The following is Hansard parliamentary transcript of the debate in the Victorian Legislative Council over the bill to establish a directly elected mayor for Geelong. Grab another cup of tea (or another wee dram) and enjoy.
8 December 2011
CITY OF GREATER GEELONG AMENDMENT BILL 2011
Introduction and first reading
Received from Assembly.
Read first time for Hon. M. J. GUY (Minister for Planning) on motion of Hon. G. K. Rich-Phillips; by leave, ordered to be read second time forthwith.
Statement of compatibility
For Hon. M. J. GUY (Minister for Planning), Hon. G. K. Rich-Phillips 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 Council 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.
Matthew Guy, MLC
Minister for Planning
Ordered that second-reading speech be incorporated into Hansard on motion of Hon. G. K. RICH-PHILLIPS (Assistant Treasurer).
Hon. G. K. RICH-PHILLIPS (Assistant Treasurer) — I move:
That the bill be now read a second time.
Incorporated speech as follows:
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 TEE (Eastern Metropolitan).
Debate adjourned until next day of meeting.
7 February 2012
CITY OF GREATER GEELONG AMENDMENT BILL 2011
Debate resumed from 8 December 2011; motion of Hon. G. K. RICH-PHILLIPS (Assistant Treasurer).
Mr TEE (Eastern Metropolitan) — I welcome the opportunity to make a contribution to the City of Greater Geelong Amendment Bill 2011, and I say at the outset that the opposition will not oppose the bill. We recognise that this is an election commitment of the government.
In terms of the contents of the bill, it provides that from the next election in October 2012, the Greater Geelong City Council will consist of a directly elected mayor with 12 councillors representing 12 wards and that following the election in 2016, it will consist of a directly elected mayor and between 4 and 11 councillors who will be elected either at large or through a ward structure. This is to be determined through a Victorian Electoral Commission review. The bill provides that a candidate for mayor will be precluded from standing for the position of councillor and, if both nominations are lodged, the second nomination is rejected. There is as part of the bill an effort to impart or increase the powers of the mayor by giving the mayor authority to appoint council representatives to outside organisations and committees so long as they are not remunerated for those positions.
As I indicated, the opposition does not oppose the bill.
However, there are a number of concerns that we wish to identify — that is, markers that we wish to put out there — in terms of the issues that we will be monitoring to ensure that the bill and the model contained within it are successful. I suppose the first concern we have is that the directly elected mayor model might preclude a number of candidates from running because there would be a significant financial impost if you had a campaign which covered a large electorate.
The issue we will be monitoring is whether or not the cost impost of running a modern campaign for mayor in this day and age will disenfranchise many in the community from standing and contributing. We would be very concerned if, in the name of increasing democracy, it was stifled because individuals were precluded from standing, from being elected and from making a contribution to public life because of cost.
Another issue that concerns us is in the way the model is presented — that is, it appears, and this is unlike the City of Melbourne model, that you might get a circumstance where a mayor is elected but does not have the support of other councillors in the chamber. You might have a mayor who does not share the support of the other councillors who have been independently elected. Our concern with that is the stability of the council and its capacity to run effectively when there might be a degree of gridlock, indecision and frustration. We hope that situation will not occur because we support a stable and effective representative model, but it is a concern with the way the model has been constructed that you might get that outcome.
Our other question is about what will flow on from this decision in terms of a consistent policy approach. What are the implications for other councils or communities which may feel they want the same type of governance? If other councils or communities say they want what Geelong has, what will the government’s policy response be? Where is the consistency in an approach that determines that one council can get this model but another council cannot? We would probably prefer to see a degree of rigour in terms of the government’s approach rather than a one-off outcome. For example, what is the policy position for other regional cities like Bendigo or Ballarat? What would the government say to those communities should they wish to use the same model?
As I said, the opposition does not oppose the bill. We accept the government’s mandate as a result of the election. We are concerned about a number of issues, which we have flagged. We have put them on the record, and we will continue to monitor them as time goes by.
With those few remarks, we will not oppose the bill.
Debate adjourned on motion of Mr BARBER (Northern Metropolitan).
Debate adjourned until next day.
9 February 2012
CITY OF GREATER GEELONG AMENDMENT BILL 2011
Debate resumed from 7 February; motion of Hon. G. K. RICH-PHILLIPS (Assistant Treasurer).
Mr BARBER (Northern Metropolitan) — This bill and the promises that the government has made alongside it will prove to be a bit of an illusion to the people of Geelong, and I will explain why I think that is the case. The government has gone as far as suggesting in a press release that the bill represents direct democracy for the people of Geelong.
Direct democracy is where citizens get to vote on each individual item that is put before them, representative democracy is the opposite of that, and what the government is offering here is just a plain old version of representative democracy dressed up as something else. The government is implying that this will create a whole new style of democracy in Geelong, whereas in fact people may be disappointed when they find out the morning after the election that the new mayor they have elected is simply another councillor among a dozen others and has no more say or any special powers or anything that distinguishes them from an ordinary councillor.
This of course is the system we have here in the City of Melbourne, in that inner municipality, and you can see that phenomenon here on display. Robert Doyle was elected Lord Mayor of Melbourne on a number of policies, but those policies have never been implemented because he was the only guy who supported them.
Mr Doyle said that there would be no more junkets but pretty quickly he was off to Vladivostok to inaugurate a park bench because he knew that as one councillor he could not set the council’s policy on travel. Mr Doyle ran for Lord Mayor and was elected on a platform of putting cars back into Swanston Street but I do not think he could find another councillor to even second the motion, and in fact the council as a whole determined that it would take cars out of Swanson Street. Mr Doyle did have a third policy which he took to the election but I have forgotten what that was. I am pretty sure that is because that policy did not get up either.
For those in the know it was exactly the same with John So, Mr Doyle’s predecessor. In fact some of Mr So’s policy propositions did not even last until voting day before he had to recant them, such as his idea — his thought bubble — to deputise council officers to arrest drug dealers.
What the government is setting up here is sort of a fake version of a presidential contest or perhaps a fake US-style mayoral contest. In the United States the mayor runs everything in the city. Robert Doyle even tried to convince us that he was the guy who ordered the police into the City Square to remove the Occupy Melbourne protesters. I have news for Mr Doyle and for the people of Geelong — he is not Rudy Giuliani and he does not run the police force or do any of those things, but he continues the illusion that he has something beyond his one vote on the floor of council.
What we will see in Geelong, as we saw here in Melbourne, is a huge media focus on the election of one man, and it will be someone who is either a millionaire or who is backed by millionaires, because that is what it takes to mount one of these campaigns. Yet at the end of the day he has no more power than that of an ordinary councillor; he is simply a symbolic figurehead.
When it comes to the vote and when it comes to the crunch, that person has just one vote. It is for the government to explain how this measure is going to live up to the rhetoric of its media releases. Most people will have seen more of the media releases, publicity and fanfare the government has been trumpeting about this than they will have seen of the actual legislation. Personality-driven politics is infecting our political system. We saw it with the federal Kevin07 campaign where people thought it was a presidential race and that they were voting for Kevin Rudd. How shocked were they when Kevin was taken away summarily and replaced with another person.
That is the nature of our Westminster democracy. If the Prime Minister or the mayor turns out to be no good, you do not have to suffer under them for another four years: the councillors, your representatives in your representative democracy, can actually do something about it without it becoming an ongoing problem.
Americans would say that their system is the greatest in the world, but ours is different in that way, and I think our system is more stable and a truer configuration of representative governance. I am also a big fan of local councils. I have been on one, and I have seen a lot of them around the country. In a previous occupation I worked with many different councils in all of the Australian states on action on the environment and climate change, so I think I am reasonably qualified to talk about local government and what it can do for you.
In the City of Melbourne citizens will be electing both the mayor and the deputy mayor on the one ticket with one vote. That is usually accompanied by a supporting councillor ticket which is at large across the whole of the City of Melbourne municipality. Often you find the Lord Mayor brings a couple of councillors with him and has something close to a majority, although not a full majority. That will not apply in Geelong at all. It would be virtually impossible for the person running for mayor to also run candidates in all the local council wards and lock up control of the council. While there may be some excitement associated with a first-time contest where every citizen gets to elect the mayor, people will find that the council will still function very much in the same way. This frisson of excitement that the government has brought forward with this bill will evaporate.
