Parliament would deliver that outcome.
The mayor has no particular additional powers, aside from the power to appoint councillors to unpaid committee positions. So it does not assist in speeding up decision making, which is one of the big issues that people raise when they talk about a directly elected mayor. The mayor, and more importantly, the community, face a situation where there is potential for a hostile deputy mayor and a hostile council to cause conflict into the future. Many have argued over time that one of the problems of not having a directly elected mayor — by councillors electing a mayor for one or two years — is that this conflict will happen every year in the election of that mayor. However, we see the potential for conflict on a day-to-day basis if there is a hostile deputy and council. I think that is something we will need to have a look at.
It is my view that it is still very much contested that having a directly elected mayor will achieve the goal of having someone who can better represent and advocate on behalf of the city.
This was very clearly shown through the consultation process, during which there were differing views about not only whether we should have one, but, more importantly, what that model might be. It is also unlikely that a directly elected mayor will make a difference to the day-to-day council issues about which residents contact me and, I am sure, the members for Geelong, Lara and South Barwon. However, I genuinely hope that it works and that it not only improves service delivery but also provides the capacity to further promote and ensure a sustainable growing Geelong for future generations. I note that there will be a review of the model in two years time.
I will now make a couple of points.
I am not sure whether the Parliamentary Secretary for Local Government, when he apparently said the government does not support democratic processes and prefers guided democracy, was making a statement that indicated that the government has committed to all councils in this state now having a directly elected mayor and suggesting that if they do not have a directly elected mayor, they only have guided democracy. I am not sure if that was his comment, but it might make an interesting headline if the government is committing to directly elected mayors.
I would also ask if this will include an opportunity for all those Bellarine residents who have been promised by two Liberal candidates over the last two elections a chance to vote or have a plebiscite on, or express a view about, a Bellarine shire.
Most importantly, after numerous requests from the Borough of Queenscliffe to the minister and with promises made by the now Minister for Planning and the now Minister for Local Government and by the last Liberal candidate in Bellarine about them having a plebiscite about their boundaries, including the housing on Fellows Road, I hope there is at least some commitment to that, because the Borough of Queenscliffe has been asking for and expecting that for a very long time.
As you know, we are not opposing this bill. I hope it works positively for the community of Geelong. However, it is in no way a substitute for real action and real investment to ensure that Geelong continues to grow and prosper. What the community really wants is to ensure that the government not only meets this commitment but in fact has a plan to support the development and growth of Geelong. Community members want improved services. They want the expansion of Geelong Hospital, not just $8 million to decant some buildings.
They want a second hospital. They want improved public transport, not to just hear they are being slugged an additional $250 a year to commute to Melbourne on V/Line. What they want is better sporting facilities. What they want is action on schools that need upgrading. What they want is a safer community — where are the 70 extra police officers that were promised?
At the moment there is no pipeline of investment in infrastructure development in Geelong, which is appalling, given the nature of our community. All of the major projects currently under way or about to be opened are investments that were made under the Brumby government — from the ring-road, the Breakwater bridge, Skilled Stadium and Armstrong Creek, which is now moving slowly, to the Barwon Heads bridge. Apparently the member for South Barwon, who was a vocal opponent of the Barwon Heads bridge, is going to be there on the weekend to celebrate the naming of it and take credit for it.
These are the issues of real concern to the residents of Bellarine and Geelong. A directly elected mayor will not prevent us sliding backwards if the state government continues its disregard for Geelong and its future investment and infrastructure needs. We want good schools, good health services, good public transport and a safe community. Unfortunately there is no sign of a plan by this government for Geelong. By all means let us have a directly elected mayor; let us hope it works, and let us hope we get great, committed candidates who can afford to run, put their hands up and get elected. But this government cannot say this meets its commitments to Geelong; there are many more commitments. The Geelong city deserves an action plan, and it deserves a flow of infrastructure investment to ensure that we have a prosperous and sustainable community into the future.
Ms WREFORD (Mordialloc) — I rise in support of the City of Greater Geelong Amendment Bill 2011.
This bill will allow voters in the City of Greater Geelong to directly elect a mayor for a four-year term. If members look at Geelong, they will see it is a little bit different from other places. It is the second-largest city in Victoria — not by municipality, but by city. Melbourne is a bigger city; however, Geelong is definitely a regional city. Where else on the day after a grand final are churches decked out in white and blue and bells set to play a footy club theme song? There are not many places that do that. It stands as a separate city from the City of Melbourne, and it needs to generate its own events and continue to be distinct from Melbourne. And it needs to attract business.
This bill gives the entire community a chance to directly elect a mayor. These changes have come about because they have been actively sought by the community. The government promised that it would deliver a directly elected mayor for Geelong.
As part of the consultation process, the Parliamentary Secretary for Local Government, the member for Mornington, undertook extensive consultation with the community, and what we are delivering in this bill is exactly what the community has asked for. The bill is a reflection of what the consultation process brought about. This was not a manipulation of Labor MPs in their caucus; this was a proper consultation that was undertaken.
The change will make the City of Greater Geelong the second city in Victoria to have a directly elected mayor for a full four-year term — unless Geelong wins another premiership and makes another football player mayor for the day, as it did with Matthew Scarlett this year. Mind you, some would say that Geelong currently has three mayors. It has Cr John Mitchell, it has Bill Brownless and it has Cameron Ling. However, I think it is a great idea to give continuity to the community by having a directly elected mayor.
It will reduce the impact of the annual feud between some Labor councillors over whom their local MP has promised the job to, or something similar.
