Date set for October municipal elections
by JAMES POYNER
8th June 2020
THE 2020 MUNICIPAL elections are set for Saturday, October 24, 2020, as announced by Minister for Local Government Adem Somyurek on May 15.
Mr Somyurek also announced that this election will be conducted entirely by postal vote.
This will be the first time postal voting will be used by all Victorian councils.
Voters, councils and the Victorian Electoral Commission (VEC) have been awaiting a decision by the Minster after the Local Government Act 2020 came into effect earlier this year.
The Chief Health Officer has advised the Government that it is safe for a postal election to occur this year.
The 2020 council elections are expected to be Victoria’s biggest election ever, with over 4.5 million voters enrolled and over 2,000 candidates expected to contest.
Mr Somyurek said it was every Victorian’s right to have a say on who represents them.
“Victorians have the right to a democratic say on who represents them at all levels of government.
“By making every vote a postal vote, we’re ensuring this vital democratic process is conducted in a safe manner that also allows for the participation of more voters,” he said.
VEC Electoral Commissioner, Warwick Gately AM acknowledged the announcement.
“The upcoming local government elections in Victoria will support continuity of democratic representation for Victorian communities,” Mr Gately said.
“The VEC will continue to monitor and implement advice issued by the Chief Health Officer of Victoria to ensure the elections are conducted with minimal risk to the health and safety of Victorians.”
The VEC is also taking additional measures to protect the health and wellbeing of its staff, the candidates and the public.
This includes provisions to maintain physical distancing requirements and hygiene standards at all election offices and count locations.
It is anticipated the adjustments will extend the time period for finalising results by one week.
Ballot packs will be mailed to voters and will include voting instructions, candidate information, a ballot paper, and a reply-paid envelope.
Postal voting is a secret ballot and the voter’s choices are anonymous.
The VEC reiterated the importance of making sure all those who are eligible confirm they are enrolled.
Voters must confirm they are enrolled on either the State electoral roll or their council roll before 4pm on Friday, August 28.
Voting is compulsory for all voters on the State roll electoral roll, and those who don’t vote may be fined.
The State Government also indicated voting packs would contain longer candidate statements, in acknowledgement of the strict physical distancing measures which are in place.
Candidates will also be given guidance on suitable and safe campaigning methods.
The State Government is also investing an additional $50,000 to encourage more women to run as councillors in the 2020 municipal elections.
Mr Somyurek has also sought advice to inform Ministerial guidelines to ensure councils provide more flexibility to support and encourage women to serve as councillors.
“We’re supporting more women to run for local government and be successful in the 2020 elections as we take another step towards the goal of gender equality by 2025,” he said.
With Councils being converted to Single Member Ward structures across the country, the 2020 election is certainly going to be interesting, but at least both members of the public and those responsible for organising the election now know when and how it is going to happen.
Can you vote?
Following the last municipal election, candidate Stella Yee challenged the results of Manningham’s Koonung Ward election when, she contended, the advice given to prospective voters around non-citizen voting was unclear.
As reported in the June 2017 Diary, Ms Yee challenged the results of the election, on the grounds the Ward’s non-citizen ratepayers were not properly informed on their right to vote in the election, based on advertisements run in the Manningham Leader and the Age.
At that time, then Manningham Council CEO, Warwick Winn issued a statement saying, “Magistrate Smith found the VEC ‘effectively failed to properly inform, or may have misled, non-resident ratepayers’ as to their eligibility to enrol to vote,” he said.
Mr Winn said Magistrate Smith also found the numbers of non-resident ratepayers who were prevented or disenfranchised from taking part in the election were significant enough that their inclusion in the election process potentially could have affected the outcome of the election.
This decision was later overturned on appeal by VCAT, who found that while the contentious advertisement did not provide a comprehensive description of the enrolment process, the notice did inform every category of voter how they could apply to enrol, and as such the notice fulfilled the requirements of the Act.
With a 2020 election date now set, Ms Yee is on a mission to ensure all those who are entitled to vote, can, given the number of “disenfranchised” voters at the 2016 Municipal Election may have changed the outcome, if they had voted.
“In 2016, I ran as a candidate for Manningham City Council.
“In the process, I discovered a whole group of voters who were not aware of their entitlement to vote in local council elections, and were therefore disenfranchised.
