"An attack on democracy": West Wimmera Mayor Ron Hawkins fears for the future of local government

West Wimmera Mayor Ron Hawkins

West Wimmera Mayor Ron Hawkins

WEST Wimmera Mayor Ron Hawkins has labelled a new Local Government Amendment Bill as an attack on democracy.

Cr Hawkins also feared for the future of local government as the nation’s third tier of government.

The State Government’s Local Government Amendment, Governance and Conduct, Bill 2014 was presented to State Parliament last month.

The Bill proposes changes to the Local Government Act 1989 to promote good conduct by elected councillors and to support effective governance by councils.

Proposed reforms include mandatory inductions for councillors, more transparency of chief executive employment contracts, increased mayoral power to remove misbehaving councillors from council meetings and increased power for the Local Government Inspectorate to investigate and take action for breaches of conduct.

“It seems that everybody now has to pay the price for the activities of a few scoundrels.” - Mayor Ron Hawkins

Cr Hawkins said the legislation would change the rules dramatically.

“In reality, there have been a limited number of problems in local government within some councils, with the vast majority working perfectly well,” he said.

“It seems that everybody now has to pay the price for the activities of a few scoundrels.”

Cr Hawkins said under the amendment, if circumstances changed in any council, the electors had the final say.

“However in this proposal, intervention pre-empts democracy,” he said.

“It is a complete over-reaction by the government. It could be an instance of using a sledgehammer to crack a nut.”

Cr Annette Jones said the Bill was in response to councillors who misbehaved.

“It seems we are all being tarred with the same brush,” she said. “It’s all about keeping councillors in line.”

Cr Hawkins said the legislation needed some robust public debate to determine if the community still needed the third tier of government.

But Cr Warren Wait said council should not be concerned if it had nothing to hide.

Local Government Minister Tim Bull said the amendment was part of the most significant reforms to local government in 20 years.

“This new legislation is designed to protect the reputation of the overwhelming majority of councillors who are honourable, hardworking people doing their utmost for their communities.

“These reforms will provide a clear direction for all councillors and councils to fulfil their civic duties responsibly.”

Rural Councils Victoria chairman and Hindmarsh Mayor Rob Gersch said he did not see a problem with the amendment.

“Unfortunately, there are one or two councillors or one or two councils that abuse the system,” he said.

“If a councillor misbehaves then I don’t have a problem with the book being thrown at them.”

Cr Gersch said Wimmera councillors knew to abide by the Victorian council code of conduct.

Cr Hawkins comments further on the issue in his mayoral column on page 12.

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