The councillors will have the chance to directly elect the deputy mayor. This is a different model to that of the City of Melbourne; however, it is clearly the desire of the community. It will give councillors some experience of being in the leadership team, and it will give the council the opportunity to re-elect the same deputy mayor if they so choose or spread it among other councillors. If the mayor resigns, dies or becomes ineligible, a by-election will be held unless it is six months before the next council election.
This will all come into effect by the time of the elections in October 2012. After the 2012 elections there will be an electoral review to change the number of councillors, because as a result of bringing in a directly elected mayor this time there will be 13 councillors — —
Mr Eren — No, 12 councillors.
Ms WREFORD — There will be 12 councillors plus a mayor, which is in effect 13 councillors, just in case the member cannot add up. There will need to be a review to bring it back in line with the Local Government Act 1989, so voting for the mayor will be by the normal preferential voting method. Each voter will receive two ballot papers, one for their ward councillor and one for the mayor.
The mayor will have additional powers, which is an important part of this bill. The mayor will be able to appoint councillors as chairs and to special committees and also appoint councillors to represent the council on other bodies. Mayoral candidates will be unable to stand for wards, which will give clarity to the voters, who will know if someone is serious about being mayor or if they do not want to be mayor and would prefer to run as a councillor.
Significantly, this bill will ensure that a mayor is not seen as having a bias in favour of a particular ward where he or she has sought to be elected as a councillor. Allowances for the mayor and the deputy mayor will be determined in the same way as they are in the City of Melbourne.
This bill, in effect, is a trial. It will be reviewed in 2014 with a view to tweaking the Geelong model. There are other municipalities in which mayors could be directly elected, at least one of which is larger than Geelong, but Geelong is unique with its regional city status and its population of 220 000. I had the privilege of being a mayor in Victoria’s largest municipality. It was an extremely active and busy role. Councillors put in long hours, and there are huge time commitments and community demands when you are a mayor. Having a directly elected mayor is a good idea, and clearly the city of Geelong is going to benefit from this. Every community group, every town and every city wants their mayor to come and visit, so it is a busy role. It is almost as busy as being an MP.
One of the things I have seen in my time in council is infighting. There have been factions within the Labor Party, and there has been a lot of interference in local government. That is not good for democracy. Also each year when mayoral elections come up in all councils there is usually a bunfight about who is going to be mayor. Having someone elected for a four-year term will give certainty to the community and the council. From my personal experience as mayor, I know the bunfight over who will become mayor probably takes your mind off the job for three months leading into the mayoral elections.
I am not saying that other councils need a directly elected mayor, but let us look at the model. Let us see what happens in Geelong, let us see how successful it is and maybe sometime in the future it could happen elsewhere. There is no commitment to this from our government, but there is a commitment to review and analyse the figures and see how successful or otherwise this will be in Geelong. The mayoral role is different in Geelong because the city needs to attract events and establish an identity distinct from that of Melbourne. Geelong needs to be a leader among regional cities. Attracting business to the Geelong area is also important.
This is a common-sense bill. It is common sense for Geelong. The community wants it, and we are supporting that. In summary, the bill allows the voters of the City of Greater Geelong to directly elect a mayor for a four-year term. The directly elected mayor is reflective of Geelong’s status as Victoria’s second-largest city, and it is driven by the community.
It is built on a model of consultation, and it comes into effect for the October 2012 elections. It will be reviewed in 2014, and it delivers on another one of the coalition’s election promises. I commend this bill to the house.
Mr EREN (Lara) — I too rise to speak to the house on the City of Greater Geelong Amendment Bill 2011. The opposition is not opposing this bill, but some of my colleagues have eloquently put forward the opposition’s concerns regarding the typical way in which this government brings bills before the house. In the 12 months the coalition has been in government we have seen a number of not-well-thought-out bills come before us. We debated one yesterday. The government shows that it thinks the bill before the house is not adequate by admitting that it will review the bill in a very short period of time — some two years.
I have concerns in relation to Geelong.
We on this side of the house love Geelong. I did a quick calculation of the monetary value of the investments that the former Labor government made in Geelong and the wider Geelong region. It comes to close to $1 billion worth of investments that took place during the period between 1999 and 2010. To indicate how much the Labor Party loves Geelong, we put our money where our mouths are. We make sure that the most important regional city in Victoria, Geelong, gets investment from the state government.
What do we see this government do for Geelong? Okay, there were concerns about the democracy of the council and the community’s desires for a popularly elected mayor. There is no question that the population would like to elect all of their officials, particularly the mayor.
If you ask the average Joe Blow out there on the street in Geelong, ‘Would you like to pick your mayor?’, he or she will say yes.
There is no question about that. But there is nothing attached to this bill that is going to improve the lot of Geelong people or how they live their lives from day to day. Announcements were recently made about the 9 per cent increase in public transport fares. Geelong is a long way from Melbourne, and there are a lot of people who commute from Geelong to work here. They are very reliant on the public transport system. I want to put that on the record. There is obviously a lot of work to be done in Geelong in relation to this government proving that it loves Geelong as we do.
A rehashing of funding occurred in relation to regional Victoria. The funding through the $1 billion plan over eight years — which is a $500 million plan per term of government — is to be shared with all the regional cities, including the growth areas like Wyndham in my electorate. Over four years $500 million is not a lot of money. When you break down the $1 billion over eight years it comes down to about $125 million a year.
When in government we spent over $125 million a year on Geelong alone.
I want to get back to this bill because it is an important bill. I really want to — —
Mr Watt — On a point of order, Speaker, I know the debate has been quite wide ranging, but I would say the member has strayed quite a bit from the actual bill, and I ask that you bring him back to it.
