The City of Port Phillip Submission on the
Review of the Local Government Act
August 23, 2016
The government has released a Directions paper on the review of the Local Government Act 1989.
I submit that the local Government Act needs comprehensive reform. The Kennett–era changes saw the amalgamation and corporatisation of councils. These shackled local democracy and reduced the ability of communities to have meaningful input to their Councils. Councillors now have considerably less capacity to represent their constituents and CEOs have considerably more capacity to drive Councils unencumbered by community concerns.
The aim of the Directions Paper is to revitalise local democracy, boost council innovation and efficiency and establish a clear, simple and accessible Act.
I submit that the COPP and the community should support these aims.
One of the 10 major reform directions is for Mayors to lead Councils. This involves enabling mayors to provide greater leadership to their Councils by having two-year terms and extending their powers and responsibilities. (There are other important reforms that I will not discuss in this submission to the COPP).
The draft COPP submission does not support the reforms concerning Mayors. The draft submission says ‘Council ‘strongly opposes any measures that shift CEO accountability to the Mayor rather than the Council as a whole’. I submit this is a complete misreading of the Directions Paper. I submit that Councillors ought to reconsider their position on this.
The Directions paper says that the community does not properly understand the role of mayors. It says that mayors hold the key leadership positions in their councils. This means more than taking the lead in meetings and speaking for the council.
It is incorrect for the COPP submission to claim that Directions paper shifts CEO accountability to the Mayor rather than Council as a whole.
The Directions paper says:
while there needs to be a clear delineation between the strategic role of councillors and the advice and implementation role of administrations, it is clear that councillors need a way to be more informed about management decisions that affect their strategic role. This is best achieved by strengthening the role of the mayor. Their role as elected leader of their council should be reflected in the new Act. They should also have rights in relation to the CEO role that go above and beyond the current non- legislated need for a strong working relationship.
The COPP draft says that the reforms have the ‘potential to undermine the strength of democracy held by the full Council'. This is wrong. It is specifically discussed in the Directions Paper. This says:
In any new Act, it is clear that a mayor should not be expected to have powers that negate the democratic responsibilities of other councillors for decision-making. Equally, for the council administration to function effectively, there should be a clear line of authority and accountability for implementing council decisions, providing advice and for conducting the operational business of council services. While the CEO should retain leadership of the management and the operational line of authority, it would support the mayoral office if the CEO was required to engage with the mayor before making certain types of major decisions about the organisation. Similarly, it is important that elected councillors oversee the effectiveness of the CEO in performing their role. This is best achieved through the oversight of the mayor.
The vision of the Directions paper is that mayors will be put in charge of councils by giving them longer terms and by expanding their role to lead councillors in developing strategic directions. The mayor will lead an in-depth deliberative community engagement process to shape a four-year council plan, lead the monitoring of its implementation and report back annually to the community on progress. The Directions paper therefore proposes to:
Expand the role of the mayor to include the following powers and responsibilities:
- to lead engagement with the community on the development, and the reporting to the community at least annually about the implementation, of the council plan
- to require the CEO to report to the council about the implementation of council decisions
- to appoint chairs of council committees and appoint councillors to external committees that seek council representation
- to support councillors—and promote their good behaviour—to understand the separation of responsibilities between the elected and administrative arms of the council
- to remove a councillor from a meeting if the councillor disrupts the meeting
- to mutually set council meeting agendas with the CEO
- to be informed by the CEO before the CEO undertakes any significant organisational restructuring that affects the council plan
- to lead and report to council on oversight of the CEO's performance
- to be a spokesperson for the council and represent it in the conduct of civic duties.
I submit that the draft COPP submission has not adequately analysed the issues involved in revitalising local democracy. I submit that the COPP should support extending the powers and responsibilities of the Mayor, and therefore, indirectly, the Councillors.
Submissions are not due until 16 September so Councillors have sufficient time to inform themselves about this issue and come to a considered opinion. I am sure that community groups will be making submissions to the Local Government Act review and it would be a pity if the City of Port Phillip were left trailing in the community’s wake.
23 August 2016.