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Labor’s Latest Council Reforms: A Genuine Fix or Just Another Oversight Failure?

Council Reforms in Wyndham

The Allan Labor Government has recently launched a legislative initiative aimed at enhancing the governance and integrity of local councils including Wyndham City, asserting that these changes are necessary to restore public confidence in Victoria’s local governments. This move comes in the wake of the introduction of the Local Government Act 2020 into Parliament, targeting Victoria’s 79 councils with elevated standards, set to be implemented after the upcoming local government elections this October.

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However, a closer examination of the government’s track record reveals a tumultuous history of council management. Since the last elections in 2020, an alarming number of 56 councillors have resigned, and 11 councils have been placed under the watch of municipal monitors. Moreover, this period has seen one council suspended and another dismissed due to governance failures. These statistics raise questions about the effectiveness of the government’s oversight of local councils up to this point.

In response to widespread issues, the government has announced a uniform councillor code of conduct aimed at enforcing consistent behavioural standards and boosting accountability. This reform package also includes mandatory training for councillors and mayors, complete with annual professional development sessions. The legislation proposes stronger sanctions for councillor misconduct and seeks to streamline the resolution of conduct issues.

The Minister for Local Government, Melissa Horne, has been vocal about the benefits of these reforms. “Victorians deserve councils that represent them and meet their needs – our reforms will enhance governance and accountability across all our councils,” stated Minister Horne. She further emphasized that the uniform code of conduct and mandatory training are crucial steps towards ensuring that councils effectively represent their communities.

Despite these assurances, the need for such sweeping reforms invites scrutiny of the government’s previous oversight and intervention strategies. The reliance on recommendations from IBAC, the Chief Municipal Inspector, and other bodies highlights ongoing concerns about the government’s capacity to manage council governance proactively.

As these reforms are set to take effect following the October 2024 local government elections, Victorians are left to wonder whether this legislative push will truly ameliorate the governance issues plaguing their councils, or if it merely serves as a corrective band-aid to deeper, systemic problems that have been overlooked or mishandled in the past. Further details on the reforms can be found at localgovernment.vic.gov.au/council-governance.

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