The ACTING SPEAKER (Mr Pandazopoulos) — Order! I ask the member to speak on the bill.
Mr EREN — He is eating into my time, Acting Speaker, but that is fine. I know that he hurts; the government hurts whenever I speak well of Geelong and of how much we have done for Geelong. I do not blame the 2-kilowatt dimwit on that side for raising some — —
Mr Watt — On a point of order, Speaker, I ask the member to withdraw.
The ACTING SPEAKER (Mr Pandazopoulos) — Order!
I ask the member for Lara to withdraw.
Mr EREN — I withdraw. It is on the record, but I withdraw.
This is a very important bill. There is no question that Geelong is a major player in all things that happen in Victoria, particularly when it comes to the economy of Victoria. As we go forward obviously there will be a lot of growth, particularly in the Geelong area. It will cover the Surf Coast shire as well, but predominantly it will be in the City of Greater Geelong. We on this side of the house acknowledge that local government is a very important tier of government; there is no question about that. It is important for all tiers of government to work together to make sure that the best outcomes are achieved for areas like Geelong.
Some of my colleagues have raised concerns in relation to, for example, the fact that the mayor of the day could be at odds with the deputy mayor of the day. Let us not forget that the deputy mayor is elected by the councillors on an annual basis, which goes back to square one, because it means that the deputy mayor will be the second most powerful position on council. There is no question that the mayor of the day, who is popularly elected, will go on holidays, get sick or for whatever reason be unable to fulfil his or her duties on some occasions. In those situations the deputy mayor will step up to the plate.
The politics that people were concerned about and which happened on a year-to-year basis when mayors were elected will transfer to the election of the deputy mayor. If it is a case of, for example, councillors being at odds with the mayor of the day, clearly it is not going to be a workable solution.
I go back to the point I made that members opposite are not even sure about how this is all going to work out, so they are going to review the situation in two years time. My point is that we deserve better than that. Geelong deserves better than that.
Back in 2004 I raised an adjournment issue in which I called for a popularly elected mayor, but I thought the government was going to put more thought into this legislation. Silly me! Obviously those on the other side of the house have not put a lot of thought into this. What we are going to have is the possibility of an unworkable council, which is going to distract from the intention — —
Mr Watt interjected.
The ACTING SPEAKER (Mr Pandazopoulos) — Order! The member for Burwood!
Mr EREN — It is going to distract from the intention of having a popularly elected mayor, and that is a concern of mine. It is a huge area and it is a concern if, for example, the person elected by the public cannot perform his or her duties accordingly and does not have any executive power to implement any of the wishes of the mayor. In this scenario decision-making power will very much belong to the 12 councillors of the day who have been elected, and they could be at odds. If seven of them got together, they could collectively be at odds with a popularly elected mayor. I am just putting some of those arguments forward, as the members who spoke before me did, in relation to some concerns.
We are still waiting on announcements about a hospital, 70 extra police and further education investments, particularly in my area. There are a number of issues that the state government needs to act on rather than bringing these cost-nothing-to-the-state-government bills before the house. At the end of the day this is not costing the state government anything.
The government has a bill before the house and of course it will be popular in the media outlets and with certain organisations, but what counts is that the public — —
The ACTING SPEAKER (Mr Pandazopoulos) — Order! The member’s time has expired.
Debate adjourned on motion of Mr CRISP (Mildura).
Debate adjourned until later this day.
8 December 2011
CITY OF GREATER GEELONG AMENDMENT BILL 2011
Mr ANGUS (Forest Hill) — It is my pleasure to rise this afternoon to speak in support of the City of Greater Geelong Amendment Bill 2011. At the outset I note that this was yet another election commitment of the incoming coalition government that was clearly put out there before the election and on which we are delivering, as we have delivered on so many others this year.
The bill deals with very simple and straightforward matters that have been clearly articulated in clause 1, which goes to the purpose of the bill, stating:
The purpose of this Act is to amend the City of Greater Geelong Act 1993 —
(a) to reconstitute the Greater Geelong City Council under that Act; and
(b) to enable the Mayor of the City of Greater Geelong to be directly elected to represent the municipal district as a whole; and
(c) to make consequential and other minor amendments.
The coalition made a very clear election commitment last year to give the residents and ratepayers of greater Geelong the opportunity to directly elect their mayor. At this juncture I should note that a significant amount of work has been undertaken by the Minister for Local Government and the Parliamentary Secretary for Local Government, who have both worked extremely diligently and comprehensively on bringing this piece of legislation into this place.
I congratulate them on their hard work.
The government said it would consult the Geelong community about the best model, and that is exactly what happened. I want to digress for a moment and look at the consultation process that was undertaken. For the benefit of the house, I note that the consultation was undertaken during March, April and May and that it included a very wide range of elements, such as the publication in March of a discussion paper, an invitation for public submissions, a public meeting in Geelong on 20 April and listening posts at eight locations around the greater Geelong area. In response to the various requests, 65 written submissions were received. There was also the publication of a consultation summary for all those who had submitted.
As part of the consultation process there was also a range of meetings with key stakeholders, including the Greater Geelong City Council, the Committee for Geelong, the Municipal Association of Victoria, the Victorian Local Governance Association and local government professionals. All the matters raised were collated, reviewed and digested, and many of the responses were published on the department’s website. It was a very transparent process, a very comprehensive process and, as I said, one that members on this side put a very significant amount of work into during the course of this year. I congratulate them on that. I mentioned that there were 65 written submissions; of those, 45 supported the principle of a directly elected mayor. A very clear majority and preferred outcome emerged, and that was a result of all the extensive work that had been put in.
