Victoria prepares to vote

by JAMES POYNER
7th September 2020

UNCERTAINTY around the October Local Council elections has been abated with the Minister for Local Government, Shaun Leane announcing on August 19, following advice from the Chief Health Officer Professor Brett Sutton, the election can go ahead as planned on Saturday, October 24.

“As Minister for Local Government, I sought advice from the Victorian Government Solicitor’s Office and Chief Health Officer as to how best to proceed while Victoria is in the midst of the Coronavirus Pandemic.

“I also engaged with the local government sector to fully understand concerns regarding the impact of current restrictions in Victoria on campaigning, and relayed that I would act on advice from the Chief Health Officer.

“The Chief Health Officer has advised that October represents a period when risk is likely to be substantially lower than at present, and there are no compelling public health grounds for the elections to be delayed,” Mr Leane said.

This was reaffirmed by Professor Sutton at the September 6 Road Map Press Conference.

In a virtual press conference attended by the Diary, Victorian Electoral Commissioner, Warwick Gately said that he “welcomed the certainty that this announcement brings”.

He said the VEC has closely monitored Government advice in developing a COVIDSafe election plan.

The Plan puts additional measures in place to safely manage the Victorian local council elections being held by post this October.

Mr Gately has said postal voting is safe and of high integrity, and that the VEC is ready to respond to the changing environment.

“The situation remains dynamic and the VEC continues to actively monitor conditions and restrictions.

“Additional measures in place include increased distancing in election offices, limiting face-to-face contact, enforcing mask wearing where mandated by the Victorian Government, and moving operational activity online whenever possible,” he said.

The 2020 Victorian local elections will also be the first elections held under the Local Government Act 2020.

Under The Act, all election candidates are required to undertake mandatory training, regardless of whether they are new or an incumbent.

The training covers areas such as: how councils are run, election donation rules, councillor code of conduct, conflict of interest and what support is available to councillors.

Candidates will also have the opportunity to include a 300-word statement in the mailed-out ballot packs.

Councillors will also have to complete Councillor Induction Training within the first six months of taking office.

The 2020 Victorian council elections will be the State’s largest single election program, with a predicted 4.5 million voters and over 2,000 candidates participating in elections across 76 councils.

For the first time in Victoria, the local election will be the first to be held completely by postal vote, in 2016, 72 of the 78 Councils that held elections were by postal vote.

For 2020, 76 Councils will see their citizens, and ratepayers cast their vote, which is every Victorian Council excepting Whittlesea, Casey and South Gippsland, who are currently in administration.

In the change to council structure — with some Councils changing from multi-member to single-member wards — there will be 298 seats in contention across participating Councils.

With eight councils switching to single member wards, including Maroondah and Manningham, which will switch to nine, single councillor wards, the Victorian Electoral Commission (VEC) has stressed the importance of voters making sure they know what ward they will be voting for on October 24, as the ward names and their boundaries have changed.

Detailed information about the forthcoming election, at a local government level can be found on the VEC website.

The VEC is also encouraging voters to sign up for its VoterAlert sms and email service, which will provide those registered with prompts and other important information about the forthcoming election.

 

Dates for your diary

The enrolment deadline has now passed.

The next big milestone is the candidate nomination period which occurs between Thursday, September 17 and 12pm on Tuesday, September 22.

Eligible candidates wishing to nominate should visit the VEC website for further information on procedures and the required pre-nomination training.

Those who do qualify and choose to nominate will need to present at their municipality’s election office — by appointment — during the nomination period.

Ballot packs will be mailed out between October 6 and October 8, delivered via Australia Post.

Voters have until 6pm on October 23 to return their ballot paper, either posted before this date and time, or hand delivered to their municipality’s election office.

Election declarations are expected to take place before Friday, November 13, the deadline for declaration was extended to accommodate for COVID-Safe work practices for VEC counting staff.

Memoirs of a local councillor

BY SOPHY GALBALLY

WHEN I WAS first elected as Councillor in the Mullum Mullum ward, I felt proud and full of gratitude for the many people in the community who trusted me as their representative and advocate.

I remember that first day in the council chambers, my name plate, the officialdom, the other eight councillors, all with big personalities.

I asked myself “How did I get here?” I had a Talking Heads song recycling in my head!

It was not long before my head was full of facts and figures.

Newly appointed councillors are thrown into many strategic briefing sessions to help us get up to speed about what council does and how it does it.

That includes how decisions are made about how much to spend on roads, rubbish, open spaces, sport and activity centres.

At first, the cynic in me saw it as indoctrination by the “system”, with fellow councillors posturing to portray themselves as all-knowing.

I was determined to not become a part of the machine, and to stay true to those who elected me.

I noticed early that council had a distinct city vs country mentality in its approach to just about everything.

I am not referring only to trees!

There was a strong push for curb and channel and drainage schemes which did not entertain alternative options.

Business as usual was the motto. 

Readers of the Diary will most likely be aware of the magnitude of the battle for Melbourne Hill Road (MHR).

If it were not for the residents’ strong opposition to the drainage scheme (a seven-year fight), this area of Warrandyte would look like a suburban estate with no character and no mature trees.

My advocacy for MHR was my longest running battle.

The final result is also due to the efforts and collective knowledge of the residents who never gave up.

The MHR residents’ stand against council on this drainage scheme created benefits that flowed to all the residents of Manningham.

Their win effectively removed the Special Rates and Charges as a means for Council to proceed with works, and then charge residents.

So, if you happen to bump into a resident from Melbourne Hill Road, do not forget to thank them.

When the day comes that a drainage scheme is coming your way, you will not have to pay for it, because your rates are already paying for it!

There is a big lesson here.

When you have difficulty with council, approach your ward councillor and ask for their support.

Hopefully you have elected a person who is sympathetic and feisty enough to battle for you.

I loved being a councillor most when I could advocate for community groups and help individuals and families navigate the web of council rules, regulations and permits.

Communication from council is often dry and “official” and I often saw letters to residents which gave cool legalistic responses to issues that affect families in very emotional ways.

For instance, a brother and sister in Warrandyte wanted to subdivide five acres of inherited land into two lots.

Council had refused the application for two years and it was not clear why.

The residents asked for my assistance.

At a meeting with senior executives at the Council, the Officers said they had not approved of the line of division because the line was not front and centre.

I suggested they look at the site as Warrandyte has many dips and slopes and perhaps the siblings were trying to ensure they both had equal amount of usable land.

The result was that the application was quickly approved.

Two happy families finally able to enjoy their property.

Another example of advocacy concerned a senior citizen who lived alone on an acre in Park Orchards.

Due to council graveling the road and subsequent rain, a lot of gravel entered her driveway and garden, and also under her house.

Her pleas to council to remove it came with the response, “We cannot do work on private property”.