The Beagle Editor, With more an more disquiet building around Local Government in NSW your readers might be interest to learn what is happening over the border and may notice there is a lot in common. With a new Local Government Bill to come to the Victorian Parliament shortly, the East Gippsland Community Action Group believes that there is a serious need to address major underlying problems in the Local Government sector & recently submitted a comprehensive paper to the Parliamentary Review.
Suggesting that East Gippsland Shire Council exemplified many of the problems & challenges confronting Victorian communities, a spokesperson for the community group, Linette Treasure, this week wrote to the Victoria’s Minister for Local Government, the Hon Adem Somyurek, citing a number of concerning behaviours, indicating the need for a state-wide system change.
In her letter to the Minister, Ms Treasure cited numerous examples where the rights of residents & ratepayers were being eroded to the benefit of council bureaucrats, while ineffectual elected councils sat idly by & did nothing.
· A climate of distrust in genuine representation is created by the fact that councillors as per the local but mandatory Code of Conduct, must agree to have their correspondence opened, read & responded to by staff. Many residents & ratepayers believe that their privacy is being breached & that they are potentially being exposed to acts of recrimination by council, while they remain uncertain that the issues they had sought to raise were being addressed.
· A significant segment of the community in East Gippsland has come to the view that council has embraced a culture of secrecy & is increasingly conducting shire business, including making significant decisions, in concert with council officials behind closed doors, thereby denying the community any opportunity to hear & consider crucial discussions that underpin those decisions.
As can be seen in an increasing number of local government jurisdictions across the country, including East Gippsland, formal council meetings open to public scrutiny involve less & less councillor debate, with decisions often being made without any discussion or questions being raised, clearly suggesting that those decision have been pre-determined.
· There is increasing concern on the part of many communities, including East Gippsland, that the delegated powers of senior council officials, including the power to award significant tenders without referral to the elected council, are being significantly increased, whilst the oversight role of the elected councils is being systematically eroded, while loud claims of a commitment to “openness & transparency” become nothing more than empty slogans.
At the same time, the increasing secrecy that surrounds council tender processes, their management & the appropriateness of the decisions being made is serving to highlight how Victorian councils are being allowed to “run their own race” on such matters, creating a growing scepticism on the part of residents & ratepayers as to the integrity of the system & the high risk that it is being opened to corruption.
· And finally, there is a growing call for the state government to intervene & exempt farmers whose livelihoods have all but been destroyed by the current prolonged drought from the imposition of council rates, in particular when, as is the case with East Gippsland, the council is enjoying a substantial financial surplus.
And the list goes on …
There are doubtless a great many residents & ratepayers around the country who will identify with their cousins in East Gippsland & who will be watching to see how the state government responds to the increasing pressure from the community for real & genuine reform in local government.
Bega Valley Shire Residents & Ratepayers Association