I note in passing the importance of the City of Greater Geelong, Victoria’s second-largest city. It is a very important city in the state of Victoria.
It covers 1200 square kilometres, has a population of approximately 220 000 people and is very influential. It has lots of industry and a large population base — one whose members will take a great interest in the outcomes of this legislation. Interestingly, the City of Greater Geelong was incorporated back in 1849 by an act of the New South Wales Parliament. The area has a very long history. The Greater Geelong City Council was established in 1993 after the City of Greater Geelong Act 1993 was passed. As I said, there is a very long history in that part of the world, and it will continue to lead the way in Victoria by embracing this concept of a directly elected mayor.
A range of other changes will result from this bill, as I said. The new mayor of the City of Greater Geelong will have some additional powers. The mayor will be able to appoint councillors to chair special committees and do a whole range of other things on which I will not dwell. A whole range of new sections will be inserted by clauses 4, 7 and 8 of the bill, which detail the various components of the mechanics of this reform. On that note, I conclude my contribution and commend the bill to the house.
Mr McCURDY (Murray Valley) — I am delighted to rise and make a contribution to the debate on the City of Greater Geelong Amendment Bill 2011. As a former councillor at Moira Shire Council in my electorate of Murray Valley I can associate closely with the concept of direct election of the mayor. It is a great step forward for Victoria’s second largest city. Local government plays an important role at the coalface of our communities, and that is why we need to make sure that local councils have flexibility, because they see things firsthand, support both state and federal governments very well and look after the people at that level.
Prior to the election we gave many commitments, and we will go ahead and honour those commitments. One of them was to allow the people of Geelong to directly elect their mayor. This is a great step forward. The bill will give the mayor more confidence in speaking on behalf of the community, because he or she will have been directly elected, and it will also ensure more consistent leadership. As we know, mayors serve only one-year or two-year terms and then political changes take place, which results in instability in local government. This bill provides for a four-year term for the directly elected mayor, which will be a great thing for the City of Geelong.
The three main aims of the bill are to reconstitute the City of Greater Geelong council, to enable the mayor to be directly elected and to make some consequential and other minor amendments. I could go on all day about this bill, but it would not serve any great purpose as we have had a wide-ranging debate on the changes to the City of Greater Geelong.
With those words, I commend the bill to the house.
Debate adjourned on motion of Dr NAPTHINE (Minister for Ports).
Debate adjourned until later this day.
CITY OF GREATER GEELONG AMENDMENT BILL 2011
Debate resumed from 7 December; motion of Mrs POWELL (Minister for Local Government).
Mr CRISP (Mildura) — I rise to make a very succinct contribution on the City of Greater Geelong Amendment Bill 2011. Other members, particularly those close to Geelong, have already made a substantial contribution to the bill. The purpose of the bill is to amend the City of Greater Geelong Act 1993 to reconstitute the Greater Geelong City Council under that act and to enable the mayor of the city to be directly elected to represent the municipal district as a whole and to make consequential and other minor amendments.
This is an election commitment that the coalition made to the people of Geelong, allowing them to elect their own mayor.
There has been an extensive consultation process on this bill, involving talking with the people of Geelong. Some of the stakeholder meetings have been with the Greater Geelong City Council, the Committee for Geelong, the Municipal Association of Victoria, the Victorian Local Governance Association and local government professionals. The consultation outcomes favoured this bill. There were 65 written submissions, with 45 indicating their support. In some of the straw polls and other information there was substantial support within the city of Greater Geelong.
The only other municipality that has a directly elected mayor is the City of Melbourne. However, we acknowledge there will be some differences in how this measure will apply in Geelong, which is why this bill is tailored to Geelong’s needs. The city of Greater Geelong covers an extensive area and is Victoria’s second major city. It is a unique city. I wish the city’s residents the best of luck in electing their mayor and in making the transition to having a directly elected mayor. I wish the bill a speedy passage.
Mr HOWARD (Ballarat East) — I am pleased to add my contribution to the debate on the City of Greater Geelong Amendment Bill 2011. As we have heard from other speakers, the focus of this bill is on enabling Geelong to have a popularly elected mayor. That is quite a change from the existing situation of local governments other than, as we have heard, the City of Melbourne. We on this side of the house have determined that we will not oppose the bill. We recognise it embodies a commitment made by government members when in opposition, and we recognise that they will make the change. Therefore we will not oppose it.
However, with respect to those opposite having a mandate for the measure, I would note they did not win the seats of Geelong, Bellarine or Lara at the election, so whether or not they have a mandate to bring in this change could be questioned. The election vote did not demonstrate that the people of Geelong generally supported the election of the new government.
I have had reason to give the concept of a popularly elected mayor great thought over the years. I was a Ballarat city councillor and a mayor of the city of Ballarat, which is of course the third-largest city in the state and the largest inland city. I was on the council at the time of amalgamation, and amalgamation provided an opportunity for us to think about what the appropriate way would be to re-elect councillors and the mayor when the return to elected local government took place in the city. I considered the options concerning what we should have in terms of ward councillors and considered whether a directly elected mayor was appropriate.
The more I looked at the notion of a popularly elected mayor, the more I questioned whether it was a valuable way to go.
There is a concern that a popularly elected mayor might be regarded as being above the council and be no longer part of the council. We have certainly seen that in the city of Melbourne, where the position of the former Lord Mayor was almost that of a cultish figure. We knew who the Lord Mayor of the city of Melbourne was, but we did not necessarily know who the other councillors were, or get a sense that the council’s members were a team working together to address Melbourne’s issues. Particularly at the time of the Commonwealth Games the Lord Mayor of Melbourne was significantly recognised, and while that may have had some benefits, it led you to question whether there was a sense of a council as a team representing the city of Melbourne or whether the Lord Mayor was set above it.
