City of Greater Geelong Amendment Bill 2017

Mr HIBBINS (Prahran) — I rise to speak on the City of Greater Geelong Amendment Bill 2017. It is always good to see a lot of passion in the chamber about local government. Certainly the Greens and I are very passionate about local government and are very big supporters of the local government sector and local communities.

This bill comes about as a result of the sacking of the Geelong council following very serious allegations about bullying and dysfunction within the council. We are certainly pleased that elections will be held this year rather than in 2020, thanks to amendments in the other place.

And we certainly welcome, through the citizens jury, the consultation with the citizens of the City of Greater Geelong regarding the future of their local municipality. Certainly we would like to see that model extended to other municipalities across a wide range of areas and initiatives where informed residents are presented with opportunities to consider all those options; particularly I think it would be good to see that expanded in respect of the planning of major infrastructure in local communities.

I am just going to speak briefly on this bill. In regard to the provisions, the Greens certainly support the abolition and removal of the directly elected mayor and deputy mayor. This drift towards the failed City of Melbourne model of direct election of mayor and deputy mayor was really harmful to the City of Greater Geelong and democratic representation there. Now that we are removing it from Geelong, I would seriously urge the government to consider its worth for the City of Melbourne and also seriously consider reforms for the City of Melbourne to remove the changes made under, I believe, Premier Kennett that give two votes to each business over one for each resident, which means an overseas telecommunications company can get two votes because it owns a mobile phone tower within the municipality.

Good democratic governance at a local government level, the Greens believe, is always best served by multi-member wards and an election of the mayor and deputy mayor by their fellow councillors. It certainly serves other cities and rural cities and shires in Victoria very well.

Where we do have issue with this bill is how the multi-member wards will be formed. Between November 2015 to March 2016 the Victorian Electoral Commission (VEC) conducted an electoral representation review of the Greater Geelong City Council. That review included two rounds of consultation. Following this process the VEC recommended that there should be three wards with three councillors and one ward, the less populated northern ward, with two; however, the government has indicated that it is going to go with the central Geelong ward having two councillors.

The VEC has expertise in determining electoral representation. We might not necessarily agree with them all the time, but they certainly are experts in this field on setting ward boundaries, on councillor numbers, on democratic representations, reflecting the changes in municipalities and preventing gerrymandering, which is a concern.

The Greens are concerned that the Minister for Local Government is going to interfere or not adhere to this VEC review process, as has already occurred. In fact I understand they are the only minister who has ever rejected the recommendations of the VEC and its processes. In 2016 the VEC recommended that the Yarra Ranges Shire Council structure change from having nine wards with one councillor in each to three wards each with three councillors. Of course, I think this would have been a win for the local community, with a far more democratic representation; however, the Minister for Local Government rejected that recommendation, rejected the VEC's recommendations and moved to have the Yarra Ranges shire remain a council with nine single-member wards. This is a really worrying precedent set in terms of ministerial intervention in electoral reviews.

I understand there are amendments put forward by the opposition. These amendments go largely to restoring the directly elected mayor and directly elected deputy mayor. As I have indicated, certainly the Greens oppose the direct election of the mayor and deputy mayor so we will not be supporting those amendments.

On the whole the bill does do the City of Greater Geelong and the people of Greater Geelong a good service in reforming the roles of the mayor and deputy mayor, and having them elected by their fellow councillors. We do have concerns about ministerial intervention in setting the ward boundaries and the allocation of councillors, but overall we support this bill.