THE VICTORIAN Electoral Commission (VEC) have released its preliminary report regarding the electoral structure of Nillumbik Shire Council in its representation review.
Following an analysis of the projected population/voter data and the comments made in the Preliminary Submissions the VEC want feedback on two options:
- Option A: Seven councillors elected from three wards (one three‑councillor ward and two two‑councillor wards)
- Option B: Seven councillors elected from seven single‑councillor wards.
The VEC has highlighted its preference is for Option A.
An extensive 36 page report has been produced by the VEC and can read and downloaded here.
The urban/rural divide and the challenge of fairly representing residents was a common theme during the submission period.
It is common knowledge that the 435 square kilometre shire, with an estimated population of around 50,000 struggles with the challenges of having a highly concentrated population in its urban areas (Eltham had a population of 18,314 in the 2016 census) but has a responsibility to conserve the Green Wedge which makes up 91% of the geographical area and a population of 13,000.
This, coupled with ideological differences between significant community groups within Nillumbik’s Green Wedge, make fair representation a challenge.
Under the Local Government Act 1989 (LGA89), a subdivided municipality needs to ensure that each councillor represents around 10% of the total voter population.
The VEC uses LGA89 to calculate the total number of councillors needed to accurately represent each ward.
The choice to keep the number of councillors at seven is based on population growth projections which estimates Nillumbik Shire’s voting population will increase by 9.51% by the year 2036.
A large number of the submissions called for a system based on un-subdivided proportional representation, and while its preferred multi-councillor ward system does rely on proportional representation, it decided to not adopt a single ward model:
“The VEC recognises that there are some significant advantages to an un-subdivided electoral structure for Nillumbik Shire Council.
It would mean the proportional representation system would be used at elections and ensure that all seven councillors would be subject to the same quota to be elected (12.5%), which increases the community’s confidence during elections.
The un-subdivided electoral structure would provide voters with the widest choice of candidates at elections, enable both geographic and non-geographic communities of interest to elect a representative based on the proportion of support by the whole community and promote a whole-of-shire focus for councillors in a local council area where urban and rural interests are deeply inter-related due to their shared concerns about balancing environmental and development priorities.
However, the VEC has observed that elections for Nillumbik Shire Council have consistently been highly contested.
…An un-subdivided election for Nillumbik Shire Council will result in a lengthy ballot paper with an unwieldy list of candidates.
In the VEC’s experience, longer ballot papers can be confusing for voters and more difficult to fill out correctly, leading to higher levels of informal voting through voter error thereby effectively disenfranchising these voters.
On balance, the VEC did not favour an un-subdivided electoral structure for Nillumbik Shire Council for the following reasons:
- An un-subdivided electoral structure would result in a much larger ballot paper.
- The preliminary submissions have tended to focus on the division between interest groups with conservation or development priorities in the Green Wedge.
However, the VEC has generally heard that there remain differences in experiences and interests between urban and rural voters in the Shire.
Unlike an un-subdivided electoral structure, a subdivided structure would ensure there remains recognition of the broad geographic communities of interest in Nillumbik Shire.”
The VEC’s preferred three-ward multi-councillor option divides the shire into urban and rural wards and the multi-councillor option “ensures that the same counting system will be used in all three wards (i.e. proportional representation).”
With more than one councillor per ward, it is hoped this would address the issues of polarised council policy, specifically in the Green Wedge as it will not be just one councillor representing the view of everyone.
However, this is only going to work if the views/opinions of two Green Wedge council representatives are different enough to bring balanced representation to both conservation and development factions within the Green Wedge.
The VEC does highlight that under the three-ward Option, the Artisan Hills Ward is disproportionately larger — in terms of area — than the other two wards and may mean long travel times for those elected councillors, but the VEC states that this two-councillor structure keeps with the 10% representation tolerance.
If Option-A is chosen, will it “fix” the legislative issues in the Green Wedge? — probably not. It is this journalist’s opinion that the ideological and policy issues of the Green Wedge transcend Local Government.
However, if having multi-councillor wards stops the trend of Council swinging dramatically between development and conservation and allows for some debate on how to address both sides of the Green Wedge debate, then it is a good thing.
The VEC wants to know your opinion on Option A and Option B, public submissions are open until 5pm, Wednesday, May 8.
Submissions must include the full name, address and contact telephone number of the submitter.
Submissions without this information cannot be accepted.
Submissions can be made via:
The online submission form at vec.vic.gov.au
Email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Victorian Electoral Commission
Level 11, 530 Collins Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
On Monday, May 13, there will be a public hearing at Nillumbik Council.
At this hearing, submitters will have a chance to talk about their submission in person.