When you have a mayor who is directly elected rather than a mayor who is a councillor among the group of councillors and who is elected mayor by those colleagues, you have the potential for that mayor not to be a part of the council as such. Clearly you can have a position where the majority of councillors may not support the mayor. In such an instance you have a clear potential for local government not to work. You can have quite an unworkable council if the mayor is not supported by the majority of councillors. Direct election is not what we have in state government, where the Premier is of course elected as the representative of his party by his peers, or in the federal scene, where the Prime Minister is elected not popularly but by his or her peers within the government. The Prime Minister is a member of Parliament within the government, is a part of his or her team and clearly has the support of the governing team in that sphere of government.
Clearly going to the popularly elected mayoral system raises questions about whether that system is going to be in the interests of the city. We have heard from government members that this is a trial or a test to see how the measure goes. We have also heard people such as the member for Geelong express the concern that to become a popularly elected mayor a person would need to have substantial resources that would enable them to run a campaign to be mayor. He suggested that only people with substantial financial resources or a resource base behind them could be in a position to run for mayor successfully. There are clearly challenges in this system.
I note the government has advised this change is only going to occur in the city of Greater Geelong. However, I have concern about the government’s motives, which are unclear, for bringing about this change. I noticed that the member for South Barwon seemed to be concerned that past Geelong mayors had come in with support from Labor councillors.
You wonder whether this change is not being brought in just so that those opposite can be more confident they will have somebody of their political persuasion come in as mayor of Geelong and that really the underlying plan behind the bill, in line with the comments made by the member for South Barwon, is to ensure somebody of the political colour of those opposite becomes mayor rather than somebody supported by Labor councillors.
There are a number of questions to be asked. I certainly have the concern that I would not want this change to be rolled out in the city of Ballarat without proper consultation, and proper consultation means you put the pros and cons of the change before the people and do a proper evaluation of it. I do not think the consultation that supposedly happened in Geelong was anything more than asking, ‘What do you think?’, without putting the pros and cons. Obviously if you ask people, ‘Do you want to elect the mayor?’, they will say yes, but if you explain and ask, ‘Do you want the mayor to be part of the council and to have the support of the council?’, they might answer differently.
There are clearly some challenges involved in this change. We will all wait and see what the change brings, but I am concerned.
I am pleased to see that the minister seems to recognise that before a change is considered for any other municipality, the government needs to wait and see what happens in Geelong and only go about such a change after proper consultation.
Having said those words, I am expressing my concern but not opposing the legislation.
Mr WAKELING (Ferntree Gully) — It gives me pleasure to speak in favour of this important piece of legislation, the City of Greater Geelong Amendment Bill 2011. It is just another example of a coalition government delivering on its election commitments.
Mr McGuire interjected.
Mr WAKELING — It is interesting that those opposite talk about it being a Labor initiative. It was a Labor initiative. On 4 November 2004 the member for Lara raised this issue in the house and called for the mayor of the City of Greater Geelong to be popularly elected. It only took until 2011 for that commitment to be delivered, and of course it took a coalition government to deliver it. I am pleased to see that we have introduced to this house legislation that demonstrates that the coalition is delivering on its election commitments.
The Geelong community made it clear to the Parliament of Victoria that it wanted a popularly elected mayor, and that is exactly the commitment that the coalition took to the 2010 election. I commend the member for Mornington, the Parliamentary Secretary for Local Government, for his initiative and leadership on this important issue. I also acknowledge the minister at the table, the Minister for Local Government, for her important work on this.
We committed to consult with the Geelong community to develop a model that met the needs of that community, and that is exactly what happened. The extensive consultation was facilitated by the member for Mornington. A model was developed, and that is what we see in this important piece of legislation. I also commend the efforts of the member for South Barwon for his advocacy in relation to this important bill. He knows firsthand the significance of the bill because he, as a former councillor at the City of Greater Geelong, knows what his local community needs.
Many in the Geelong area have raised concerns about the operation of the council. Members of the public have seen the activities of former councillor David Saunderson and current councillor Cameron Granger regarding cash for comment and conflict of interest. Their reaction demonstrates the concerns the community had with the operations of the council. This bill goes part of the way to restoring people’s faith in their local council.
In the remaining time allocated to me, I commend council representatives, who I have had the opportunity to meet, for their efforts. I have certainly had the opportunity, through the work of the Family and Community Development Committee, to meet with various representatives involved in the health and seniors communities. I commend them for the great work they are doing in that community — —
Mr Wynne — Get back on the bill!
Mr WAKELING — I think it is important, as the member for Richmond would agree, that we recognise the good, hard work done by local councils. I thank him for that support.
This bill is an important one.
It puts in place the capacity to have an elected mayor for the City of Greater Geelong in addition to the 12 councillors, as was mentioned by members before me. That arrangement will be subject to review, with the 2016 elections to involve a 12-member council, including a popularly elected mayor.
I look forward to the election of the new popularly elected mayor in Geelong, and I wish the bill a speedy passage.
Ms ALLAN (Bendigo East) — I rise to speak on the City of Greater Geelong Amendment Bill 2011. I acknowledge at the outset, as have my colleagues, that the coalition went to the last election with this as a specific commitment to the Geelong region. The opposition is not opposing the bill in recognition of the fact that this was part of the platform that was put forward by the coalition prior to the election. However, that does not mean that during the course of the debate opposition members cannot identify issues — whether they are issues we have as members of Parliament or issues we have as a collective with the structure of the bill, as articulated by the shadow Minister for Local Government — and put on record some of the real concerns we have with the proposal that is being put forward by the Liberal-Nationals coalition.
