Is it just me, or is anyone else concerned about the biggest shake-up in 30 years to the way local councils are run? It is very possible you missed it given the coronavirus blur.
But in March, Royal Assent was bestowed on the Victorian Local Government Act 2020.
This is an Act administered and overseen by the Minister for Local Government, Adem Somyurek.
He was Minister then, but not now.
"In between sacking councils and stuff" as Somyurek is recorded as saying - and as a Minister of the Crown - we know now Somyurek was busy playing Labor Party kingmaker.
"It's who I say is going to be Premier".
Somyurek is now under investigation by Victoria Police, the Broad Based AntiCorruption Commission (IBAC), the Victorian Ombudsman and has been thrown out of the ALP. Somyurek is potentially facing corruption charges and may even have time in jail.
Last month, he was the focus of a story that exposed a year-long investigation by The Age and 60 Minutes.
It revealed alleged 'industrial scale branch stacking' within the ALP, including what appeared to be the forging of signatures and cash in bags for fake memberships.
It wasn't a good look, especially for a Minister of the State - the minister who oversees the rules and regulations by which Local Councils abide, including codes of conduct and bullying.
Premier Daniel Andrews said Somyurek's conduct didn't represent the Labor Party.
The question I ask is 'does he represent ratepayers?' If his work is not good enough for Labor, is it good enough for us - the 79 Councils of Victoria - or the 107,000 residents of the City of Ballarat?
Somyurek's new Local Government Act makes some serious changes.
One of the biggest is the move towards single-councillor wards. In Ballarat this won't happen until 2024 allowing time for nine new ward boundaries to be created.
While some argue it will lead to greater accountability, it is one of the main areas of concern for me.
In charge of this change was a minister who was the guru of branch stacking - the man who plays the numbers and manipulates them.
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My gut tells me Somyurek would not have made this change if he didn't think it wasn't going to suit him, or the Labor Party's chances, in local elections.
Remember Labor has announced it is going to endorse its candidates for Ballarat this year. Of course, the Greens embraced endorsement long ago. Again, politics in local government?
As shamed former Labor Senator Sam Dastyari told 60 Minutes "...The stakes when it comes to winning in the ALP are incredibly high. You're talking about seats in Federal Parliament, seats in State Parliament - who the local Mayor is going to be...The stakes couldn't be higher".
Hence my concern.
As an independent councillor, accessing local democracy just became a monumental task against the might of the party machinery and its circling wagons.
Other aspects of the new Act raise concern.
It is supposed to make it easier to deal with bad councillor behaviour. I am dubious of this.
It also represents a wasted opportunity in relation to tightening the powers of delegation.
The public assumes councillors have a say on every planning decision - what gets knocked down, what house goes up.
But this is not the case and the 609 Skipton Street demolition approval is an example.
The 2020 Act forces councillors to join the climate debate.
It enshrines climate change amongst the things that a council must now consider as an 'overarching governance principle'.
Councillors must think about the '...environmental sustainability of the municipal district, including mitigation, and planning for climate change risks...' My question is which scientists are councils believing when we consider the climate? Those who say the sky is falling, or those who argue it hasn't, and won't?
For example, Australia's top scientific body, the CSIRO, admitted in Senate Estimates hearings earlier this year that climate change was not to blame for the summer bushfires.
Even lead voices in Extinction Rebellion, such as Zion Lights, are exiting the organisation apologising on their way out for creating environmental alarmism - the new religion, it seems, in an increasingly secular world.
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Michael Shellenberger, Time Magazine's 'Hero of the Environment in 2008' is another now saying sorry for the 'climate scare' acknowledging that the world is not going to end in his latest book 'Apocalypse Never - Why environmental alarmism hurts us all'. Zion Lights is now pursing nuclear energy as a solution for the planet's needs.
Should councils also be doing this under the new guidelines? The core of my concern is Somyurek's dismissive, distracted approach to his day job.
Can we be sure that the Act is well considered? Do we trust the rules made for us by a man who thought the law didn't apply to him?
Is now the time to consider cutting a tier of government - starting with the states?
My fear is that politics is pervading and possibly perverting what has been the last bastion of genuine democracy in Australia, our local government.
Jim Rinaldi is a councillor for the City of Ballarat.
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