“This group of potential voters comprised residents of the municipality who were ratepayers in Manningham, but not Australian citizens.”
As outlined in the May 2020 Warrandyte Diary article Who can vote in the 2020 election?, whilst it is compulsory for Australian citizens to vote, non-citizen ratepayers and nominees of businesses which also pay rates within a municipality may also be entitled to vote, although it is not mandatory.
The specifics on non-citizen and business ratepayers voting is complex (see the May Diary or the VEC website for full details), but broadly, if you pay rates in a municipality, you can vote in that municipality.
“If you are in this category of ratepayers and you would like to exercise your right to vote in the upcoming council elections, you will need to go to your council office to enrol to be on the CEO’s List of Voters by August 28, 2020,” said Ms Yee.
August 28 is 57 days before the election, this is the Entitlement Date, which is the last date in which those who are eligible to vote (either optional or compulsory) must ensure they are on the appropriate voting roll, to participate in the 2020 municipal election.
Australian Citizens who will turn 18 before Election Day can enrol via the VEC website.
New ward structure for Manningham Council
By JAMES POYNER
MANNINHAM COUNCIL will have nine wards, instead of three, at the next local election.
Manningham Council announced the changes today, requesting input from the community regarding the names of the nine new wards.
Council had to submit the suggested name changes by May 21 and set up a Your Say page to include Manningham residents in the process.
The ward changes were announced by Minister of Local Government, Adem Somyurek on April 22.
Manningham joins nine other councils across Victoria who will not only have a new council in October, but a new representational structure.
Representational structure has been a topic of debate in the last 12 months, firstly with debate over making all local councils single member wards or single ward representation in early drafts of recently assented Local Government Act 2020, and during representational reviews conducted by the Victorian Electoral Commission (VEC) in 2019.
Given Manningham has just finished a representational review, and — along with many other councils — objected to the requirement to become a single member wards council, it is a shock that this change has taken place.
Manningham Mayor, Paul McLeish said: “Our existing ward boundaries have been changed by the Victorian Government despite the Electoral Representation Review, conducted last year by the Victorian Electoral Commission, recommendation to stay with the current three multi councillor wards.”
In early April, the VEC announced their representational reviews were ceasing as part of the new Local Government Act 2020.
When the changes to local government structure were announced on April 22, Mr Somyurek said: “Single member wards support accountability, equity and grassroots democracy.
“This is about giving people more confidence in local government, because strong councils build strong communities.”
It is perplexing why the Minister has decided to take this action, given that there was such obvious opposition to a single member ward system in Manningham, supported by the 2019 VEC representational review which states in its final report that:
“There was also unanimous support for retaining a multi-councillor ward arrangement for Manningham City Council.
“The VEC’s analysis, along with submissions from the community and the Council, indicate that the current electoral structure is functioning well and suits the diverse landscape and demography of the local council.”
The Diary asked the State Government why Mr Somyurek decided to change the ward structure in Manningham when there was clear support for the status quo from both residents and council in recent reviews.
Unfortunately, the Government avoided to respond to the direct question, instead supplying the Diary with background information stating that a single member ward structure is the “preference” under the Local Government Act 2020.
In early May, when Manningham first put out the request for ward names, a number of residents commented on the Diary’s Facebook page that they would prefer a ward name that reflects the Indigenous heritage of the area.
A sentiment reflected by local historian and Birrarung Stories columnist Jim Poulter, who told the Diary:
“This actually creates an opportunity to reflect our history and heritage in the names of the new wards.
“This is not going to occur by just holding a popularity contest where residents come up with random names,” he said.
Mr Poulter suggested that the following principles should be applied to the choice of names:
The names chosen should reflect both our Aboriginal and settler heritages in reasonable balance.
The names should reflect direct connection with each of the nine wards.
The names chosen should not be those of civic figures from the 20th century.
The names of any early settlers chosen should be free of the stain of antagonism toward Aboriginal people.
Mr Poulter has also submitted for consideration a suite of names for the new wards that illustrate the breadth of both Indigenous and colonial heritage in the area.
The final decision on the nine new ward names is in the hands of the Minster for Local Government, Adem Somyurek so we will have to wait until nearer the local election in October to see what Manningham’s new wards will be known as.