The present local government system is a recipe for corruption. Councillors have a lot of power, a high workload, low salary, and courtesy of proportional representation, low accountability. These arrangements have created a perfect storm in which residents ultimately lose out.
The Local Government Electoral Review was generated following an unprecedented number of complaints, 456, received following the 2012 local council elections. The Review made several recommendations including capping campaign donations at $1,000, postal voting for all municipalities, candidates nominating in person and a review of local councillor allowances.
Candidates nominating in person and having to show they have a minimum number of supporters makes eminent sense.
Current councillor allowances should be reviewed in the context of population growth, resident expectations, councillor workloads and attracting better quality candidates. Councillors in Victoria are paid between $7,730 and $27,514 a year. Low pay, and high workload and pressure are not good variables if we want to weed out corruption and attract high calibre candidates.
Councillor workloads are becoming increasingly more difficult and challenging given Melbourne’s rapid population growth. As of 2014, the City of Moreland has 163,217 residents and 11 Councillors representing 3 wards. With Council Multi Wards now almost the size of some state electorates, containing 30,000 to 50,000 residents, the workload is too high for what is at best a part time job.
When I was a Councillor, we had single member wards with around 8,000 to 10,000 residents per ward. The ward was small enough that as a Councillor you had time to virtually get to know everyone in your neighbourhood, and to be more proactive on emerging issues. Under this system residents could build a personal relationship with their local councillor, and councillors were more accountable and could not hide their decisions or work ethic. Under the multi member ward system, we have a situation where some councillors work harder than others, and councillors who do not put in the same effort, not turn up to meetings, vote against the interest of their communities, and who show disregard for the position they were elected to, are less accountable to their communities.
We would be a lot better off moving back to single member wards for councils. This would improve Councillors ability to represent their communities, improve residents access to their representatives, and reduce the risk of corruption, inappropriate behaviour, and low accountability.
Local Government is the closest level of government to the people. The VEC, Local Government Electoral Review and the Ministers responsible, should be working to better connect residents with councillors, and encourage good quality council representatives.