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New Council Laws Entrench Casey Corruption

The Local Government Bill being rushed through Parliament will lead to more corruption and more cost for residents and ratepayers across Victoria.

I’ve spent several months painstakingly ploughing through most parts of the Act, and the significant danger areas from the 1989 Local Government Act appear to have been cut and pasted into the new Bill.

From the first few pages in the Act it is clear that non-elected Council staff are running the show and Councillors are kept in the dark and only given the information staff want them to have.

Clause 28 (3) states the role of a Councillor does not include the performance of any responsibilities or functions of the Chief Executive Officer.

This means everything and anything Council spends money on such as staffing, paying bills, hiring and paying contractors, hiring and paying consultants and so on, can all be done in secret by Council staff.

In fact, at the very beginning of the Legislation, the definitions make it clear that Councillors can be charged with misconduct merely for trying to get information from Council that staff or the CEO don’t want to divulge.

Definitions: Serious misconduct

(h) the disclosure by a Councillor of information the Councillor knows, or should reasonably know, is confidential information;

i) conduct by a Councillor that contravenes the requirement that a Councillor must not direct, or seek to direct, a member of Council staff;

So the Act clearly enforces secrecy.

And reinforces the superficial nature of Councillors’ roles when describing what they do:

28 role of a councillor

(2) (b) support the role of the Council;

(c) to contribute to the strategic direction of the Council through the development and review of key strategic documents of the Council, including the Council Plan.

“Support the role of the Council” is the clause that prevents Councillors from criticising Council decisions and actions. Have you ever wondered why Councillors never stand up at meetings and say “we were wrong” or “this was a mistake”?

It’s not just because they lack courage or integrity (although they may) : it’s because the Act says they must support the Council.

And if residents think Councils’ Audit and Risk Committees are there as a safety net to ensure that Councils are spending legally, wisely or in the best interests of residents the Act makes it clear that Audit Committees have no power.

53(2)Subclause provides that an Audit and Risk Committee is not a delegated committee. This is intended to ensure that the audit and risk committee operates in an advisory capacity. Note how the Act adds insult to injury by emphasising both ‘not delegated’ and ‘advisory capacity.’

There are dozens of pages in the Act relating to oversight, such as the Councillor Conduct Panels, Municipal Monitors, Municipal Inspectors and Councillor Conduct Registrars. All add extra costs for ratepayers and do absolutely nothing to prevent corruption or waste.

How do I know?

Because the same complaints keep cropping up every single year.

Rates are too high.

Basic services are neglected.

Residents are paying for consultants and contractors on top of staff.

Council over-pays contractors for basic services.

Residents and ratepayers can smell the ‘whiff’ of corruption but no charges are ever laid, no staff are ever sacked, nothing changes or improves.

All these problems were endemic under the old Local Government Act.

They’ll continue under the new Local Government Act.

I’m lobbying against it.

I’ll write about progress here.

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