The Greens believe that there is only one improvement that can really be made to our representative democracy, and that is proportional representation. We do not believe in winner-takes-all contests. We think when a particular political force needs to compromise on its agenda and sometimes has to negotiate on some of its excesses it is better overall for the population. In the federal polls I have seen most Australians have agreed, by the way.
Few Australians would like to see a government that controls both houses. As we know, the coalition government has that control in Victoria, by tiny voting margins in each house. Some MPs in this house slid over the line, and in the lower house 127 votes in the seat of Bentleigh gave the government its working majority.
In a system that values stability, compromise and consensus it is not great to have a government in a winner-takes-all situation. It often leads to people needing to throw out that government at the following election, whereas in more proportional systems we find that the government’s majority can be reduced sequentially over a series of elections, forcing it to compromise and pull in a bigger part of the voting base and its representatives in order to get its measures passed. That allows the public to put the brake on a government over time.
Under winner-takes-all systems voters tend to just throw a government out when they do not like it, losing the baby with the bathwater and without always getting something better in return if another government comes in and thinks it has a mandate to make radical changes.
For that reason the Greens support proportional representation. It is a newly introduced form of voting for Victorian local councils. I was elected to local council, but not under a proportional representation system. We proposed proportional representation for the City of Yarra. Now the majority of councils in Victoria have some sort of multimember ward system. Perhaps not every ward has one, but many councils have multimember wards with members elected under the proportional representation system. As each round of reviews has come around the number has increased. The measure in this bill is going in the other direction.
The single-member contest for the mayor of the City of Greater Geelong may see someone who cannot even get a majority and who only after preferences scrapes over the line with 50 per cent plus 1 vote scoop the pool.
The Greens will always advocate for proportional representation systems. Two-thirds of the world’s democracies use proportional representation. Here in Australia we tend to look more to the United States of America and the United Kingdom, which do not use it. However, our mother Parliament in the United Kingdom is moving in that direction, albeit slowly. For that reason alone the Greens will not support locking in a measure in legislation that is designed to entrench the unsatisfactory winner-takes-all system, especially when that mayor will then be treated as an ordinary councillor. While they may have the status and title — for which, no doubt, many of the candidates will be competing — the ordinary bread-and-butter work of the council as a whole will be done by the individual councillors working diligently for their electorates.
For that reason the Greens will oppose the bill.
Mr KOCH (Western Victoria) — As a great supporter of local government, Geelong and western Victoria, it is a privilege to speak on the City of Greater Geelong Amendment Bill 2011.
Mr Lenders interjected.
Mr KOCH — Roll on! I congratulate the Premier and the Minister for Local Government for pursuing this commitment at the last election. Now having my electorate office in the Geelong electorate, although not living within the boundaries of the city of Greater Geelong, I appreciate the importance to the Geelong community of having a directly elected mayor.
Over a long period of time the majority of Geelong ratepayers have sought this opportunity, and to that end my former colleague John Vogels, in his role as shadow Minister for Local Government, made a commitment in 2006 that if the coalition gained a majority at the 2006 election, it would implement it at the 2008 local government elections.
It was no surprise that soon after the success of the coalition at the 2010 state election the Minister for Local Government, Jeanette Powell, pursued a commitment to give the Geelong community the opportunity of electing its own mayor directly. The minister has also assured the Geelong community that a further 12 councillors will be elected to single member wards. It should also be noted that those candidates who are unsuccessful in being elected to the position of mayor will not be able to contest other ward councillor positions.
The Geelong community has long supported the principle of participating in a direct election of its mayor, not dissimilar to the Melbourne City Council albeit under a different dedicated act. To that end the Geelong daily newspaper, the Geelong Advertiser, has on two separate occasions run surveys on this proposal. The results in both surveys were overwhelmingly in favour of a direct mayoral election. On Saturday, 20 February 2011, 73.9 per cent voted in favour of this proposal and on Saturday, 7 March 2011, that percentage rose to 78.5 per cent. These survey results clearly demonstrate the city’s mood.
The results were not surprising, as many of Geelong’s leaders, along with now opposition members John Eren, the member for Lara in the Assembly, Lisa Neville, the member for Bellarine in the Assembly, and the former member for South Barwon in the Assembly, Michael Crutchfield, and many Geelong ratepayers see the merit in having the mayor they want instead of the ongoing political plotting that has taken place in the past for this position.
Even the current mayor, Cr John Mitchell, who did not warm to the proposal when it was first mooted, now recognises the associated benefits after being elected by his councillor colleagues to the mayoral position over the last four consecutive years. He recognises the advantages to his community of having a mayor directly elected by the people as something that will advantage this great city.
The only MP to doubt the benefits of this legislation is the member for Geelong in the Assembly, Ian Trezise. This is a bit surprising because it has been on his watch as the local member for Geelong that this city, which offers so many attributes, has not benefited from the 12 political islands or wards, as they are better known, over recent years. The former Labor government did not recognise or give the council the opportunities in planning or the support necessary to take this city to greater heights.
Mr Trezise’s only beef is that the cost of any sort of campaign to contest the directly elected mayorship will be out of reach of all but the extremely wealthy. To that I say: what nonsense. It is a cry from the dark past of his factional colleagues, who, although he refuses to join them, would tout this as a negative in the full knowledge that Geelong will only slip further behind the challenges that confront a city of its size. I, like many, scratch my head in amazement at this thinking.
One only has to look at the last mayoral elections to see what took place in the City of Melbourne. This argument just does not stand up as the successful Lord Mayor at that election was well outgunned financially by candidates who did not garner the necessary support at the ballot box. It is a silly argument that has little validity and was also not expressed during the community consultation period.
I have to say that I was a little bit surprised that our colleague from the Greens, Mr Barber, is also of this thinking, strongly believing that this will be a very expensive campaign able to be afforded only by the few or by backers who may represent those few candidates. I do not think his thinking is either what I would term as progressive or supportive of what is being put before the chamber here today.
Unlike the former government, the Baillieu government was adamant an open and transparent consultation process would take place. At the direction of the Minister for Local Government, the Parliamentary Secretary for Local Government, David Morris, undertook a long and successful process by releasing a discussion paper, holding a public meeting at city hall, setting up eight listening posts at various sites within the municipality and providing an early morning opportunity for comment by commuters at the Geelong railway station, which had positive results.
Several major stakeholder meetings also took place and were attended by the Municipal Association of Victoria, the Victorian Local Governance Association, the Greater Geelong City Council, the Committee for Geelong and others to encourage public submissions, of which 65 were received.
This was an excellent process through which many people made a great contribution and also indicated that at the first election in 2012 the direct election of the mayor only was preferred instead of both the mayor and deputy mayor. The minister accepted this position and indicated this may be reviewed at a later stage.
It must be acknowledged that Geelong is just one of Australia’s 12 second tier cities, along with the likes of Toowoomba in Queensland and Wollongong in New South Wales, but it remains the only one without a directly elected mayor. It should also be noted that Geelong has come of age, and its community has sought this initiative so that the city gains the recognition and support for growth and development from both the state and federal governments along with industry leaders and entrepreneurs. Geelong has much to offer, be it in industry, transport, aviation, tourism, city and coastal lifestyles and employment opportunities, both in Geelong itself and also in Melbourne, with living affordability and transport linkages in close proximity to our capital city.
This is good legislation. It is a good model that answers the calls of the Geelong community. There has been a rigorous consultation process with industry stakeholders, local government bodies and the Geelong community via a public meeting, listening posts and public submissions. It is recognised that a robust and effective local government body that is not plagued by factional bodies and politics is essential in gaining better opportunities, growth and development for this city.
This is an outcome that will give Geelong the strength and support, both at state and federal levels, in growth, development and employment, and it will be watched by other local government bodies in Victoria who have voiced their approval of such legislation.
No longer can Victoria stand by as other interstate second tier cities gain advantages to which cities like Geelong should have equal or greater entitlement. Like so many other Victorians, especially residents of Geelong, I look forward to this year’s October local government elections that will see Geelong become the first of our second tier cities to directly elect its mayor.
The challenges confronting rural and regional communities may well be unrelenting in the coming months and years. I think we are all seeing that before us to some extent now. The stability, compromise and real initiative of local government in both small and large municipalities is going to be paramount if we are to succeed, and Geelong is certainly no exception from that point of view. The opportunity will not be lost on Geelong come October, and I look forward to the outcome of those elections. In saying that, I commend the bill to the house and acknowledge the opposition’s support.
