Council representation under review
by JAMES POYNER
7th March 2019
THE VICTORIAN Electoral Commission (VEC) is conducting an Electoral Representation Review of Nillumbik Shire Council.
In this review, the VEC will look at Council elements such as the number of councillors, the number of wards, where the wards are located and how many councillors represent each ward.
The VEC conduct this review of every Council in the state every 12 years.
Submissions for the Preliminary Report are being accepted until 5pm, Wednesday, March 13 and can be submitted to the VEC in writing or through their website.
VEC Electoral Commissioner, Warwick Gately AM is encouraging all Nillumbik Shire residents to get involved, as this review will determine how residents are represented by Council.
“The opportunity to have your say doesn’t come around too often, so it’s important to have a broad range of community members contributing to the shape of their local democracy.
“If you are interested in the future electoral structure of your local area, I encourage you to get involved.
“Public submissions are a vital part of the review process, providing valuable local knowledge and perspectives,” he said.
At the last review in 2008, the VEC report recommended the Shire reduce the number of Wards from nine to seven.
Council are vying to maintain the status quo, passing a motion at the February 26 Ordinary Meeting to submit to the VEC that it retains the seven single councillor ward structure.
The submission continues to summarise that current structure is “consistent with seven distinct geographical communities of interest”, that under a single councillor per ward, it is easy for that person to represent the diverse interests of the wards occupants and that under the current system “responsibility for an issue is less likely to be passed from one councillor to another”.
Yet, current submissions from residents do not support this view.
Vince Bagusauskas is submitting a multimember structure be introduced into the ward structure and proposes this would lead to members serving for the “greater good of the community” as “all have to consider all views”.
Narelle Campbell is submitting a proportional representational model, similar to the Federal Senate.
“The Senate model in Nillumbik would provide equal representation of urban and rural residents at council.
“This would go some way towards ensuring urban residents and landowners, and rural residents and landowners are fairly represented and their needs inform local priorities, decisions and laws”.
Local activist and former Greens candidate in the 2018 State election, Ben Ramcharan also supports the concept of proportional representation and is currently campaigning for Nillumbik residents to endorse the idea.
“Political views in Nillumbik are deeply divided between pro-environment and pro-development.
“Each election, the council seems to switch between the two points of view. This causes a lack of continuity, which is a big problem.”
“With proportional representation, there would be a greater diversity of voices and councillors would need to negotiate, as it would be very difficult for either side to get an absolute majority.
“This would result in proposals to council being more acceptable to both sides and less likely to get revoked.
“It would also mean less drastic changes at council elections, resulting in greater continuity for the shire,” he said.
With many shire residents complaining about the town vs country divide and community groups within the Green Wedge fighting with each other and council over ideological differences, the proportional representation model has promise, but is not a golden ticket.
Electoral boundaries, both within and without the Shire are driven — under State law — by the concept of maintaining a consistent voter/councillor ratio and with the population spread as it is within Nillumbik, there will always be more councillors in the more densely populated urban areas.
But this level of change is not part of the current VEC review, although the review offers a great platform to discuss this issue and maybe even begin working on a governing solution to bring about ideological and geographical balance.
“The biggest solvable issue for rural residents is that half of them are not currently represented by their local councillor because of the political divide in Nillumbik.
“Although proportional representation may not solve the problem of rural residents getting less councillors, what it will do is ensure that all rural residents are represented by at least one of their councillors,” said Mr Ramcharan.
If you are interested in posting a submission for the preliminary part of this review you can do it online via the VEC website, by email to: firstname.lastname@example.org or via post to Victorian Electoral Commission Level 11, 530 Collins Street, Melbourne, 3000.
All submissions must contain your full name, address and contact number.
All submissions will be published on the VEC website or will be available for public inspection at the VEC office in Melbourne.
Following the preliminary submissions, a report will be published by the VEC and a window for submitting responses to this report will open.
The VEC review of Manningham Council is scheduled to take place before the 2020 Municipal Election but a date has not yet been announced.