The idea of directly electing officials is one that many in our community would view as a purer form of democracy than the one we have at the moment. Those purists advocate for direct election, whether that is of a mayor in the local government sphere or a president of a republic of Australia. We all recall that engaging debate on a republic a few years ago. Purists argue that directly electing a person from the constituency they will represent is a purer form of democracy than the one that is in place at the moment.
It would be interesting to learn whether those who are putting forward this proposition that we should directly elect the mayor of Geelong would also support the direct election of the Premier of Victoria or the Prime Minister of the country — that is, instead of supporting the existing process whereby a person who is elected as leader by their peers to represent them therefore represents the community, they would support the direct election of the Premier and the Prime Minister — because it is the extension of that argument. That is why I have some concerns with this bill.
The method we have used for local, state and federal government elections has served us well for quite some time. We have had high levels of stability, which is not to deny that from time to time there may have been outbreaks of instability. There may have been times when we had rapid changes of government and rapid changes of mayors or premiers, but it is a process that has worked well for some time.
I also understand the argument that directly electing a person for four years provides stability. I understand some people in Geelong have been concerned for some time to ensure that in significant other forums one person is speaking for that community. However, the flaws in both the model in this bill and the concept of directly electing a mayor require examination.
I have a couple of concerns I wish to express. The first is in regard to people being excluded from having the opportunity to be the mayor, the civic leader of their community. The issues with this were articulated very well yesterday by the member for Geelong. The direct election model will require a candidate to run not just a local ward campaign but a municipal-wide campaign. In Geelong, a city of 250 000 people, and in a city like Bendigo, where there are 100 000 people, that will require significant resources.
Even if you just wanted to post a letter to every single voter in that area, with a 60 cent stamp for every person, the cost of the envelopes and the mailing would be significant, running into tens of thousands of dollars. Most ordinary people — most people I know — do not have those resources as individuals, and they would be excluded.
At the moment people from all walks of life can run for office and become a councillor. That is one of the great strengths of the system. No matter what their level of education or personal wealth, anyone from any walk of life can run for office as a ward councillor and then have the opportunity to become the leader of their group if they can demonstrate that they are worthy of being elected and if their peers consider that their leadership abilities are of the required level.
The model being put forward will require people to have significant amounts of personal wealth to be able to finance a campaign that will attract support across the entire municipality. If they do not have personal wealth, they will require a generous benefactor or donor to essentially bankroll their campaign. That approach opens up a whole new front of issues. It opens up issues around fundraising and probity and whether a single person is being backed with financial support by a single person or an interest group because that person or group wants their man or woman in council as mayor. There is a real potential for conflicts of interest if there is no probity and scrutiny at that level.
It is for those two reasons in particular that I have grave concerns about this bill and this model being rolled out to other municipalities across Victoria. This model would remove the opportunity for people from all walks of life to have a go at becoming the mayor of their local area.
It would introduce a level of financial bankrolling that we have not seen before in local government, and that would open up significant issues.
Another issue that concerns me is the party politicisation in local government. I can speak broadly about municipalities across Victoria, but in this instance I will speak mostly about the City of Greater Bendigo. One of the risks with this model is that political parties will run fierce campaigns to elect to local government a person of their political persuasion. I am not a Pollyanna; I know that already members from all political parties are elected to local government. In the City of Greater Bendigo we have had Liberal Party members — I often talk about the campaigns in which we have been engaged on both sides of the debate in recent years. We have also had Labor supporters, and in recent years the Greens political party has run campaigns and held mayoral positions for a couple of years.
What happens mostly is that they leave their party politics at the door. What I have been pleased to see in Bendigo for some time now is that councillors do not always vote along party lines. They do not vote as a block but put aside their party politics, as they should. They come to the table and vote in what they think are the best interests of the community.
This approach of directly electing the mayor will open up the potential for greater party politicisation of local government in areas where we have not had it before. I cannot speak for Geelong or Ballarat. I can speak for Bendigo because that is the area I represent and we have not had that high level of party politicisation.
As I said, we have had people from political parties run for office — and good on them; that is their right and their opportunity — but they have left their party politics at the door. If we have a mayor who has been elected on a Liberal Party ticket or a Nationals ticket, they will be required to toe a certain line that comes with the party support and resources that were needed to run the campaign. That is why I am concerned about this bill.
I note that the minister has said there will be a review of how the Geelong model is performing and its future will be considered. I very much hope that the government considers carefully the issues we have put forward today and consults with us and others more widely than it has to date on what will happen in the future.
I do not see the need for this model to be rolled out more broadly at this point in time.
That is not to say that I will not see the need for that in the future or that it will not happen in the future, but I hope the issues that we have put forward will result in some criteria and a public policy position being argued and articulated by the government and not just by a handful of people calling for this. It has to be something that keeps local government within the realm of the people. It is the level of government closest to the people, the grassroots level of government, and I would hate to see the average Joe or Jane have the opportunity to be the mayor of their local community taken away from them.
Ms MILLER (Bentleigh) — It gives me great pleasure to rise to speak on the City of Greater Geelong Amendment Bill 2011. I would like to respond to a point made by the member for Bendigo East. We have talked about fairness, equality and the risk of political influence at the local government level, but the Labor Party opposition has a very short-term memory. The people of Victoria have a long memory, which winds us back to a local council called Brimbank.
