Local Government (Central Goldfields Shire Council) Bill 2017 | Samantha Dunn

Local Government (Central Goldfields Shire Council) Bill 2017

I rise this evening to speak to the Local Government (Central Goldfields Shire Council) Bill 2017.
Wednesday, August 23, 2017 - 3:00pm
Samantha Dunn

Ms DUNN (Eastern Metropolitan) — Thank you, Acting President Purcell. I think it is the first time you have given me the call, so I congratulate you on your
position on the panel of acting presidents. I rise this evening to speak to the Local Government (Central Goldfields Shire Council) Bill 2017. It is a bill that seeks to dismiss the Central Goldfields Shire Council, provide for the appointment of an administrator or for a panel of administrators, provide for an expiry of the order in council and also provide for a general election for a new Central Goldfields Shire Council. Here tonight the Greens will not be defending poor governance. However, for us there is always an intersection of natural justice and procedural fairness that is coupled with strong and immediate action to prevent and punish bad behaviours.

When we look at the report that was undertaken by the Local Government Investigations and Compliance Inspectorate, Protecting Integrity: Central Goldfields Shire Council Investigation, there are a range of issues in relation to failings in good governance. For us, good governance is about good processes for decision-making. It is not necessarily about the decision itself but definitely about the framework in which those decisions are made. Good governance underpins public confidence that elected representatives’ decisions are made in a framework of accountability and transparency and that those decisions are equitable, inclusive, participatory and certainly within the rule of law.

When we turn to the report it is clear that there have been governance failings on the part of the administration and on the part of the council. Even a cursory glance at the report’s table of contents indicates a litany of governance failures at this particular municipality that include asset mismanagement in relation to the sale of land; financial mismanagement in relation to the misuse of government grants and the corporate credit card; human resources mismanagement, being the mismanagement of contractors and staff performance reviews process; particularly those governance failures in relation to the mismanagement of corporate information, public records, freedom of information, special committees, primary and ordinary returns and the community grants scheme; breaches of procurement processes; the mismanagement of councillor code of conduct processes; the mismanagement of delegations; and the mismanagement of authorisations. That is certainly an extraordinary list of failures in relation to governance for this municipality and, in that, failures to that community that has an expectation about the role their local councillors should play.

The Local Government Act 1989 is of course very clear in relation to the role of local councils. In the preamble to that act it talks about councils having functions and powers to ensure the peace, order and good government of each of the municipal districts. Paragraph (3) of the preamble talks about the council being responsible and accountable to the local community. The preamble says:

It is the role of the council to provide governance and leadership for the local community through advocacy, decision-making and action.

It goes on:

It is essential that there is a legislative framework that provides for Councils to be accountable to their local communities in the performance of functions and the exercise of powers and the use of resources.

In relation to that, of course, councillors are required to sign a code of conduct and sign into the process of the code of conduct. That code of conduct is quite explicit that the purpose of local government is to provide a system under which councils perform the functions and exercise the powers conferred by or under the act and any other act for the peace and order of good government. There are a range of acts that local government needs to comply with, and councillors would be well aware, being part of that code of conduct process, that that is what they are signing on for. Those are their obligations in relation to their community and what they need to do to be good representatives for their communities.

I want to turn briefly to the amendment. The amendment I am suggesting to the bill is consistent with the previous times that state governments have sacked councils. The Greens are calling for an earlier return to democracy than the bill suggests. I ask that my amendment be circulated at this time.

Greens amendment circulated by Ms DUNN (Eastern Metropolitan) pursuant to standing orders

Ms DUNN — In relation to the amendment, for ease the Greens are suggesting that continuing the convention of the fourth week in October remain as part of the bill and that the date of 2020 be replaced by 2018. The Greens have a long-held view that local democracy is important. Local government is an important tier of the democratic process, and citizens should have access to representative democracy. So the issue of the date when democracy is returned to communities is a significant and critical one for the Greens.

Local representative democracy is fundamentally important to communities, and at no stage should that be delayed for those communities. I certainly take the point of Mr Davis in his contribution that yes, there is a cost associated with that, but there is a cost to having no local representation as well. For the Greens it is pivotal that democracy is restored to the community of Central Goldfields as soon as it possibly can be. We certainly acknowledge that administrators can clean up administrative messes, but only elected councils can represent the people.

In that, I turn briefly to Geelong. It is worth noting that the Greens in that particular instance also supported an earlier return to democracy than was contemplated by government. It is terrific to hear from the community there, which is rejoicing in the return to democracy in that municipality with the upcoming council elections in October.

In relation to the bill, the Greens support the bill. However, we believe that the date for the general election should be amended to restore democracy to Central Coalfields.