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Double Your Money for Nothing in the new Local Government Bill

The Local Government Bill 2019 now before Victorian Parliament has found novel ways to boost the state coffers by ensuring taxpayers pay twice for the same work (I’m not going to call it service): at local government level and state government level.

State bodies and public servants can bill Council separately for:

  • Conducting Council elections

  • Auditing council books

  • Reviewing Council ward boundaries

  • Collaborating with other public sector organisations

Section 16 on electoral boundary reviews for example:

16. Electoral representation advisory panel

(11) The Minister or a person engaged by the Minister to support a review ….send to the Council an account of the reasonable expenses incurred ….

(12) The Council must pay the account.

So what do the staff of the Victorian Electoral Commission do? They’re already on the state payroll. Why do ratepayers have to pay for a new panel?

And the panel has carte blanche to conduct the review any way it wants, and with no residents or ratepayers as panel members.

So ratepayers have to pay at local Council level, as well as state government level, and yet, no seat at the table.

Audit fees are also a double cost for taxpayers. The Auditor-General of Victoria, which is state government funded, also gets to charge individual Councils for the compulsory annual audit required under the Legislation. $60,000 is the current annual fee.

And it’s money for nothing. The Auditor-General doesn’t actually review Council spending to make sure Councils are spending the right amount of money on the right materials and services. All it does is make sure Councils are setting out their accounts according to Accounting Standards.

And to check if Councils are adding items up correctly it just asks the Council if it’s doing the right thing. If, by some lucky accident, the Auditor-General happens to find something amiss, all it can do is make recommendations. It has no power.

The Local Government Bill 2019 even forces Councils to waste money on memberships.

9(f) collaboration with other Councils and Governments and statutory bodies is to be sought.

Note the use of the word “is.” This is not a suggestion, Councils have to do it by law.

So for example, many Councils belong to the Municipal Association of Victoria. It’s sort of like a union for Councils. The State Government goes to the MAV instead of each individual Council when it’s seeking feedback on issues.

My Council, Maribyrnong City Council belongs to the MAV. Membership costs $50,000 a year.

According to the MAV annual report for 2019, MAV gets nearly $5m in revenue from the state government and another $3.7 from ‘sponsorship, membership and tender income.’

This means that in our state taxes we pay for the MAV and then through the local Council rates, we pay again. This is just the basic admin cost. The MAV is actually a $77m business that provides insurance and training for Councils - for which it charges fees. But Councils have a choice about whether to participate in training or buy MAV insurance.

Under the Act, they have no choice about ‘collaboration.’ So they have to pay to belong to MAV or something similar.

In 2019 a few of the MAV achievements included:

  • Recommending SKM as the waste disposal company of choice for local councils to use

  • Supporting the Local Government Bill’s clauses to have Councillor wages and expenses handed over to the Victorian Independent Remuneration Tribunal

  • Making sure there were no clauses in the Local Government Bill to allow residents to petition for the removal of a Councillor - despite this being promised by the Local Government Minister.

And these costs above, are only the costs in the Bill that charge twice for the same non-service area.

Ratepayers and residents get no direct benefit from electoral ward reviews, Council collaboration with statutory bodies, auditor general reviews etc et.

All you have to do is look around your neighbourhood.

Twice the cost for nothing.

I'm not voting for this: twice. It's a no for my local Councillors and a no for my local state MPs.

That's 9 no votes from me.

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