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Minister Consults Council Staff on New Bill to Help Residents Struggling with Rate Bills

Local Government Minister Shaun Leane has turned to the Australian Services Union (ASU) and the Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV) for advice as he plans legislation to redress poor attitudes and practices described in the Ombudsman’s report into how Councils treat ratepayers with unaffordable rate bills.

The ASU represents council staff and the MAV represents Councillors.

The Minister revealed plans for Legislation dealing with ratepayer hardship only after Ratepayers Victoria (RPV) wrote to all upper house MPs asking for legislation amendments to publicise waivers, since most ratepayers have no idea that rates can be waived, or reduced if it's difficult for home-owners to pay them. The Liberal Party put forward its own amendment in response to the RPV request.

Minister Leane told Parliament yesterday (March 10, 2022) that laws to make Councils publicise hardship waivers on their websites, and alongside rate notices was “more than unnecessary” because he’s planning legislation to deal with hardship.

Minister Leane also told the house that “….some councils, to their credit, have fantastic policies on this in that they actually have people at the council talking to ratepayers in difficulty directly…..

“There are some councils that do some great work where they have employees talk to people in hardship and work through it. They have kind of gone away from the red notices and the different-coloured notices and are working with ratepayers and finding a way to help them."

At no time did the Minister explain that most Council hardship policies (approved by Councillors) state that Councils will not pay waivers. He did not mention that Council staff do not provide forms for waivers, so no-one can apply for them. He did not mention the Ombudsman’s criticism of the standard Council practice of deferring rates and charging interest because it adds to financial hardship for ratepayers, instead of alleviating it.

None the less, the Minister’s arguments held sway with enough minor party MPs to defeat the amendment and keep waivers hidden.

Maxwell and Grimley from the Hinch Justice Party and Barton from Transport Matters voted with the Government, (including the two ex-ALP Independents).

The amendment was defeated 18 votes to 16.

And now we wait to see whether the ASU and MAV can change their policies and practices towards the residents they've been mis-treating for years.

picture of dracula in charge of the blood bank from flyclipart.

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