Ministerial Statement on Local Government

19 August 2015 Assembly Ministerial Statement

Mr WYNNE (Minister for Planning) — I am pleased to make a contribution to the debate on the ministerial statement on local government. What an ambitious program! What an ambitious statement by my colleague the Minister for Local Government. I have to say I am envious of the broad sweep of this ministerial statement, which speaks to the deep commitment of the Andrews government and that of my ministerial colleague, the Minister for Local Government, who is at the table, not only to engage with local government but to bring local government along with us on this ambitious reform agenda. In that respect, as the previous Minister for Local Government and indeed the previous shadow Minister for Local Government, I know that under the Minister for Local Government, this portfolio — along with the other wonderful portfolio of Aboriginal affairs — is in excellent hands. That could be exhibited in no more manifest way than this very important and visionary document that we are debating today. I commend the minister on this initiative.

I have debated in opposition to the member for Box Hill for the last four years, while he was in government and I was in opposition, and generally speaking the member for Box Hill is very well prepared in his contributions to debate. I have to say, however, that his contribution today in relation to this local government bill, with all respect — —

An honourable member interjected.

Mr WYNNE — In relation to the ministerial statement, I have to say that the contribution of the member for Box Hill was not his finest effort, and it had a level of sourness that was simply unnecessary. Frankly I expect better of the member for Box Hill, and in his reflections perhaps later today, he may consider that this was perhaps not his finest contribution in the Parliament.

Mr T. Bull interjected.

Mr WYNNE — From you — cut it out!

This ministerial statement is essentially anchored on three key principles. The first is integrity and good governance. The second, which the minister has talked about, is capacity and performance of local government. The third is delivering for communities. I will make only one other passing reference, because I want to go to the Local Government Act 1989 itself and the review of it.

The member for Box Hill indicated in his contribution to the debate that there had been cuts to the local government sector.

Ms Hutchins interjected.

Mr WYNNE — As the honourable minister rightly says, it is simply not true. We point of course to the $50 million that was provided to the Interface Growth Fund and the record amount provided for libraries, one of our most crucial areas of social infrastructure. The member for Box Hill neglected to mention — and the former Minister for Local Government knows about this as well — the ugly and brutal cut by the federal government in freezing financial assistance grants to local government. The former Minister for Local Government is a good man and he knows what impact that vicious cut has had to the bottom line of local governments, but sadly the member for Box Hill seems to forget that his federal colleagues undertook that vicious cut. It is deplorable that the member for Box Hill failed to acknowledge this issue in his contribution.

One of the most important reforms the minister is going to undertake is the review of the current Local Government Act which, as members will know, was enacted in 1989.

Mr Watt interjected.

Mr WYNNE — A fantastic year.

Mr T. Smith — You were the Right Honourable Lord Mayor then, weren’t you?

Mr WYNNE — I did have some hope for this fellow. It was 1990–91, brother. Get it straight!

Mr T. Smith interjected.

Mr WYNNE — Yes, they were the halcyon days of local government. It has all been downhill since then.

The Local Government Act was, as I said, enacted in 1989 and there have since been more than 90 amending bills with hundreds of amendments. The act was a relatively thin document when it was first enacted, and now it is a massive document. Many of these amendments addressed specific issues that had arisen and contributed to the act becoming, in my view and indeed in the view of the minister, overly prescriptive. As the then shadow Minister for Local Government I announced that we would review the act. That decision was widely supported by the local government sector and indeed by the peak bodies, and it has been welcomed.

We want a modern act that provides an effective framework for the next 25 years. In 1989 it was a very simple act and one that was appropriate for its time, but it is important that we refresh the act to provide guidance for local governments for the next 25 years. It is a significant task, but under the leadership of my colleague, the member for Yuroke, we are in good hands. The member for Yuroke has, of course, had a very distinguished career in local government.

Mr Pearson interjected.

Mr WYNNE — A great mayor, as my colleague said. She comes to this task with a particularly unique set of skills to guide this very important process.

The other members of the panel would of course be known to anybody who has knocked around in local government; even our friend over there might know a couple of them. The panel members include Dr Kathy Alexander, former CEO of the City of Melbourne and a very good CEO; Ms Kay Rundle, who is well known to many people and, again, a former CEO; Nicholas Reece, who is a principal fellow at Melbourne University; and two councillors, Cr Mary Delahunty, who is known to both sides of the chamber, and Cr David Clark.

This panel brings together an exceptional and broad range of experiences from many of these people who are completely anchored in their experiences of local government. Under the leadership of my colleague, the member for Yuroke, this will be a fantastic opportunity for the government to ensure that we have a refresher of the Local Government Act and bring it into contemporary language to address the contemporary issues that local government has to confront.

Under the terms of reference, the purpose of the review is to revise the current legislation governing local government to create a more contemporary, plain English and simple to understand version that will guide local government in the future. I say in conclusion that it is very important to review the act because for many people local government is their one source of interaction with government. We want to ensure that there is confidence in the community that we have in place a strong, contemporary legislative structure that is understood by local government practitioners and councillors and is supported by the community as well.

I commend the work of the minister not only in reviewing the Local Government Act but for her far-reaching and ambitious ministerial statement on local government. Well done, Minister!