Calls for local government reform

Cr Jackie Watts has led a push by councillors calling on new Minister for Local Government Shaun Leane to undertake a review of the City of Melbourne Act 2001.

Mr Leane was appointed to the vacated portfolio in June following the sacking of previous minister Adem Somyurek following branch stacking allegations aired on 60 Minutes.

The scandal followed the passing of the new Local Government Act 2020, however, not all of the reforms applied to the City of Melbourne, which has its own Act that Cr Watts noted had not been reviewed since its introduction. 

Her motion, which went before councillors at the Future Melbourne Committee (FMC) meeting on July 21, called on the state government to commit to a review of the Act ahead of the 2024 council elections, which also considered representation of First Nations people. 

“[Consider] An amendment to entitle Custodians of lands and waters within the Melbourne City Council municipal district to enrol to vote in [council] elections and to qualify as candidates to be a City of Melbourne councillor,” the motion stated. 

Cr Watts also called for the implementation of a number of interim measures in time for the forthcoming council elections in October, including:

  • The disclosure of any donation and/or in-kind gift within three business days of receipt;
  • Restricting donations to candidates to be from persons on the Victorian electoral roll; 
  • Capping donations at not more than $4000 from any one person or organisation within any 12-month period; and 
  • Prohibit taking donations from persons who personally own or hold controlling interests in companies that actively engage in the property or gambling industries.

In 2015, the Victorian Government commenced a review of the Local Government Act
1989. 

The 2018 version of proposed reforms to be included within a new Actwas a cap of $4000 for on electoral campaign donations from a single donor to individual City of Melbourne candidates and candidate groups. The donations cap for other municipal elections was $1000. These proposed reforms did not appear in the Local Government Bill 2019

“The reason given for this excision by the former Local Government Minister at the time was that the IBAC inquiry into the Casey City Council should report first,” the motion stated. 

“In 2016, the City of Melbourne initiated a voluntary donations disclosure regime, hosted by The Age newspaper, in lieu of a robust and publicly defensible donations declaration regime in the legislation.” 

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