Ms TIERNEY (Western Victoria) — I rise to make a contribution to the debate on the City of Greater Geelong Amendment Bill 2011, and I do so not only as a member who proudly represents Western Victoria Region but also as a ratepayer in the City of Greater Geelong. In the first instance I will take this opportunity to raise some general issues. I will then go into some of the specifics of what has occurred in Geelong in recent times. There are three major issues that have been raised with me, which were also mentioned in the other chamber.
The first of course is the issue of the cost involved in running for mayor, in terms of postage, printing and advertising, and the genuine concern that a considerable slice of the community will just not be able to afford to nominate and run a campaign. I have heard what Mr Koch and others have said about that, but I do not think this issue can be pooh-poohed or hit back across the table tennis court. It really is an issue that goes to the heart of the shape of our democracy and people’s access to it.
It is of enormous concern also because this tier of government is the tier which is closest to the community, and we should ensure in every possible way that every member of the community can access it and indeed nominate and run for public office. I raise that concern, and I will not walk away from that issue.
The second issue I wanted to raise is the issue of an elected mayor versus a deputy mayor who is elected by his elected councillors. I am concerned about this situation possibly leading to dislocation and instability where a mayor and a deputy mayor disagree on issues or indeed disagree with each other on most things. Related to that is the possibility of a generally elected mayor of a council on which there is a group of councillors who are the majority and who do not support the mayor who has been elected. Again, I think this will potentially lead to instability and gridlock on issues, and I think it could divert the council from pursuing the legitimate concerns of the people of Geelong.
They are the three main points that have been put to me time and again, and I really look forward to the review that it has been stipulated will occur in 2014 on how those sorts of issues will be teased out and dealt with, because I think they are legitimate issues.
I will say a couple of other things in the wider context of this bill. The first is that if this government was serious about the concept of an elected mayor or mayors, whether in Geelong or in a wider context, I think it could have done a much better job of bringing on board key stakeholders, whether in the Geelong community or the wider context. I do not think the government has done a good enough job of bringing on board key stakeholders like the MAV (Municipal Association of Victoria). I think that is a shame and a missed opportunity.
I think that in a lot of ways the government has essentially wanted to impose a model that it has had in mind instead of working cooperatively with key stakeholders, and I can only think that maybe it was concerned that the stakeholders might have wanted to have a genuine discussion and tease out all the issues related to this concept, and that that is why the government essentially chose not to bring people on board and to work in partnership with them. You only have to read the MAV submission to the exercise that was conducted — submission 54 — which says:
The MAV is of the view that any proposal for significant change to the electoral structure of the City of Greater Geelong needs to be accompanied with a clear and detailed discussion of the benefits and any disbenefits on democracy and governance, and the additional cost to the community and council…
I simply say in this chamber today that this did not happen. It simply has not occurred. I also should mention that yes, there have been direct discussions with the City of Greater Geelong on numerous occasions, but the council sent a letter to the Minister for Local Government in May and still has not received answers to a range of key questions contained in that correspondence. That is quite disappointing.
I am aware too that the Liberal Party took the issue of a directly elected mayor to the 2006 and 2010 elections.
That resonates in my mind as I deal with this issue. But I think it would be a failure on my behalf if I did not provide some of the overarching political context for this — that is, the local context for this issue in Geelong. I acknowledge that some organisations have always been key advocates for a directly elected mayor in Geelong — for example, the Committee for Geelong, which has lobbied all political parties vigorously for a very long time. I do not have an issue with this at all; that is their right, and they have been effective in prosecuting their claim.
The Geelong Advertiser has also run a campaign in the newspaper for a directly elected mayor, which it is entitled to do, and I have no issue with that. However, I do take issue with the way the government has dealt with this proposal and how it has conducted itself throughout the process. I know very few voters at the last state election understood the Liberal Party to have a commitment to a directly elected mayor in Geelong.
It was not an election issue in the wider community, because there were other more serious issues in that election. I know it was not a vote changer in Geelong — the seats of Lara, Geelong and Bellarine were retained by Labor — and I cannot remember anyone in South Barwon believing the directly elected mayor concept was an election issue.
When we went to the polls in the Geelong area, issues that were at the forefront of people’s minds were things like a second hospital for Geelong, community safety, police numbers, transport, a library and heritage centre, the education spend, a Torquay secondary school, roads funding, sporting and recreational facilities, the protection of the environment, the provision of child care and a new emergency services centre, just to name a few. The directly elected mayor issue did not figure at all. I think it was a sleeper.
I think even the Liberal Party was well and truly asleep at the wheel on this one; that was, of course, until some institutional proponents came knocking at its doors wanting the concept to be delivered. What occurred then was panic. How could this new system be implemented and imposed on the electorate whilst drawing a veil of consultation over the process? I say ‘imposed’ because on page 2 of the government’s own document, which is titled ‘Directly elected mayor for Greater Geelong — consultation submission’, it says:
The government has decided that the residents and ratepayers of Greater Geelong should have the opportunity to directly elect their mayor.
I could talk in great detail about the process and provide a critique of it in terms of consultation, but I do not think it would serve any purpose at this point in time. I will say, firstly, that I believe the consultation submission pro forma was innately biased.
Secondly, I think the consultation process was lacking in terms of how it was done. It may have ticked all the boxes for a bureaucrat who was sitting behind a desk in Melbourne. It may have been a tool that government MPs could use in this debate to indicate that certain things were talked about by certain people at certain times. But essentially there was not a serious or genuine consultation process in my view, and I think a lot of the people in Geelong knew this. That is why there was a relatively low participation rate in the consultation process.
Sixty-five submissions were received. The house needs to understand that of those submissions only 29 explicitly supported the proposition of a directly elected mayor. That is right; 44.6 per cent of the population who engaged in the process indicated a preference for a directly elected mayor. That figure is not made up; it is described on page 2 of the government’s document titled ‘Direct election of the mayor of Greater Geelong — consultation summary’.
Essentially what we have here today is an example of how not to go about creating good public policy or good legislation. I can understand that political parties talk to different organisations and individuals and make election promises. It goes to the heart of how we go about our business. But it beggars belief when an issue such as this, which goes to the heart of how local government operates, is dealt with without vigorous debate on the pros and cons, without the pros and cons being properly pointed out and where partnerships have not been formed in the lead-up to the initiation of good policy and inclusive implementation processes. What we have been left with is a whole range of questions that remain unanswered by individuals, and the City of Greater Geelong is still waiting for answers to and clarification of a lot of issues. The net result of this is a spatial vortex. We are being asked to watch this space.
From an opposition perspective, I can say we will be watching this space.
I agree with the shadow Minister for Local Government, Richard Wynne, the member for Richmond in the other place, who said in his contribution that this is a wait-and-see proposition. The ratepayers of Geelong deserve better than a wait-and-see proposition. They deserved a better process leading up to this bill, and they deserve — —
The ACTING PRESIDENT (Mr O’Brien) — Time!
Mr RAMSAY (Western Victoria) — It gives me great pleasure to rise to speak in the debate on the City of Greater Geelong Amendment Bill 2011. In doing so, firstly, I would like to acknowledge my parliamentary colleague David Koch, who lives and breathes Geelong, and commend him on his great representation of the residents of the city of Greater Geelong.
This is in direct contrast to Ms Tierney, who lives in Preston but purports to advocate for the communities of — —
Ms Tierney — On a point of order, Acting President, I have raised this issue in the house before: I do not live where Mr Ramsay indicates I live. I live in the city of Greater Geelong. I live in St Leonards, and I have two properties in the city of Greater Geelong.
The ACTING PRESIDENT (Mr O’Brien) — Order! There is no point of order.
Mr RAMSAY — As I was saying, I look forward to the opportunity to continue to work with my colleague David Koch, who represents the Geelong region with gusto and, as I was also saying, this is in contrast to the previous speaker. I am a little confused about whether she is supporting the bill or not.
She provided a whole lot of negatives, but at the end of the day I suspect she will be sitting over on the same side of the chamber as the government, if there is a division in relation to this bill.
I support this bill for a number of reasons. A very important one is that my family has had a very strong affiliation with Geelong. We have over many generations traded wool, grain and livestock through the Geelong selling centres and participated in a number of leadership roles within the Geelong community. We have also been active in supporting the growth, wealth and potential opportunities for the Geelong community and have actively supported investment within the Geelong region to enable that to happen. I have been a very strong supporter of the Geelong Football Club as well, as has my family over many years.