We certainly know what happened at the Brimbank council.
Mr Wynne — On a point of order, Acting Speaker, this bill is about the City of Greater Geelong. I know the member for Bentleigh is a new member and is still learning the trade, but she ought to contain her remarks to the bill itself. The bill pertains to the City of Greater Geelong and provides for a popularly elected mayor. It does not provide an opportunity for or invite the member for Bentleigh to canvass other matters pertaining to local government more generally. She knows that. It is not an opportunity to take cheap political shots. I ask you to bring her back to the content of the bill.
Mrs Powell — On the point of order, Acting Speaker, the member for Bendigo East raised issues around the Bendigo council and other councils. The member for Bentleigh was talking about another council and should not be limited to talking about just Geelong.
The ACTING SPEAKER (Mr Northe) — Order! I do not uphold the member for Richmond’s point of order at this point, but I ask the member for Bentleigh to not stray too far.
Ms MILLER — I just wanted to make the comment that the member for Bendigo East talked about the risk of political influence at a local government level, and I was merely pointing out that one of the many local councils in Victoria is the Brimbank council, and we know what the Labor Party did with that. I will leave that issue there, but it was worth noting that for the people of Victoria so that they are aware of it.
This is a very important bill, particularly to those in the Geelong region. The government gave a very clear election commitment to the people of the city of Geelong and the rest of Victoria that it would allow them to directly elect their own mayor.
The reason we knew they wanted to be able to do that was that we went out to the people. We asked them what they wanted, we listened to what they wanted and we are now delivering on what they want.
This is important, because the opposition has a very short-term memory. It does not have the ability to ask, it does not have the ability to listen and it certainly does not have the ability to deliver. It is this government, which has now been in office for one year, that is listening and delivering. At the next state election I am certain the people of Geelong will give some consideration to the election commitments that we are delivering.
The city of Geelong is approximately 75 kilometres from Melbourne. I spent a lot of time there in my previous role as a health-care practitioner, and it is a lovely place to live, work and raise a family. The local government plays a great role in representing its constituents. It currently consists of 12 councillors, one of whom is the mayor. What we did was have a consultation process. We went out and asked the people what they wanted. We set up several listening posts — eight around the city of Geelong — and we had a public meeting. I am not sure if the opposition understands the term ‘public meeting’, but we had one. We listened, we took things on board and now we are delivering.
Mr Wynne interjected.
The ACTING SPEAKER (Mr Northe) — Order!
The member for Richmond is very loud today.
Ms MILLER — From the feedback we received from that consultation process we developed a model format, and we are now putting that to the people and giving them the opportunity to elect their own mayor. Obviously this will be a popular person, but it will also be a person who has a vision — a vision for the city of Greater Geelong and what is best for Geelong. They will not be told, ‘This is what you will have done’ and ‘This is what you will have where; it has been identified’. We will actually allow them to make their own decisions; nor will we be parachuting people into the city of Geelong. We will not be putting our own mates or people of our political persuasion into this role.
This will be an independent election that will be conducted by the City of Geelong. This government allows democracy.
We allow freedom of speech, we allow for freedom of choice and we do not install people where we believe they should be. If somebody wants to put their hand up to be a councillor, they can do that. If they do that, it will preclude them from putting their hand up to be mayor, though. If someone wants to put their hand up to run for mayor, they have every right to do so. The separation of roles will mean that there will be an additional person on the council and will ensure that the person elected as mayor will have a vision for Geelong.
There were 65 submissions received as part of this consultation process, which is a considerable number. Obviously there was enough interest generated throughout the community for people to put pen to paper and put their ideas forward. The people of Geelong have a voice, and I think it is very important that they be heard. This government has listened, has heard and is now delivering.
I have to say this comes as quite a shock to some of the people of Geelong and of Victoria because they are not used to being asked what they would like. They are not used to being heard on the subject of what they would like, and they are quite shocked that what they want is going to be delivered, because in the past, over the last decade, we had a government that just told people what it was going to do. It told people there was going to be a consultation when in fact what occurred was not a consultation process. We know the very good consultation process that occurred about the Windsor Hotel!
Here we have a very open, transparent government, a government that is listening to the people of Victoria, listening to the City of Greater Geelong and is now delivering to the people of greater Geelong. That is important, and I would like to thank the member for Mornington and the member for South Barwon, who also made a significant contribution to this consultation process. I think as a result of that they have got to know the people of Geelong — —
Mr Wynne interjected.
The ACTING SPEAKER (Mr Northe) — Order! The member for Richmond is very loud today. I ask him to stop interjecting.
Ms MILLER — They have got to understand what the people of Geelong want, and as I said, we are now delivering. I know that whoever has the opportunity to be elected as mayor of the City of Greater Geelong will find it to be an incredible role. They will have the opportunity to go out and talk to and listen to the people, to understand what they want, to look at the demographics within the city of greater Geelong and to see it from an economic, social, housing, work and education — you name it — perspective. Everything is open; everything is an option. The mayor will have the opportunity to make their mark on not only the first year of their term but also the future in their role as mayor.
The incumbent in that role will be elected by the people and for the people, and that is very important for the people who live in Geelong. I commend the bill to the house.
Mr PANDAZOPOULOS (Dandenong) — This is a bill that delivers on an election commitment that was resoundingly opposed by voters in Geelong. There are four Legislative Assembly electorates that cover Geelong. The government won only one of those electorates. When considering this bill it is important we put this in context. The government went through a consultation process, but the reality is that this is an imposed position on the community, not a consensus position arrived at by the council — or sought by it — or, in a broader sense, the Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV). There are some good principles about public good and good governance in relation to some of the direct election models, but also, I think, part of the attraction of a directly elected mayor is ensuring that that they will be the mayor for the full four-year term. There are a range of different models that are needed to be able to deliver that.
