The City of Ballarat CEO Justine Linley has queried a call made by the peak body for Victorian councils to pause reform plans.
The Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV) this week requested the deferral of the local government bill for up to 18 months.
It expressed particular concern over possible changes to how councillors are elected, as well as a proposed Commission of Inquiry that could be initiated by residents.
The legislation - the biggest overhaul to local government legislation in three decades - recently added proposals to reduce council wards to just one elected representative. Ballarat currently has three wards, each with three councillors.
However, Ms Linley said that while the debate over one-councillor wards was important, the bill had much further reaching implications on how councils work together, the direction for policy, and the way communities are involved in decisions.
Ms Linley said there had been so much discussion that she would welcome the bill appearing in parliament, with local MPs representing council and constituent concerns.
"We shouldn't be distracted by a conversation about whether it's single member wards," she told The Courier. "The bill encompasses so much more - it goes to the very essence of what local government is."
In a press release this week, the MAV said the reforms "could fundamentally shift the nature of council governance."
"They are significant proposals that warrant further detailed examination."
It said there had been no public process to help shape the proposals and not enough detail on either the rationale or the community impact.
"The MAV does not support a one-size fits all approach to electoral ward structures," the press release said, urging flexibility "to ensure local circumstances and communities of interest are taken into account."
It also highlighted "multiple existing processes and mechanisms... to investigate councils or councillor conduct", expressing doubts on how the state would ensure "procedural fairness".
Another concern, it said, was the proposal to stop non-resident ratepayers from being automatically enrolled to vote in council elections.
The last local government act came into being in 1989. Since then, there have been substantial changes to local councils across Victoria with a reduction from 210 municipalities at that time to 79 currently.
Whether or not the current reform is enough - there is a lot of debate about thatJustine Linley, City of Ballarat CEO
There have also been more than 100 amendments worked into the act since then.
The Andrews government began the process of local government reform in 2015. Their intention is, they say, to improve community confidence in election processes and electoral structures. Another aim is to "strengthen local democracy by making councillors directly accountable to their community".
A bill was put to parliament last year but had to be put back due to the November state elections.
Six additional reforms were introduced to a revised bill intended to go before parliament this year, including the preference for single councillor wards. Another reform would allow a Commission of Inquiry into a council to be instigated if requested by a petition signed by 25 per cent or more of enrolled voters.
READ MORE ON THE LOCAL GOVERNMENT CONSULTATION PAPER HERE
If the bill is passed this year, it would pass into law in stages, concluding with reforms in time for the 2024 council elections.
These latest reforms have proved universally unpopular among Ballarat councillors, who also expressed particular concerns over the one-councillor per ward proposal.
One councillor described the reforms as "the most ridiculous piece of legislation I have ever seen".
They would encourage parochialism and potentially corruption, other councillors suggested.
CITY OF BALLARAT POSITION
Officers at the City of Ballarat - as opposed to councillors - are described as "generally supportive" of the bill but raised some concerns in a 2018 submission.
These included queries over the Fair Go Rate cape, which they said "greatly inhibits" long-term financial planning; the proposed ability of the mayor to appoint a chair to delegated committees; a proposal to allow council to declare the office of Mayor vacant; requirements on community engagement levels for council plans and budgets; and the "missed opportunity" to give councillors the privileges in council meetings as those by enjoyed by state and federal politicians in their parliaments.
However, officers welcomed a change to the initial exposure bill, meaning councillors would no longer set their own pay. The City of Ballarat would continue to advocate for allowances to increase "in line with other representative positions" but be set independently.
It also sent a submission querying four of the proposed new reforms (see July 3 agenda for full details).
Ms Linley said council supported the idea of significant reform in local government. "Whether or not the current reform is enough - there is a lot of debate about that," she said.
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