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Committee for Geelong's Weekly Addy Opinion Piece - Local Government Submissions

As Geelong transforms, our city needs a council that effectively provides services a modern and caring society requires, articulates a shared vision and delivers on priorities that strengthen the overall economy.  To achieve this, the role and responsibilities of a modern day council need to be more clearly defined.  The Committee for Geelong believes that, by doing this, we will see an improvement in our council's effectiveness.

The Committee recently made submissions to the review of the Local Government Act 1989 and the Victorian Electoral Commission's report on electoral options for the City of Greater Geelong.  Our submissions focussed on aspects of local government leadership and representation.  The Committee's view is that modernised legislation will substantially enhance the scope for the City of Greater Geelong to play a major leadership role in our city as it faces significant and complex challenges. 

A generic job description for councillors, prescribed in the Act, should become part of the nomination and election process.  Councillors should be required to undertake high quality inductions and ongoing professional development in role, relationship management and governance, together with relevant skills such as accounting and financial principles.  The Act should also contain a strengthened and enforceable Code of Conduct, including rigorous provisions for sanctions and dismissal for misconduct or poor performance.

The Committee's submissions confirmed our position that Geelong's directly elected mayoral system should be retained, and improved.  The mayor and deputy mayor should be elected as a team, as is the case with the City of Melbourne.  The Committee's belief in the importance of a directly elected mayoral model was further supported during our trade mission to the USA, when we met with L. Douglas Wilder, the first directly elected mayor of Richmond, Virginia.  Mr Wilder vociferously argued that a strong mayoral model, rather than one with limited power, is essential to move a city forward. 

The Committee also believes that the current system of twelve wards, with one councillor in each ward, potentially facilitates parochialism that inhibits the opportunity for a broad, whole-of-municipality, approach.  This system has not delivered wide community of interest benefits and only serves a 'geographical' community of interest.  For example, significant non-geographical community of interest sectors such as the agriculture, tourism, business and retail sectors, together with community groups representing the aged, people with a disability and the culturally and linguistically diverse are not well represented. This has resulted in the voices of these important sectors being indistinct and constrained. The Committee hopes to see the removal of single councillor wards and therefore selected the Victorian Electoral Commission's preferred 'option A', comprising 11 councillors in three three-councillor wards and one two-councillor ward.

It is evident that Geelong's local government can be improved.  The Committee is optimistic that an amended structure, together with better governance, will create a quality council and lead to greater stability in our city. The Committee has urged the Victorian State Government to take a courageous leadership role on this issue prior to the 2016 local government elections.

Rebecca Casson is the Committee for Geelong Chief Executive Officer. Follow the Committee for Geelong on Twitter @Comm4Geelong.



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