The reality is, as opposition members have said, that this is really a politically motivated decision. One council has been chosen because it has generally delivered councillors who are not of the political liking of the current state government.
Government members want to create a different system that provides a more competitive environment for them so they can get someone from their side of politics elected, because the conservative side of politics has form. I know very few Liberal councillors or councillors who are from The Nationals, but many councillors happen to be members of those political parties! When I was a local councillor and on the MAV executive, it was being said we cannot politicise local government. But most of my colleagues around the place were members of the Liberal Party and The Nationals. Generally people from the Labor Party and other parties out themselves, and the conservatives tend to be independent until they finally — —
Mr Wynne — Run for preselection.
Mr PANDAZOPOULOS — It is until finally they run for preselection or someone bothers to accumulate their voting decisions and look at the relationships they have with certain political parties.
We have to get over the silly argument and belief that we have in Victoria that there are no politics in local government in Victoria; there are politics in local government in Victoria. Previous governments have put more responsibilities on local councils. There are larger councils and more difficult decisions to be made. There is a whole range of public policies that mean that people with political interests are interested in getting involved. They are concerned about the community, but the complexity of all the policy areas and responsibilities in relation to local government naturally attracts people who are interested in public life and being part of the political process. That is why people end up joining political parties.
It is in the interests of all political parties that people who are interested in public life and politics are involved in political parties.
I do not think what we are seeing in our political system at the moment is good. All parties have declining membership rates and narrower membership bases. We should get over this argument that there are no politics in local government. This will add another dimension of party politics in the City of Greater Geelong.
There will be a review in a couple of years time.
I hope it is the intention of the government as part of this process to not only have a look at how it will work — it is extremely unlikely that the government will say it has failed; it is more likely that the government will say, ‘We want to roll it out to other areas’ — but, and I think this will be good, to develop a model with the Municipal Association of Victoria initially, because at the end of the day local government is about partnerships and not about imposition.
If local governments do the wrong thing, sometimes we have to impose certain things on them — we have the power to do so under the Local Government Act 1989. Generally it is about developing parallel policies, working together, respecting the different roles we all have and focusing on models of good governance.
With all the extra responsibilities, I think there is a public argument about mayors serving four-year terms.
Every council should also have a deputy mayor, because mayors are now so busy that they need extra support. People need to know who the next alternative leader will be if something happens. Technically we could amend the Local Government Act to make sure that after every election, a newly constituted council — even if we do not use a model that includes a directly elected mayor — determines its mayor, who would serve a four-year term. It is a public argument.
I have experienced the benefit of a rotating mayoralty. It is a great time and a great opportunity. I also accept that not everyone can be the mayor. There are a whole lot of good people who miss out in the process. What we need are the most competent, community-based people who have the support of their community and their council to strategically think for the long term and have the authority to act, with the support of their council colleagues, to pursue those issues that are of strategic importance and benefit to their local community.
There are many cases where councils are internally divided. I will be blunt about this: whilst it is a nice, democratic thing to enable everyone to be mayor, the reality is that in some cases and instances — and it is similar to what we find in Parliament — some people are not going to be the best performers, but they get through the process and they have the support of their colleagues. In those environments I think it is undemocratic to have officers taking over the responsibility of directly elected people partly because of divided councils not being able to make decisions. That is where local government ministers and inspectors often have to try to intervene. That is not a good outcome for the community.
Maybe these things can be resolved using a different model if the directly elected mayor model is not chosen. But if you choose that model, you should take local government with you. Agreed limits should be set so that there is not American-style politics where the biggest spender, or the popular sportsperson or actor, gets elected, because that is not good governance either.
Issues about transparency and donations are in the act, but we should have the debate — which is a difficult debate for all of us — about spending caps.
If there are spending caps, it is much more suitable to apply them in a local government context if it is hard to set that limit at the state and federal political level. That model and that range of consensus should be developed.
In a couple of years time if it is the intention of the government to roll this out to a whole lot of other places, I can see — if that consensus is developed — some good public outcomes being achieved, because it would provide a confidence in it being a much fairer environment. Resources have to be found — you have to find resources to run for Parliament — but it will set some reasonable limitations in relation to spending, and it will create a more competitive environment for more people to be able to realistically participate rather than voters being given nominal choices but not real choices in terms of what is in front of them.
There will be leaflets in letterboxes.
This direct election model will mean there will be billboards everywhere in some country areas. Advertisements will be run on radio and TV. By definition there will be a very expensive campaign. If there is only one person who can compete in that space, that is not the most democratic form. If the government is serious about direct election models, it needs to have a look at the reasonable limitations set in other jurisdictions. There are many jurisdictions where direct elections take place. But reasonable limitations should be looked at and maybe then some consensus should be developed.
The peak local government body in Victoria, the MAV, should be involved in and supportive of a strategic rollout maybe sometime in the future, or there should be a different model that would ensure that we have long-term mayors and deputy mayors and four-year election cycles.
The ACTING SPEAKER (Mr Northe) — Order!
Now is a good time to break for lunch. The debate will resume after the lunch break.
Sitting suspended 1.00 p.m. until 2.02 p.m.
Business interrupted pursuant to standing orders.
CITY OF GREATER GEELONG AMENDMENT BILL 2011
Debate resumed from earlier this day; motion of Mrs POWELL (Minister for Local Government).
Motion agreed to.
Read second time.
Motion agreed to.
Read third time.