Local Government

Ms GRALEY (Narre Warren South) — It is always a pleasure to follow the member for Mornington.

Mr Morris — Good local member!

Ms GRALEY — Good local member! Very good. We do share a passion for a certain part of Victoria. Indeed, we have both represented that area at a local government level. I would like to do is put on the record as a former councillor and a mayor that I have great pleasure in speaking on this bill. Unlike the member for Prahran, I was actually on the council for a decent period of time, so I do know quite a bit about this and continue to take an interesting council affairs. I would like to put on the record that it was truly one of the great experiences of my life being the mayor of the Shire of Mornington Peninsula, because representing your local area and getting things done in a quick and responsive way is a great thing to be involved in.

It seems to me that local government has a really critical role to play because — as other members have said — it is the level of government closest to the people and it can often be, because of that, the most responsive and accountable level of government. That is the case if it is working as it should, if it is working well, if it has the interests of the ratepayers at the forefront of its thinking and if it has a strong vision for where it wants to go that is the result of extensive community consultation.

I know that the member for Mornington was involved in some of the consultations I was involved in when creating the community document for the future of the Mornington Peninsula. Some of that is still in place more than 10 years later. If you work with your community and get it right, you can construct a vision, a strategy, for taking that council forward in a very positive way over a period of time. I also know that if a council has its priorities right and focuses on delivering the services and facilities that ratepayers want, not only do ratepayers feel very satisfied with the people they have elected but as elected officials you get a kick out of making sure your local area is looking fantastic and is a thriving, healthy and prosperous community.

Therefore it disappoints me to have seen in recent years that, whilst some local councils are operating quite effectively and responsibly and in an accountable manner, there are a number of local councils that are not meeting community expectations. Frankly, this ministerial statement could not have come soon enough. There are many features in the ministerial statement, but I am going to concentrate on just a few.

It is very important that every level of government deliver good governance, so I am pleased to see — and this was an election commitment of the Andrews Labor government — that we have focused on making sure we have integrity and good governance in delivering for our local communities. Part of this involves a review of the Local Government Act 1989. We have committed to making sure the Local Government Act is modernised, and I note that in her ministerial statement the minister said:

The new act will improve the authority of councils to engage, challenge, innovate and deliver.

That says it all. That is exactly what local councils should be doing.

As I said, I have been disappointed in the actions of some local councils. It is certainly evident when you read the local papers that a lot of ratepayers are not happy and that some councils’ activities would not pass what is being talked about lately as the ‘pub test’. I draw attention to a council in my area, the City of Casey. Some of the ways in which ratepayers money has been used has been truly despicable. I am talking about the fact that council funds have been used for political campaigning. Council funds have also been used for riding lessons for councillors so they could participate in a community event. I must say that I agree with my parliamentary colleague and the person who shares with me the boundary of the City of Casey, the member for Narre Warren North, who was reported in the Berwick News as commenting that:

… residents were under a lot of pressure from a high rate rise and said they would be shocked by the councillors’ antics.

He is further quoted as saying:

They need to pull their belts in and [practice] discretion of expenditure like that … Wacky, wacky, wacky.

I find it hard to believe that any councillor would use council’s funds to have riding lessons in this time and age. We are waiting for our gutters to be cleaned, we are waiting for our drains to be fixed up, we are waiting for our roads to be fixed — and they are off having a joyride on a pony.

It is not just about using council funds. There is the ward funds issue. I noticed that the member for Mornington made the point that the coalition did a lot when it was in government. Ha, ha! We were talking about having some legislation around ward funds when the coalition was in government, but it never appeared. I have been waiting for this day because I really wanted to get up and talk about a particular incident that I was made aware of. I heard on a number of occasions about how ward funds were being used. The member for Geelong is in the house, and I know she has some outrageous stories to tell about what happened down her way.

A resident who was going to have a sausage sizzle to raise funds for her community group rang me. She had been told that she could have $1000 for her sausage sizzle out of the ward funds. I think she felt like she had won Tattslotto getting $1000 for a sausage sizzle. However, this was on the condition — because this person was running for state office — that a photo was taken that she could put in the paper and in the little leaflets she was putting out in preparation for running for state Parliament. That photo meant it was a very expensive sausage sizzle that was paid for out of ward funds. It is evident that some guidance and some regulation around that area is definitely needed.

Finally I would like to talk about two aspects of the ministerial statement. One is the rate-capping proposal that we announced during the election campaign. I have to say that people have been ringing my office and saying, ‘Go for it’. They are really wrapped in the idea that we could stop councils from spending money on things they do not agree it should be spent on and that there could be some restrictions on that spending. They are also concerned about the fact that rates had continued to grow.

I will point out for the benefit of the house that in 2011–12 rates in the City of Casey went up over 10 per cent; in 2012–13 they went up 9.2 per cent; and in 2013–14 they went up 9.2 per cent. This is an area where there is a lot of mortgage stress. There are a lot of families wanting to do the best for their kids — making sure they get off to school in their uniforms, go to their camps and do their extracurricular activities — and they are being stung with these outrageous rate increases.

I know that the City of Casey has many things it wants to build and a lot of people for whom they want to provide services, so I am glad that whilst the government is putting in place some restrictions on rate increases it is also saying to the councils in the interface areas that are experiencing enormous growth — 90 families per week are moving into the City of Casey — that we are establishing the Interface Growth Fund. I know from experience that when the Minister for Local Government and I were on the Outer Suburban/Interface Services Committee in the last Parliament we submitted a minority report saying that the government should establish this fund.

At that time the opposition did not support that. That was done in the context of a minority report that the now minister and I put together, saying local councils were crying out for some assistance to make sure that families in the outer suburbs were getting the facilities they needed in a timely and responsive manner.

I am very pleased to see that the Interface Growth Fund has been established by the Andrews Labor government, just as it promised it would do before the election, and that there will be some funding announcements in the not-too-distant future. I know for a fact that when the Minister for Local Government visited my electorate only a couple of months ago the local council was very pleased to have her there and was very supportive of the establishment of the Interface Growth Fund.

I am pleased the minister has made this statement today. There is much more that I could say, but time is running out. I congratulate the minister on her statement. I look forward to local government becoming a much more responsive, accountable and transparent level of government in future.