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2020-07-01



Article in The Geelong Advertiser: Silence on single wards
 
01 July 2020, Page 5, by Harrison Tippet


                        New minister refuses to talk, Geelong


Victoria's new Local Government Minister has refused to say whether he will reconsider a return to single-councillor wards in Geelong, despite the system being blamed for some of the dysfunction that led to the council’s 2016 sacking.


New
frontbencher Shaun Leane was promoted to replace dumped local government minister Adem Somyurek in mid-June, but has refused to respond to questions regarding Geelong’s ward structure.

The City of Greater Geelong will move to a single-councillor ward structure from 2024, due to the Local Government Act 2020 championed by Mr Leane’s predecessor.

It comes despite an independent commission of inquiry report into Geelong council finding the single-member ward system contributed to the dysfunction at City Hall that resulted in the State Labor Government sacking the city council in 2016, and replacing it with administrators for 18 months.


Mr Leane did not respond to the Geelong Advertiser’s questions over the past week, instead providing comments from an unnamed government spokesperson.


“The new ward system is the result of a four-year review of the Local Government Act and was developed through rigorous consultation with councils, peak bodies and the community,” the spokesperson said.


“The wide-ranging reforms in the new Act will improve democracy, accountability and service delivery across Victoria’s 79 councils.”

Opposition local government spokesman Tim Smith said he supported single-member ward councils, but questioned whether the system’s use in Geelong had been properly considered by the Government.

“The Government is all over the place at the moment; they’re in a state of chaos and panic,” Mr Smith said. “They took a view about ward structures and alike when they sacked the council, and then some years later with a new minister they took a completely different approach.

“Geelong does have some unique differences, and I just wonder whether or not Labor has taken them into account.”

Mr Smith said the Local Government Minister’s refusal to respond to questions about Geelong’s ward structure suggested he didn’t have “any great confidence that he knows at all what he’s talking about with these matters”.

The Proportional Representation Society of Australia’s Victorian branch has labelled the move to single member wards “the single most backward step in true democratic representation in local government in many years”.

Branch secretary Geoffrey Goode said the group believed multi-member wards were better able to serve their communities, and if single councillor wards were kept they would be “a monument to Somyurek”.

“And it’s not a good monument,” Mr Goode said.



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