AN OPEN and accountable city council relies upon voters having all the facts in front of them before going to the polls.
Since the November Ballarat City Council election, many Ballarat residents have questioned if all those facts were available.
This newspaper has been overwhelmed with letters and feedback from the community about the election process.
Why has there been such a reaction? Because the community feels more connected to the decisions of local government than any other tier of decision-making.
Today, The Courier publishes the final donation declarations from all councillors elected in November.
It shows Cr Belinda Coates and Cr Des Hudson received significant financial support from individuals and groups.
It also shows that no other councillors reported donations above the stated $500 threshold.
There’s no revelation in the detail – it is exactly as all councillors have consistently put on the public record since the election.
Yet there remains an inconsistency in the reporting of donations.
What it proves, undoubtedly, is that the Local Government Act must be tightened to provide greater transparency.
Suggestions of block voting groups and party-aligned payments since the November poll has taken the focus away from what is really important about the function of the council – making good decisions about the future of the city.
It is created because definitions in the act are imperfect – not just in regard to donations but also political affiliation, mayoral election and more.
To this end, we believe the threshold for donations should be abandoned. Any donation for election purposes should be stated, in one form or another.
This newspaper has also advocated for greater transparency for election candidates to provide information about political party membership.
The community, we believe, should have a greater say in who becomes mayor, as already happens in Melbourne and Geelong.
Today, we ask the state government to consider the possibilities to help get the focus back on what the community really needs – a focus on appropriate decision-making and growing our cities from local government.