03 May 2023, 16:00
Economy & Infrastructure Committee, Melbourne

David ETTERSHANK (Western Metropolitan):

Legalise Cannabis Victoria welcomes this debate, which ultimately pivots on the centrality of local government to the lives of all Victorians.

As I have said in this place previously, I believe local government to be a critical element of the warp and weft of our democratic society. There is no level of government that is more accessible or I believe more responsive to the local community. I have also expressed previously my concerns over the propensity of state governments of both persuasions to unilaterally overrule local governments.

As a local resident activist in Melbourne for more than 25 years I have regularly witnessed planning ministers sweep aside proposed planning schemes or planning approvals that have often been the product of months or even years of consultation and negotiation. In speaking to this proposed referral as it appears on the notice paper, I would firstly note that we have not had anyone from the opposition approach us about this proposal. I note that likewise no conversation has been initiated by the opposition with Ms Purcell, the chair of the Economy and Infrastructure Committee, either. That said, we would offer some observations about the proposed terms of reference. Term of reference 2 identifies ‘the services local councils should, and should not, be delivering for their communities’.

Councils understand all too well the expectations of their residents as to essential and basic service provision. Further, on a range of more discretionary expenditures it is up to the democratic process at that local government level to determine how resources are allocated. In the absence of regulatory non-compliance or malfeasance, Legalise Cannabis Victoria believes it is not for a committee of this place to determine what services a council should or should not be delivering. Term of reference 3 refers to ‘whether local councils are adequately delivering on their core service delivery objectives’.

All too often over the years we have seen the education debate in this country dumbed down to simplistic notions of the three R’s. While I am not suggesting that the opposition is proposing any such simplistic approach to the complexities of local government, it does concern me that such a term of reference could be interpreted as telling councils to stick to garbage, rates and animal waste by-products. As was noted before, local government is a democratic institution, and if councillors fail to deliver on core services, there is an inevitable consequence: they get voted out. And that is as it should be. Terms of reference 4 and 5 strike to the question of the structure and sustainability of funding for local government. These are very important questions that are of great concern across councils and their communities. Term of reference 6 refers to ‘the accountability of local councils in the use of revenue to deliver core services’.

Once again I feel my Spidey senses tingling and the hairs on the back of my neck rising. Recently we have all witnessed examples of reprehensible and intimidatory behaviour at some council meetings. Much of this has referenced the discretionary use of revenue by councils. While I am sure it is not the intention of the opposition to grab a big slab of raw, bleeding meat and to throw it into those public debates, many might see such a term of reference as doing just that.

As I said before, in the absence of regulatory non-compliance or malfeasance, accountability is through councils engaging with their communities and ultimately through the ballot box. To sum up, there are important issues that this place should consider on the question of local government. For example, in my region of Western Metropolitan, local councils are wrestling with the complexities and challenges of multiple growth corridors. For these councils there are critical questions, including rate capping, the distribution of developer contributions and inadequate coordination and collaboration between councils and state government on the delivery of services and infrastructure, to name but a few.

There are terms of reference contained within this referral motion that do strike to important revenue and resource issues. However, they commingle currently with terms of reference that, as I have raised previously, cause us major concern. Accordingly, we will not be supporting the referral but would welcome the opportunity to explore these issues in the future to enhance and strengthen the role of local government.


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