My daughter got married in the beautiful Geelong Botanic Gardens last Saturday.
It is pleasing to see after 10 years of drought that the gardens are now absolutely flourishing. The gardens are a very special part of Geelong, as is where my daughter had her wedding reception on the waterfront. Having mentioned that, it gives me the opportunity to acknowledge the very important contribution that past Premier Jeff Kennett made to revitalising the waterfront, which looks absolutely beautiful at the moment. It also gives me an opportunity to acknowledge a previous sitting member for Geelong, the late Ann Henderson, who contributed to the development of that waterfront. I congratulate, as I said, the previous Kennett government in relation to — —
Ms Tierney — On a point of order, Acting President — —
The ACTING PRESIDENT (Mr O’Brien) — Order! I warn the member that it had better be a proper point of order and not an interruption, but I will listen to her on the point of order.
Ms Tierney — On a point of order, Acting President, I ask you to ask the member to bring his contribution back to the matter before the house — the bill.
The ACTING PRESIDENT (Mr O’Brien) — Order! There is no point of order. The member is being relevant to the bill.
Mr RAMSAY — What I am doing is providing some background in relation to my family’s connections to Geelong and the importance I see in this bill of allowing the Geelong community to have a democratic right to elect a mayor of its choosing. I certainly will move on and speak to that issue, but I thought it was important that I first describe the connections that our family has to Geelong and the importance for me personally of the Geelong community’s views being listened to and the Baillieu government’s response to those views. That is the essence of the bill that is before the chamber now.
The other important reason for supporting this bill is that this is a commitment to the Geelong community made back in 2006, reconfirmed in 2010 and now being delivered as a key Baillieu government election commitment.
Geelong is the second largest city in the state and the largest regional city. It has a very active consortium of leadership groups, including the Committee for Geelong, City of Greater Geelong councillors and even sitting members of Parliament on all sides. Ms Tierney and the community leaders have all, over time, called for a local government structure that would allow the mayor to have the ability to drive a vision and a strategy for a city that will prosper without the hindrance of political interference and a lack of decision making and with the expertise to deliver the projects and job opportunities vital for growing a regional city. Sadly we have seen many local councils, particularly in the Western Victoria Region which I represent, where that is not the case.
The Geelong community has demonstrated quite clearly over the years that it wants the democratic right to elect its mayor. It is only now that we have a government that has the courage to give the Geelong community that right. With it comes a democratic endorsement to speak on behalf of the Geelong community and advocate for the city’s interests without fear or favour.
An important step in the formation of this bill was the extensive consultation the government undertook both in submissions and surveys. I commend the Parliamentary Secretary for Local Government, David Morris, who is the member for Mornington in the Assembly, on his thoroughness and commitment to making sure all key stakeholders were consulted. The model for this bill reflects the work that Mr Morris and his committee undertook.
At the next local government election in October 2012, after this bill is passed, the mayor of Greater Geelong will be directly elected to represent the Greater Geelong community. Through the ballot papers voters will vote twice: once for the mayoral position and again for the ward councillor candidate in their ward.
I believe this process frees up the mayoral responsibilities as against the ward responsibilities and for the first time gives the Geelong community a real opportunity to judge the merits of the mayoral candidates on leadership, vision, aptitude and the desire for the good of Greater Geelong, rather than the perception of bias in favour of any particular ward.
It is fair to say that a directly elected mayor may disadvantage those who do not have the resources to fund a mayoral candidate campaign, but my view is that the people of Geelong, given the opportunity, will not be bedazzled by glitz and glamour and will support those candidates who stand as passionate, committed leaders and have the prosperity of Geelong as their core motivation.
The success of this model will be reviewed in 2014 and compared to the City of Melbourne model.
I think the success of this model depends on the mayor having the responsibility for allocating chairs or special committees within council and deciding which councillors act as representatives in other organisations. This allows a partisan team with similar ideals to act in a cohesive and amiable manner whilst providing support to the mayor. I also believe having a mayoral term of four years will provide stability and allow for implementation of the strategies that might otherwise be lost under yearly terms of office.
The deputy mayor is to be elected by the ward councillors. It is less clear if this is consistent with the wishes expressed in the community consultation or a continuation of the ward structure, but a decision was made not to change the ward structure for the next election. The deputy mayoral role is only for 12 months, but obviously he or she can seek re-election.
This bill and model, given that the bill amends the City of Greater Geelong Act 1993 and provides a model structure of 12 ward councillors and a directly elected mayor with a total of 13 councillors, are unique to Geelong and do not apply to any other council.
Apart from the importance of delivering on an election commitment, the Baillieu government has given the 220 000 residents of Greater Geelong a say in who they would like to have as their mayor, and the proposed model is a first step in the overall structure. Whether or not time will dictate a consistency with the Local Government Act 1989 or improvements in the structure, this is a good start. I preface that remark by saying that the residents of the city of Greater Geelong now have a responsibility to identify suitable candidates for the mayoral role. The government has done its bit: it has fulfilled its election commitment and provided people in the city of Greater Geelong with an opportunity to vote for a directly elected mayor.
It is now the responsibility of the city of Greater Geelong to encourage those they believe are skilled or appropriate to stand as candidates for the position of mayor.
In closing, I raise a couple of other important points. The decision of the City of Greater Geelong ratepayer voters in choosing a mayor in the October election is going to be critical for Geelong in the upcoming years. Only today we have seen how tenuous the manufacturing industry in Geelong is, with the possibility of Alcoa losing 600 direct jobs and over 1800 indirect jobs if a study indicates that the viability of Alcoa in the aluminium-making process cannot be sustained in the Geelong area. We have heard about Ford and about many other manufacturing industries which are critical to the future of Geelong, so the position of mayor will be an extremely important role for Geelong in the coming years.
As I said, we saw the potential that Geelong has to offer in the Kennett years; we now see the potential that can be delivered through the Baillieu years. I look forward to October, when at long last the City of Greater Geelong ratepayers and voters can take the opportunity to vote for a directly elected mayor who will have sole responsibility for driving the future, the vision and the needs of Geelong, a city that will become one of the most endeared regional cities in the world. I commend this bill to the house.
Mr ONDARCHIE (Northern Metropolitan) — I rise today to speak on the City of Greater Geelong Amendment Bill 2011. Other members, particularly those close to Geelong, have already made substantial contributions. I congratulate those members, particularly Mr Koch and Mr Ramsay, for their contributions to debate on this bill today.
It is a bill that seeks, under the City of Greater Geelong Act 1993, to reconstitute the City of Greater Geelong council to enable its mayor to be directly elected and to represent the municipal district as a whole and not just one particular ward. I commend coalition members who put a lot of effort into the city of Greater Geelong, particularly Mr Katos, the member for South Barwon in the other place, whom I know is a very strong advocate for that city and is doing a marvellous job down there to represent its people.
This is an election commitment that the Baillieu coalition government made to the people of Geelong to allow them to elect their own mayor. The city of Greater Geelong is about 75 kilometres from Melbourne and is a lovely place to work, to live and to raise a family. It has a really great football club down there as well, perhaps the greatest team of all. When the footy club is doing well, the city of Greater Geelong is doing well.
On that note, I congratulate Geelong Football Club president, Colin Carter, and the board; chief executive officer, Brian Cook, and the management team; coach Chris Scott, and Cameron Ling and the playing group for delivering that all-important AFL premiership cup to the city of Greater Geelong. On that note, I wish Joel Selwood and his charges a speedy time into the season.
The bill will amend the City of Greater Geelong Act 1993 to reconstitute the council of the City of Greater Geelong to make sure we have a directly elected mayor down there. It gives legislative effect to a commitment the government made to the people of Geelong. For those who are unsure about how to get to Geelong, my office is in Northcote, which is very near Preston. I travel down to Geelong for the football fairly regularly, and I am very happy to give advice to people who might want to know — other members in the chamber; Ms Tierney, for example — how to get from Preston to Geelong. It is quite an easy journey up High Street from Preston to Geelong.
Ms Tierney — On a point of order, Acting President, this is the third time I have had to raise in this house the subject of where I live. I am sick and tired of it being stated or implied that I live other than where I live. I live in my electorate and I live in the city of Greater Geelong.
Mr ONDARCHIE — On the point of order, Acting President, I did not at any time — and Ms Tierney is free to read the Hansard record if she wishes to — suggest in my contribution that Ms Tierney lived in Preston. I said I was happy to advise other members of the house who might be interested in how to get from Preston — for example, Ms Tierney — to Geelong.
