Driving new perspectives - Presidents comment
Cr Sebastian Klein, President of the VLGA
The Victorian Local Governance Association (VLGA) occupies a unique niche in the local government sector of Australia, one that helps drive new perspectives and reform.
Following the significant reform to local government in Victoria, the VLGA was formed in 1994 to reinforce and protect local democracy, to give voice to local communities and to advance the role and relevance of local councils.
We do this by focussing on local governance, the activity of councils governing together with their communities to build strong, inclusive and resilient societies. This vision calls for responsiveness to community needs, effective delivery of services, efficient use of public resources and fundamentally, democratic participation in the way that local decisions are made.
As the most immediate tier of government, councils have a critical role in shaping lives for the better.
But to achieve their potential to do so, local governments must increasingly work together with the community to plan for a shared future.
The current period of uncertainty and change raises a number of challenges for effective local governance.
For instance, financial sustainability places particular pressure on local governance, affecting many types of council at a time when community needs and expectations are higher than ever.
The increased demands on Health and Community Care are just one such example.
A further challenge for local governance and for public perceptions of councils in general, is the emergence what has been termed a ‘democratic deficit’.
Community expectations and perspectives on government are changing and meeting these shifts requires democratic processes that are transparent and inclusive, getting as many community members involved as possible.
Without effective engagement with local communities, levels of cynicism about local government will continue.
Community support and active participation in the activities of local government is needed if local governance is to be vibrant and strong into the future.
There are a number of ‘hot issues’ the VLGA is currently working on.
Recently the Local Government Electoral Review Panel, chaired by Petro Georgiou AO, released its findings.
The Panel independently reviewed the process of electing local councillors following the 2012 municipal elections in Victoria, following widespread criticism of a range of election aspects.
The Review has produced two Reports containing 55 recommendations for reform.
These include greater information disclosure by candidates (such as political party membership), broadening of the franchise to align with the definition of ‘community’ in the Victorian Local Government Act (1989) and the implementation of a councillor/voter ratio.
As part of its call to parties for the State Election in November, the VLGA has pushed for the release of the Reports and a commitment by an incoming State Government to implement recommendations following an ongoing discussion with the local government sector.
The Commonwealth’s review of the Australian Federation is another area of critical relevance to local government, which the VLGA is actively addressing.
First and foremost, it is disappointing that local government is conspicuous in its absence from the Government’s Issues paper.
Yet, many of the issues covered in the document are directly relevant to local government and local governance.
These include the need for reform in the provision of financial assistance from the Commonwealth to modernised approaches to service delivered directly to citizens and local communities.
One of the other issues, which might have slipped under the radar, is the focus on public sector reform.
The Issues paper discusses the need for the rationalisation of the roles and responsibilities of government, which has the ‘potential to drive public sector productivity improvements’ and provides the ‘opportunity for driving greater contestability in the delivery of public services’.
This sort of commentary confirms our view that there is a significant productivity reform agenda that the local government sector, along with their communities, needs to address.
The VLGA is working closely with our members across the State on these, and many other, pressing issues confronting Victorian communities.
We look forward to continuing to lead the debate on the future of local governance.