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No Local News Means More Money for Mayors?

The Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV) has told the Independent Remuneration Tribunal (VIRT) the demise of local papers is a reason for Mayors to be paid more.

The Tribunal is currently reviewing the remuneration for Councillors and the Municipal Assocation of Victoria has provided a three-page written submission, discussing why the current remuneration is unsatisfactory.

The submission makes particular note of the workload of Mayors…

“ The role and responsibilities of the position of Mayor has particularly changed since 2008. While the Mayor continues to be the ‘leader among equals’ whose role and responsibilities include chairing council meetings, being the primary spokesperson and carrying out civic and ceremonial duties it also now includes other prescribed leadership functions such as to facilitate good governance practices including community engagement activities, dispute resolution, leading the review of the performance of the CEO and assisting their fellow Councillors to understand their roles. “

and then…

“In addition, the demise of traditional media outlets in communities, such as local newspapers, has resulted in Mayors having to take a greater role in filling the communication vacuum. This has been demonstrated during the COVID pandemic and recent bushfires where Mayors have often been central to communication messages by providing information and support directly to their communities through Council and other communication channels.”

The MAV letter includes an exhausting list of the duties and responsibilities of Councillors while making no mention whatsoever of how well Councillors perform these duties.

What the submission fails to say is that many of the duties listed above are performed by staff not Councillors. Indeed, the Local Government Act 2020 expressly forbids Councillors from doing any of the day to work undertaken by staff – or from telling staff how to do their job.

Councillor roles involve meetings and decisions – and then staff do the resulting work. And it’s up to the CEO to make sure the staff work properly. In relation to the performance of the CEO, the new Local Government Act forces Councillors to seek expert advice to help them hire the CEO and yet says nothing about helping them manage the CEO performance.

Community members across Victoria could provide some honest commentary on how well Councillors are appraising and attuning their CEOs activities.

And unfortunately, some of the information in the MAV submission isn’t accurate.

The MAV says Councillors are entitled to receive payments in lieu of superannuation entitlements and remote area travel arrangements.

However, it fails to note that many Councillors are in fact paid superannuation. A separate submission to the VIRT from the Local Government Inspectorate (LGI) notes that many councils have used either the Superannuation Act or Taxation Act, to subvert the intention of the Local Government Act and reward Councillors with superannuation. The same submission also included audits of expenses: including travel expenses.

There is nothing ratepayers can do to improve the integrity of the information provided by other parties.

All we can do is publicise the MAV's lack of insight and Councillors' self-promotion and hope the Remuneration Tribunal intelligently assesses the worth of Councillors.

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