Opinion

John Gray: Local councils in the spotlight

By Shepparton News

This week, if all went to plan, Victoria was to get a much-improved Local Government Act, which "will help councils be more accountable, democratic and responsive", according to State Local Government Minister Adem Somyurek,

C'mon Adem, pull the other leg, it sings Jingle Bells. Can you enunciate for Merrigum's Joe Blow, for instance, how he and spouse Suzy are going to
experience boosted "consultation and engagement between councils, residents, ratepayers and businesses — as well as providing for ongoing accountability" when their single councillor representative (one out of nine) is their sole voice at the boardroom table — the other eight councillors having first allegiance to their own piddling single wards?

This single councillor wards is a reversion to medieval, municipal monkeying — downgrading local government to pathetic parish-pump politics.

Why the antediluvian backtrack? Well you might ask.

It seems the Greens in inner-city councils with multi-member wards, or unsubdivided ones, are finding it easier to win council seats. This in turn gives them greater chances to win state seats, particularly in the upper house.

This must be blocked — the best way being by partisan Liberal-Coalition support, hence that basic joint support, resulting in passing of the current new changes.

Blow the qualified "success" of unsubdivided regional councils like Greater Shepparton.

There is a chance of possible relief — a time constraint, with only six months for the Victorian Electoral Commission to deal with structural changes for 78 councils’ internal boundaries.

Even when you're going backwards you've got to dot the i's and cross the t's.

● Some Greater Shepparton adults are randomly being canvassed, confidentially, in a quarterly telephone Local Government Community Satisfaction Survey on behalf of the council, until next Wednesday, "to have their say on the various topics being presented".

For what they're worth, the analysed results are meant to "provide insight into ways council can improve service delivery, and all information gathered will be used to provide ongoing improvements for Greater Shepparton".

Why am I even more cynical than usual? Basically, there are too many variables.

For example, there's the overall dislike of local government per se (anecdotally estimated as 35 per cent) — driven by nearly all of us begrudgingly paying rates as landowners or through rent.

Then there's the mob that lives to criticise council decisions — the "oughta, oughta group" (they oughta do this, they oughta do that).

How do you "survey" a dissident group like that?

Then there are the incidental factors such as the response to a tough, controversial decision, right or wrong, coming out of the Welsford St bunker — coinciding with the survey.

Doomed to provide a dodgy outcome.

Such survey results are always interesting but don't expect any particularly productive outcomes. Business as usual, which is generally okay by me.

● Six months only now until the statewide council elections and all is quiet on the northern, southern, eastern and western fronts — just a few rumblings and very little speculation of substance.

Nine vacancies to fill — perhaps four, maybe five, incumbents offering again, with two or three red-hot certainties to salute the judges.

There is some speculation about a couple of "formers" tossing their bonnets in the ring — both with excellent credentials (but are the punters wise enough to recognise past wisdom?).

Depending on what electoral structure (unsubdivided or single councillor wards) is employed, and the calibre of the newbies in the field, my guess is a sworn-in final Greater Shepparton composition of four "old" (unsubdivided) and three "old" (single councillor wards).

Early days but prospective candidates need to make intentions known before nailing their policies to the mast.