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No councillor for Docklands

31 Jan 2012

Docklands seems unlikely to get its own city councillor as a Victorian Electoral Commission (VEC) review has recommended against it.

While the VEC has not made a final decision, it clearly favours an unsubdivided municipality where councillors are elected “at large”.

In a recently-released preliminary report, the VEC has, however, recommended that the City of Melbourne be given an extra two councillors to share the workload of a capital city municipality.

Its recommendation against subdividing the municipality into wards is likely to upset local resident groups which were unanimous in their preference for local ward councillors who, they say, are more in touch with local residents and local issues.

The VEC admits that the vast majority of submissions it received supported the local wards model, but it rejects the notion largely on the basis of what is going to work best for Melbourne as a capital city council.

“A key part of the Council’s role is to develop and implement strategies to further the interests of Melbourne and indirectly of the whole state,” the VEC said in its report.

“The risk of a reversion to a ward structure is that councillors may become preoccupied with local issues that they lose sight of capital city strategies, causing the council to lose momentum.”

“Unlike other Victorian councils, Melbourne City Council has a statewide, a national and even an international dimension.”

The VEC also points out that residents (state electors) comprise only 40 per cent of eligible voters within the City of Melbourne, with non-resident property owners and corporations having a combined entitlement of 60 per cent.

The VEC noted the City of Melbourne’s claim that it already consults closely with residents.  It repeated this statement from the council’s website:

“We run public consultations on any major strategy or plan which affects the public spaces of the city or the wellbeing of residents, businesses or visitors.”

“We advertise a period of consultation in newspapers, local community publications and on our website. We will tell you how you can get a copy of the document, how you can respond to it and about any public meeting held to discuss it.”

The VEC says it will receive submissions on its report up until February 23 and is conducting a public hearing at 5pm on February 29 at the Melbourne Town Hall.  Only people who have previously made submissions can speak.

One of those wanting to speak is likely to be Docklands Community Association (DCA) president Roger Gardner.  

Mr Gardner said: “The VEC response is disappointing and rejects all the submissions by the city’s various community groups who unanimously requested a return to a ward structure.”

“Councillors at large can become lost in trying to deal with issues city-wide and major local issues can be overlooked.”

“I know from my experience in a ward-structured council that whilst ward issues can compete, it is the whole council that decides on proposals when they come up to be voted on. It is a matter of balance and council officers play a major role in that process with their expertise and recommendations.”

“In terms of the city’s large business and commercial interests, it needs to be remembered that some suburban councils also have major assets such as airports, sporting venues and shopping centres which they manage along with ward issues.  Commercial interests can be represented on council.”

“It appears from the VEC response that they have been influenced by views expressed by the current council.  The inference that so-called public consultation makes up for lack of a ward representative is a weak argument.”

“Experience indicates that decisions are made before the public is ‘consulted’ which becomes lip service. I therefore believe that the possible loss of macro considerations is overstated and outweighed by the significant benefits of ward representation.”

In its submission, the DCA told the VEC Docklands needed a councillor who lived in the area who had:

  • A close knowledge of the issues of the ward area;
  • An obligation and an interest to represent those issues at council; and
  • An obligation to follow up and keep the ward community informed.

The DCA said: “Docklands in particular requires ward representation because of being a newly developing area, including unique waterways, with special planning and infrastructure needs.”

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