The ACTING PRESIDENT (Ms Pennicuik) — Order! There is no point of order. However, I advise Mr Ondarchie, if he is listening, to keep to the text of the bill and not stray into other areas or make false statements about other members.
Mr ONDARCHIE — This is an important bill because it gives a municipality of such state and regional significance the governance arrangements to help it grow and prosper. There are many members in this house and in the other place who are strong advocates for watching the city of Greater Geelong grow and for helping the people in that community to have a directly elected mayor who has been endorsed as someone to speak on behalf of the community and advocate for the city’s interests nationally and internationally without regard to one particular ward.
This is a very important bill. The mayor will be elected for the full four-year term of the council, which will ensure consistent leadership for that council.
The government undertook extensive consultation with the community and key stakeholders including Greater Geelong City Council itself. The coalition has listened. We had a real consultation process.
Unlike the sham consultation process we saw initiated by the previous government with the Windsor Hotel redevelopment, this was a true consultation process. We went out and asked the people what they wanted. We set up several events to listen: I think there were eight listening posts around the city of Greater Geelong, and we had public meetings and discussions. I know the member for South Barwon in the other place, Mr Katos, was at those public discussions, listening, conferring, deciding and advocating. Mr Katos did a great job, as did Mr Koch, Mr O’Brien, Mr Ramsay and other members here to support the development of the city of Greater Geelong.
I am not sure if the opposition understands what public meetings are. This is where we go out and listen to the people, hear what they have to say, confer, amalgamate their judgements and become advocates for them. We do not sit down in a particular office in West Melbourne and make all those decisions for the people of Victoria; we get out and listen. We had many meetings. We listened, we took things on board and now we are delivering. We had extensive consultation processes with the people of Geelong. As I said, we talked with the of 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 from other information we know there was substantial rapport in the city of Greater Geelong.
Taking half a step back, on 4 November 2004 the member for Lara in the other place raised this issue and called for the mayor of the City of Greater Geelong to be popularly elected. It took until 2011 when the Baillieu coalition government arrived in Victoria for that commitment to be delivered. Of course it took a coalition government to deliver it. It is a coalition government that continues to deliver for all Victorians. I am pleased to see that we have introduced this legislation, because once again it demonstrates that the coalition is delivering on its election commitments.
The Geelong community made it perfectly clear to the Parliament of Victoria that it wanted a popularly elected mayor. Mr Koch has talked openly about that in the community and in this place.
I commend Mr Koch on his advocacy for his constituents. He is getting out there and listening. There are other members opposite who could take his lead. I also commend the member for Mornington in the other place, who is the Parliamentary Secretary for Local Government, on his initiative and leadership on this very important issue under the stewardship of the Minister for Local Government.
Candidates who decide to run for local government in the city of Greater Geelong will have to nominate whether they are running for the position of mayor or the position of local councillor for a particular ward. Dual nominations will not be allowed. At the next local government elections in October 2012 the mayor of Greater Geelong will be directly elected to represent the entire community. The form of the election will be by preferential voting. The election will be held at the same time as the election of the councillors. Each voter will receive two ballot papers; one for the mayor and one for the council.
Mr Elsbury interjected.
Mr ONDARCHIE — I agree, Mr Elsbury; it is not rocket science, but that is what is going to happen. Limiting nominations to either mayor or councillor recognises that they have distinct models. Councillors will be responsible for their constituents in one particular ward, whereas the mayor will be responsible for the entire city of Greater Geelong. The minister has done a fantastic job in promoting this initiative with great support from members like the member for South Barwon, Mr Katos, who have driven hard because they have listened hard to their constituents. Mr Katos is not driving a far distance down to his electorate; he lives there.
Hon. M. J. Guy — I live in Preston.
Mr ONDARCHIE — Mr Guy lives in Preston, but Mr Katos lives down in Geelong.
After the election the council will be required to elect one of the councillors to be deputy mayor. The term of office of the deputy mayor will be up to 12 months, and a councillor may be selected for successive terms. The deputy mayor will perform the duties of the mayor when the mayor is not available, and if the position of mayor is vacant for a period of time, the deputy mayor will become the acting mayor.
Specific provision is being made for the 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 allowances for the Lord Mayor and deputy lord mayor of the City of Melbourne. The mayor will be able to decide which councillors will be council representatives on other organisations, except for remunerated positions, which will continue to be appointed by the council. 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, Robert Doyle, except that the Lord Mayor’s powers are broader and subject to delegation by the council. The model proposed in the bill for the City of Greater Geelong is slightly different from that of Melbourne City Council. It reflects feedback from the Greater Geelong community, a community whose residents we have been out to see, to whom we have listened and whose views we have heard. We have made promises, and now we are delivering.
After the new model has been in operation for two years the government intends to review its effectiveness in comparison to the Melbourne model. This is about continuous improvement, something this state has not seen for the past 11 years. The Baillieu coalition government is delivering for the state of Victoria, and it continues to improve the lives, wellbeing, health and safety of its constituents.
The review that will be undertaken after the two-year period will also consider whether a model for the direct election of mayors should be available to other councils, and I suspect that as I get out and talk to my councils and communities I will hear similar messages, but we will know after the review in two years time. I suggest to other people who live in their electorates that they get out and talk to their local communities as well.
The bill’s provisions aim to enhance leadership and representative democracy in one of the most significant councils in Victoria. We talk about having good and appropriate governance in this state. Many people 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 Grainger regarding cash for comment and conflict of interest issues. Their reaction demonstrates the concerns the community has had with the operation of the council, and this bill goes a long way to restoring people’s faith in their council.
If you want to talk about local government and how to improve it, the name Brimbank comes to mind. It comes to mind when I think about appropriate levels of governance. We have talked about fairness, equality and the risk of political influence at local government level, but the Labor opposition has a very short-term memory. What happened in Brimbank?
Interestingly enough, those who have heavily populated the opposition benches this afternoon have failed to talk about the lack of governance in Brimbank.
This bill is another example of the Baillieu coalition government taking appropriate government initiatives in the state of Victoria. The reason why we knew we had to do it was that we went out and asked; we went out and listened. Members who live in their electorates went and spoke to their constituents. I know Mr Katos does not like driving long distances to talk to his constituents. I know Mr Koch does not drive long distances to the city of Greater Geelong because he spends a lot of time there, as does Mr O’Brien. It is called consultation.
This is a significant initiative, and as the people of Victoria we should take off our hats to the Minister for Local Government and representatives down in Geelong. This is a fantastic initiative.
It is another example of the Baillieu coalition government demonstrating leadership for the people of Victoria and the people of the city of Greater Geelong and giving them a chance to have a popularly elected mayor, someone who will stand up well for the local community in which they live. They will not travel long distances. My office is in Northcote, and I do not travel much down to Geelong other than for the football. I wonder if other people do. Having a popularly elected mayor of the City of Greater Geelong will be a magnificent step forward for the people of Geelong.
Mrs Peulich interjected.
Mr ONDARCHIE — As Mrs Peulich correctly interjects, of the people and for the people. The mayor will also live amongst the people — something we all should do. I commend the bill to the house.
Mr O’BRIEN (Western Victoria) — It is with great pleasure that I rise to speak on the City of Greater Geelong Amendment Bill 2011 on behalf of the coalition government, which is delivering this election commitment after an extensive period of consultation with the people of Geelong and with various local government bodies, such as the Victorian Local Governance Association, the Municipal Association of Victoria and other concerned organisations that made submissions.
In that regard I commence my contribution by commending the work of the very able team in the local government ministry of the Baillieu-Ryan coalition government. It is a true coalition ministry, headed by none other than the Honourable Jeanette Powell, the Minister for Local Government and member for Shepparton, ably assisted — particularly in relation to this bill — by the Parliamentary Secretary for Local Government, David Morris, the member for Mornington in the other place.
The two of them have done a great job in dealing with a potentially difficult issue.
As was highlighted in the contribution from Mr Barber, there are differences in opinion as to how to deliver a directly elected mayor. However, that coalition policy was taken to the election, and from the submissions received during the consultation process it was clear that the citizens of Greater Geelong favoured a directly elected mayor. There were arguments about the type of model, but the model that has been delivered — a directly elected mayor with a deputy elected by the other councillors — while different from the City of Melbourne model, is appropriate for the City of Greater Geelong. It will be a great step towards realising the potential Geelong has always had.
