The citizens of Ballarat should ensure they are properly enrolled to vote in the upcoming October council elections, and should also scrutinise carefully the policies of their candidates, says Kathryn Arndt, CEO of the Victorian Local Governance Association (VLGA).
The roll for the 2020 local council elections closes at 4pm on Friday August 28, and candidates for election must nominate between September 17 and 22.
The VLGA is an independent organisation supporting councils and councillors in good governance. It has been running candidate information sessions across Victoria to also assist those potentially considering a role as a shire councillor in understanding their obligations and the skills, knowledge and connections they require to maintain good governance should they be elected.
The VLGA is also running sessions aimed at improving the knowledge and skills of Indigenous Victorians - Your Community, Country and Council - and Victorian women - Local Women Leading Change - , in the hope these under-represented groups will stand for election.
Arndt says historically engagement in local government has been seen as less important than in the state and federal spheres.
"Local government elections do have the lowest voter participation rates; I think in the 2016 council elections approximately 72 per cent of those enrolled to vote did so," Ms Arndt said.
"it's concerning given the significant responsibilities of councillors to manage or govern what are effectively multi-million dollar businesses delivering services to the community on behalf of state and federal governments.
"It's a $9 billion sector and employs over 44,000 staff, and the VLGA is encouraging people to make sure they are on the roll by Friday August 28, and to really understand the responsibilities of councillors so they cast their vote in an informed way at these elections."
Ms Arndt stresses the roles of a councillor come with even greater responsibility since the changes wrought by the new Local Government Act 2020, which is the first major change in laws pertaining to council conduct since 1989.
She says electors must examine and think about who they are going to vote for in 2020 with the idea of good governance in the forefront of their mind.
"If a candidate is campaigning for election on a single policy or platform issue, that is something that doesn't necessarily come into the council chamber with them, nor should it," Ms Arndt said.
"Similarly if a councillor is an endorsed candidate of a political party, once they enter the chamber, their role is to make decisions in the best interest of the entire municipality, and they must consider all of the diverse stakeholders making up the community. They need to be mindful of the role politics shouldn't play in making their decisions."
Councillors, says Ms Arndt, need to ready for the significant amount of reading and briefing to be done in order for them to be effective, informed and conscious of their duties. They must, she says, understand they are effectively a board of directors, not being involved directly in operations of the council organisation, while still being responsible for employing the CEO and giving the CEO direction for the trajectory of a council's term.
"The CEO is effectively leading, in some cases, over 1000 staff, managing a very complex multi-million dollar business delivering over 100 different services, so it is a unique level of government in having an operational service delivery organisation and a group of elected representatives tasked with its governance."
Ballarat voters wishing to enrol can find out more information here: Enrolling for local council elections