It is important to look at the history of Geelong and to understand its past, how it has found itself as a city and where it can see itself in the future. I will not spend too long on this, but it is important to note that Geelong was incorporated before Victoria came into existence. It was incorporated under a New South Wales act in 1849 before being established as a city. The story goes that it was then unfairly treated by Melbourne because it was not depicted as being in as close proximity to the goldfields as it actually was. Some cheeky Melbourne-based cartographers depicted Melbourne as being closer to the goldfields, and that resulted in Melbourne being a much larger metropolis and Geelong being a smaller, well-defined place.
However, that does not mean that Geelong’s potential greatness as a city has not been slowly fulfilled. With the election of the coalition government and the delivery of a directly elected mayor, who will offer more than a symbolic role and play an important ceremonial and leadership part in that city, we see a great future for Geelong.
I would like to dispel one of the myths that came from one of the opposition speakers — I think it was Ms Tierney — that the coalition government is not bringing anything to the City of Greater Geelong apart from a directly elected mayor. If you look at some of the policies — both election commitments and subsequent decisions — that have been implemented in the 14 months in which the coalition has been in office, it is clear that we are delivering not just a directly elected mayor but many of the features that a truly international city requires.
The Minister for Planning, Mr Guy, fast-tracked the approval of the land for the Deakin University campus in Waurn Ponds. There has been a feasibility study for relocating the car trade to the port of Geelong to create 1000 jobs. There is $1 million for the planning of a new Grovedale railway station for the underserviced part of Geelong and also to pick up on the lack of infrastructure planning during the 11 years of the previous Labor governments. There is the upgrade to Skilled Stadium, or Simonds Stadium, as it is now known — or as I prefer to call it, Kardinia Park — which will be a premier venue for the premiership side and will enable larger crowds to attend AFL matches and other suitable entertainment events. There is $15 million in funding for the Geelong Library and Heritage Centre, which is a significant delivery. The funding, in combination with federal government grants, was the result of a united push by the councillors of the City of Greater Geelong, the Committee for Geelong and G21, which has been a good part of that as well.
This will be a significant development, and it is also important in relation to Geelong’s heritage and history, as I have touched on
Mr Ramsay has referred to some families in this debate. My family’s only involvement is that we settled in Moriac, in the Geelong area, in the 1840s. Another significant contributor to Geelong is Barwon Health, and for 10 years my brother has been a member of the infectious diseases team at Geelong Hospital, which is part of Barwon Health.
All this combined will enable Geelong to power ahead. As a smaller city than Melbourne, I believe it offers greater potential for accommodating some of the growth that will occur in Victoria without compromising its heritage and amenity or facing the same infrastructure and capacity constraints that for Melbourne may be a legacy of the last 11 years of Labor government planning decisions. The bill provides a great opportunity to continue the furtherance of Geelong.
In relation to issues regarding Geelong, one of the important things the coalition government will not be doing is making things harder for businesses, because Geelong is fundamentally a town of working and manufacturing businesses. We will not be putting an extra strain on the important manufacturers in Geelong with measures like a carbon tax. I need to mention that, because in my view that will be a tax on Victorian businesses and Geelong businesses, and it will not be a tax on importers.
Ms Crozier interjected.
Mr O’BRIEN — Ms Crozier said it is a shameful tax, and I agree. It is a shameful and misguided tax because it will hurt Geelong businesses without reducing carbon emissions. In relation to the growth of Geelong, we look forward to the federal election.
Hopefully the federal members for the Geelong area will lose their seats and give them up to coalition members who will deliver back to Geelong a regime free of poor policy commitments such as the carbon tax.
Other coalition achievements in Geelong include the very important $80 million public housing development for the disadvantaged in Norlane. It is a significant development that will bring 320 new homes. We have also provided $650 000 in emergency funding for the Geelong Performing Arts Centre, which will be important for the spiritual side of Geelong. Spirit is a vital part of the mayoral role, and I commend the current mayor, who gives good speeches and who is very inclusive and a good leader. Cr Mitchell is always including the coalition and acknowledging its achievements.
The new mayor will be decided by the electors, but the role of the mayor is important in unifying and leading the spiritual role of a city. That is why the coalition commitment to the Geelong Performing Arts Centre is an important thing. The performing arts centre building is located opposite the council offices and the heritage centre.
There is the $3 million Avalon rail link. There is also the $2 million planning study into restoring passenger services to the rail route between Geelong and Ballarat. It may one day be reopened, perhaps 150 years late for the mining boom that occurred in the 1850s, but nevertheless it is growth and development that we can plan as part of Geelong being an international city.
There is the cruise ship development opportunity which may be delivered to Geelong, again through the coalition government. It is at the feasibility study and planning stage, but it has great potential for the harbour of Geelong. The importing of cars can also be delivered through Geelong harbour as well as the exporting of manufactured goods. Aluminium production and car production are important. Cars being built in Geelong, provided we do not have a carbon tax for too long, will enable the city to keep powering ahead.
In relation to the operation of the new council under the bill, there will be opportunities for further review and consultation on the number of councillors in the proposed model.
I would like to commend the previous speakers Mr Koch and Mr Ramsay, who do a great job of representing Geelong, as well as the member for South Barwon in the Assembly, who is a former Geelong councillor and also does a great job of representing his important part of Geelong. Living not in Geelong but south of Geelong I am a constituent of his. I do not think it necessarily matters where you live in relation to Geelong as long as you support the city. International tourists and all Victorians will come to recognise what this bill and what the coalition government will deliver for Geelong, which will be a well-planned, harmonious city working towards its potential in the 21st century.
I will pick up one other point that was made by Mr Barber. He talked about issues of potential conflict with mayors and the parallels with parliamentary democracy in terms of representative democracy and proportional representation. Councils are something slightly different to state governments.
There is a democratic element in the election, but under present models councils do not have the ministerial accountability that is in the Westminster system. Ministers are the heads of their departments. Councillors serve on committees, which is a very valuable thing, but there are differences in issues. The traditional borough or city corporation is inherently a model that serves for local government.
A directly elected mayor can provide leadership in the situation where the town elects a hardworking citizen, who is often of a non-political background, as opposed to many of us who enter this chamber through our political parties. Sometimes mayors have a political background, but often they are the traditional good local champion. In that regard they can serve their community in a local way and in a symbolic way. A community will have greater ownership of a directly elected mayor.
It is for those reasons that this is a good model to bring to other international cities, and it will be a great model to bring to the international city of Greater Geelong. With those few words, and without any further ado, I wish all those standing for council elections in the Geelong area in 2012 the best of luck, and I commend the bill to the house.
Mr ELSBURY (Western Metropolitan) — It is my great pleasure to speak in favour of the City of Greater Geelong Amendment Bill 2011. This bill brings into effect the commitment the coalition made to the people of Geelong at the 2010 election that they would be given the opportunity to directly elect the mayor of their city. According to the City of Greater Geelong website, the municipality is forecast to reach a population of over 225 000 this year, and the population is expected to reach 300 000 in 2031, with a growth rate of 1.58 per cent. This makes Geelong by far the largest of our regional cities, and with its rate of growth it is set to maintain that distinction.
Geelong has a culture all of its own. A port city with its roots in the wool trade, it has developed into an industrially driven community, with Ford, Blue Circle Southern Cement and Shell being major employers. As we have become acutely aware over the last week, much of this industry will be heavily impacted upon by the federal government’s poorly thought-out carbon tax. I dread to think what will happen to the manufacturing jobs right across this region when that particular piece of legislation takes full effect later this year.
I will not pretend to live in Geelong, but I do know the passion of the members who represent that area. For a short period of time — 31/2 years — I went to Deakin University’s Waurn Ponds campus, and I was also a representative on the student body at the time, the Geelong Association of Students, so I did spend a lot of my university time in Geelong getting to find out just how wonderful that community is.
As I said, Deakin University and the Gordon Institute of TAFE provide the community with a sound base of educational opportunities, and this government has supported the community with funds for the Geelong Performing Arts Centre renovations, $15 million for the Geelong Library precinct redevelopment project and the continuing development at Kardinia Park, which seems to keep growing and growing.
I believe it has been well documented that those on the other side of the chamber continue to bemoan the Kennett government for its perceived lack of interest in the regional areas.
However, I remember that during the 1999 election campaign it was the Kennett government that developed a series of policy documents: one for the regional centre of Bendigo; one for the regional centre of Ballarat; and, strangely enough, one for the regional city of Geelong. It seems weird that a government which kept being accused of being Melbourne-centric released a series of policy documents looking at the needs of each of those regional centres, especially Geelong. The argument those on the other side put forward saying that the Kennett government did not care about the regional areas of this state has no foundation in fact.
The passion of people in Geelong needs no more evidence than their strange relationship with their football club, the Cats. From the perspective of someone who neither lives in Geelong nor supports that club, the passion this organisation can arouse in people from all walks of life and from every corner of the city is astounding.
We only have to look at the reaction following their premiership win last year and the fact that you can have clock ornaments dressed in Cats regalia to see just how passionate people in Geelong get about their city and about their club.
Given the uniqueness of Victoria’s largest regional city, it only makes sense that we give the people of Geelong the ability to determine who their civic leader will be. The mayor being elected for a four-year term by electors from across the city will mean that the holder of that office can concentrate upon the needs of the entire community for the duration of the council’s term. The office of mayor is not weighed down by the politics that arise every year in municipalities where the mayor is elected from among peers. That form of election can be a distraction from the duties of the mayor and of councillors. Having said that, Geelong holds the unique position of being a regional city with a substantial population where the method of election of a mayor can work.
For the time being in suburban councils the status quo will remain. The former member for Keilor, Mr George Seitz, would be most dismayed by my comments, given his strong desire to move from being a back-seat driver in the Brimbank City Council. Mr Seitz has put his hat firmly in the ring not only for council but for the mayoralty in particular. Given the mess in which Labor left the Brimbank City Council, I respectfully ask Mr Seitz and Labor’s faceless men and juntas to leave that municipality alone.
For the second time this week Labor’s contribution to debate has belittled local government. Just yesterday we heard that the opposition planning spokesperson did not trust the City of Hobsons Bay to make decisions on planning issues which impact on its people, its municipality and its communities. What we heard in today’s contribution is that, despite the extensive consultation by the government, Labor does not believe the people of Geelong have the ability to make a choice about how they want to elect their mayor.
Under the system we are establishing, after two years the government will review the effectiveness of the system for the direct election of the mayor in Geelong compared to the Melbourne system, and will consider whether other councils could be offered the option of having a directly elected mayor in their municipalities. We are doing a test case, and we are putting down the foundations. We are seeing with two different models of directly elected mayor whether this system can be spread out to other municipalities. Again I hope George Seitz reconsiders putting forward his nomination for that position should we choose to provide people in other municipalities with the option of directly electing their mayor.
In the process of moving Geelong to this model of directly electing a mayor, the government has consulted extensively with the community to see what people’s views are.
Some of the matters that have been mentioned include a concern that someone could stand for the office of mayor and at the same time stand as a councillor. That concern has been dealt with, and this bill precludes a person from seeking the mayor’s post and being able to put themselves forward as a candidate for one of the councillor positions. This provision not only ensures that a person will not win two positions, which would require a supplementary election, but also ensures that the candidates are focused on the position to which they aspire — so that you have someone who is completely focused on the job at hand, a mayor should go for a mayor’s position and a councillor should go for a councillor’s position, and never the twain shall meet.
The mayor will be elected by the preferential voting system. Some may have their view on this method of election, but it is a method that will ensure that everyone has a say. The first-past-the-post method of election allows a person with a small percentage of the vote to win, even though the majority of people did not intend them to win. An example of this is that a candidate who receives only 30 per cent of the popular vote could win, because the other three candidates share only 70 per cent of the vote between them. It is my belief that the preferential voting system allows for the least disliked candidate to win. It allows for people who do not get their primary candidate across the line to say, ‘This is not my first choice, but I will certainly give this other guy or girl a go’.
The system of electing councillors in 2012 will remain: 12 councillors in 12 single-member wards. With the mayor added, this will make the City of Greater Geelong a municipality of 13 representatives. The Local Government Act 1989 requires that a council comprise not more than 12 councillors. The City of Greater Geelong Amendment Bill 2011 allows for this deviation to occur until the 2016 local government elections, before which a representation review will be undertaken to develop a council comprising 11 councillors and a directly elected mayor.
The powers of the mayor will be expanded from those of a mayor elected by peers for a single-year term who can chair council meetings and represent the council at official functions; the mayor elected by all of the community will hold greater authority in state, national and international-level meetings through their greater representative role.
Excluding remunerated positions, the mayor will have the power to appoint councillors to represent the council in other organisations and appoint councillors to chair special committees. Remunerated positions will remain under the management of the council in session. Given the greater role a directly elected mayor will undertake, remuneration will need to match the status of the office. While no specific amount has been nominated, the minister may seek an order in council to specify the mayor’s allowances. This is the same as the process that is used for the City of Melbourne.
The model adopted for the City of Greater Geelong reflects community attitudes and feedback. This means that Geelong and Melbourne, although they have directly elected mayors, will have councils that are constituted according to the desires of their communities. With council elections to be held on 27 October, this bill comes before us with time available for those wishing to put themselves forward for the mayoralty to get their affairs in order.
This will encourage the best field of candidates to put themselves forward and allow current councillors to consider whether they aspire to the office of mayor.
I should recognise the great work that has been done by the coalition members working across that region. We have the member for South Barwon in the Assembly, Mr Katos, who, as a former councillor of the City of Greater Geelong, would have a great amount of knowledge of the inner workings of that organisation. We also have David O’Brien, Simon Ramsay and David Koch, who are members for Western Victoria Region and all partook in gathering the information that has come together to ensure that the community’s needs on this issue have been heard.
I support this bill for the good governance of the City of Greater Geelong and for the benefit of the people who call Geelong their home.
Mrs PEULICH (South Eastern Metropolitan) — I join the chamber to make a few comments on the City of Greater Geelong Amendment Bill 2011. If there is an opportunity to speak about local government, I am usually very keen to do so, because I am a great believer in that tier of government. We have seen that tier being substantially abused in some high-profile examples where people have lost sight of what they are there for. It never ceases to amaze me that so many councillors who serve on local governments have never read the major piece of legislation that governs them — the Local Government Act 1989. They probably do not even know it exists.
In prefacing my comments, I would like to refer briefly to the role of council and then make some specific comments in relation to the bill before the chamber. Section 3D under ‘What is the role of a Council?’ says:
(1) A Council is elected to provide leadership for the good governance of the municipal district and the local community.
(2) The role of a Council includes —
(a) acting as a representative government by taking into account the diverse needs of the local community in decision making;
(b) providing leadership by establishing strategic objectives and monitoring their achievement;
(c) maintaining the viability of the Council by ensuring that resources are managed in a responsible and accountable manner;
(d) advocating the interests of the local community to other communities and governments —
and that advocacy is a really important role —
(e) acting as a responsible partner in government by taking into account the needs of other communities;
(f) fostering community cohesion and encouraging active participation in civic life.
I am never more heartened than when I see a government confronting issues head on and coming up with reforms to address them and to make sure that this very important tier of government that has the capacity to impact so directly on individuals and local communities is being addressed and strengthened.
I commend the minister on this piece of legislation, which is also to deliver on an election commitment. The City of Greater Geelong Amendment Bill 2011 seeks to amend the City of Greater Geelong Act 1993, and it will reconstitute the council to include the mayor, who will be directly elected for a period of four years.
It is interesting to see suburban mayors come into office. It is a great honour to lead a municipality, but just as they get good at their role, their term comes to an end, and then there is another shift. It takes them six months or so to adjust to no longer being there and six months for the incoming mayor to start getting the hang of the job. I guess this is a really important experiment. We saw the very first case at the City of Melbourne, and I was a part of the first task force that reviewed the operations of the City of Melbourne and came up with a recommendation for the electoral system that we have seen evolve over time. It was interesting to see how those reforms affected the culture, so it will be interesting to see how this experiment pans out.
It offers enormous possibilities and a great deal of optimism for a city and a region that has always looked to its iconic identities and community leaders to unite its diverse interests and communities. One must almost become blindly pro-Geelong.
A great example of that was the late Ann Henderson, the former Liberal member for Geelong, with whom I had the great privilege of sharing an office before she became a minister. There was no-one more fiercely one-eyed about Geelong than Ann Henderson. She was a great example and a great advocate for the area, but she has been succeeded by someone who is also a wonderful example of what it is to be pro-Geelong in the current member for South Barwon. It is great to see him moving into that role and doing it so well.
The prospect of having a mayor serve a community for four years and provide the sort of strategic leadership and advocacy this bill will enable is very exciting for Geelong, given the level of consultation that has occurred on the ground, at the grassroots. Whether you have a million-dollar home in St Leonards, adjacent to the yacht club, whether you are a property owner from the city of Greater Geelong — from Preston — or whether you live in the suburban backblocks of Belmont, this bill offers exciting opportunities for the city of Greater Geelong. It is Victoria’s second-largest city, and the council is one of the largest in the state. It is clearly an important municipality in this state and a city of regional significance, and the governance arrangements in this bill will allow Geelong to grow and prosper into the future.
The mayor will be elected by the whole Greater Geelong community, and it will be interesting to see who puts up their hands and enters the fray.
It is important that the entire community encourages the very best candidate to take Geelong forward — someone who can speak on behalf of the community and advocate for the city’s interests nationally and internationally. A mayor of the City of Greater Geelong will be a very important figurehead, and I was heartened to see some of the consultation that was embarked on.
I am looking at a summary of the consultation process to answer some of the criticisms that were made by Ms Tierney, who poured criticism over a genuine, extensive consultation process undertaken by the Parliamentary Secretary for Local Government, the member for Mornington in the Assembly, which gave effect to a widely endorsed election promise and proved that direct election is the community’s preferred option. I note that he held a public meeting at the Geelong Performing Arts Centre on 20 April 2011 and conducted a number of listening posts in various locations over a three-day period in the same month.
It is very difficult to stack a group at these listening posts — they are a true exercise in democracy.
I note that the parliamentary secretary went to Corio Village shopping centre, the Waurn Ponds shopping centre, twice to the Westfield shopping centre in Geelong’s CBD, the Geelong railway station, the Geelong West library, the Ocean Grove shopping village, the Leopold shopping village and the Bellarine Village shopping centre in Newcomb. There were a range of meetings with key stakeholders including the City of Greater Geelong council, the Committee for Geelong and other local government bodies. It was a very sensitive process of consultation with stakeholders from the top to the very grassroots, including those people who are often very difficult to engage and who often forget to vote as well. Hopefully this will inspire them to have a greater say in their community.
A range of submissions were received. We had over 65 written submissions and some outstanding feedback. I am looking at the summaries, and quite clearly from all the submissions received and the representations that were made, the model proposed in this bill was the strongest option. Out of the 65 submissions, 29 expressed explicit support for direct election, while only 11 expressed explicit opposition — that is, more than three times the number of those who opposed direct election expressed support for that option. A greater number articulated no clear opinion.
In relation to the submitters’ views, when they were invited to indicate which model they preferred, the greatest number expressed a preference for direct election of mayors only.
Of course we see in this bill that the deputy mayor is to be elected from the cohort of elected councillors, which gives a very good balance between a figure elected by the whole of the city and someone who actually comes through the ranks, and hopefully it will be an effective team. The deputy mayor will obviously take on various responsibilities and represent the mayor when he is not available to attend meetings or events.
I am also looking at other data before me. Was support for the direct election of the mayor expressed in other forms? Overwhelmingly it was, and less than a third of the respondents expressed concerns.
In the last paragraph it states that the parliamentary secretary, who attended all of the nine listening posts, also advised that whilst there was a divergence of views on the matter of whether to have a leadership team directly elected or just the mayor, and whilst a number of people made representations seeking not to have a direct election at all, the overwhelming majority of people who attended listening posts were in favour of directly electing just the mayor.
The bill indeed presents the view of the people. The mayor will be elected for the full four-year term of the council to ensure consistent leadership for the council. The extensive consultation to which I have referred included all stakeholders, including the City of Greater Geelong, and the bill provides for and reflects the outcomes of that consultation.
The next local government elections are in October 2012, and the mayor of the City of Greater Geelong will be elected directly.
The form of the election will be preferential voting, and the election will be held at the same time as the election of the councillors. Dual nominations will not be allowed, and I think that is a good thing. Limiting nominations to either mayor or councillor recognises the fact that the two roles are quite distinct. At the 2012 elections the electoral structure of the election of ordinary councillors will also remain unchanged — that is, voters will elect 12 councillors to represent 12 single-member wards. However, 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 and will realign the City of Greater Geelong with other municipalities, and that is always a positive thing.
As I mentioned before, the council will be required to elect one of the councillors to be the deputy mayor. The mayor of the city will have additional powers appropriate to a leadership position elected by the entire community.
He will be empowered to appoint councillors to chair special committees of the council, and I think that is a very good thing. I would like to see the return of that practice across the sector so that councillors develop expertise in particular portfolio areas. It used to be the way that local government operated. We have moved towards a direct election model, and it is now probably time to consider how we can best develop councillor expertise in particular portfolios and how to drill down in greater detail and thereby bridge some of the chasms between council officers and councillors in local government. We will then see some of the positives come out of this model.
The government intends to review the effectiveness of the new model after it has been in operation for two years. That is always positive when doing something new. It will be compared to the experience of the Melbourne model. The review will also consider whether the model for the direct election of the mayor should also be available to other councils.
I do not have a view as to how prevalent that practice should be, but I am excited to see how it will work for the City of Greater Geelong. The City of Greater Geelong should be excited about it. There are enormous opportunities for the city to raise its profile, to have a unifying voice, to move forward, to prosper and to grow. With those few words, I commend the bill to the house.
House divided on motion:
- Atkinson, Mr
- Broad, Ms (Teller)
- Coote, Mrs
- Crozier, Ms
- Davis, Mr D.
- Davis, Mr P.
- Drum, Mr (Teller)
- Eideh, Mr
- Elasmar, Mr
- Elsbury, Mr
- Finn, Mr
- Guy, Mr
- Hall, Mr
- Koch, Mr
- Kronberg, Mrs
- Leane, Mr
- Lovell, Ms
- Mikakos, Ms
- O’Brien, Mr
- O’Donohue, Mr
- Ondarchie, Mr
- Pakula, Mr
- Petrovich, Mrs
- Peulich, Mrs
- Pulford, Ms
- Ramsay, Mr
- Scheffer, Mr
- Somyurek, Mr
- Tarlamis, Mr
- Tee, Mr
- Tierney, Ms
- Barber, Mr (Teller)
- Hartland, Ms
- Pennicuik, Ms (Teller)
Motion agreed to.
Read second time.
Mr TEE (Eastern Metropolitan) — I have a couple of matters that I want to take up with the minister. There was much discussion in the debate about the review that will occur in two years. One of the concerns that we have — and I know there are provisions dealing with it further on in the bill, but it might just be easy to knock it off while we are dealing with the purpose clause for the sake of convenience — goes to the cost of having an election across such a broad electorate, not only physically but also just in terms of the numbers of the electorate. I am wondering whether or not the review will consider the cost and whether there ought to be limits on expenditure.
Hon. M. J. GUY (Minister for Planning) — I am advised that, as you would expect, there are some additional costs, albeit minor, noting the fact that with a postal vote election there will obviously be postal votes circulated, so the cost would not be considerable.
Mr TEE (Eastern Metropolitan) — I will just rephrase that to be a bit clearer. The concern that has been raised is that it is very expensive to engage in the sort of promotion that you will have as part of a campaign across the city rather than a campaign for a candidate for a ward. There is to be a review. Is this the sort of thing that would be considered as part of that review?
Hon. M. J. GUY (Minister for Planning) — I thank Mr Tee for his question. The review will focus more around the structure. Obviously when you move to a direct election model it changes the nature of the election. Rather than ward by ward, the focus will now be city wide.
That is obviously something that would need to be considered by candidates.
Mr TEE (Eastern Metropolitan) — Just to be clear, is the minister saying it will be considered by candidates but not be part of the review? Does that mean the review will be more structural in nature?
Hon. M. J. GUY (Minister for Planning) — People will be able to put in submissions to the review, and the review could obviously consider that issue, yes.
Mr TEE (Eastern Metropolitan) — Will the larger review take into account issues raised by the community?
Hon. M. J. GUY (Minister for Planning) — Yes.
Clause agreed to; clauses 2 and 3 agreed to.
Mr TEE (Eastern Metropolitan) — Clause 4 deals with the fact that you will get a mayor who will be elected. My question is: will the system of election be first past the post or preferential?
Hon. M. J. GUY (Minister for Planning) — Yes, as I expected. It will be a normal preferential system.
Clause agreed to; clauses 5 to 8 agreed to.
Reported to house without amendment.
Motion agreed to.
Read third time.