Local Government (Greater Geelong City Council) Bill 2016
Deputy Speaker, you might wonder why as the Independent member for Shepparton district I stand to speak on this bill.
I have to be across all bills before this house because I am not a member of a party but am the only Independent member.
I have had the benefit of having been provided with a copy of the bill this morning and of being briefed on the bill.
I have had the opportunity as the hours have passed to look through the recommendations of the report of the commission of inquiry but also to look at some of the concerns in relation to the Greater Geelong City Council that have been raised.
I think it is worthwhile reading just a few of the comments made in the executive summary of the report that led to the recommendations. The first comment is:
The City of Greater Geelong … faces major economic challenges that demand long-term vision and leadership if they are to be met successfully. The city has a number of strengths, including a large and diversified economy, quality health and education services, good innovation and research capabilities and transport accessibility. However, the city has been hard hit by closures in its manufacturing sector, has significant structural transition issues, pockets of socio-economic disadvantage and high levels of youth disengagement.
The executive summary states also:
Greater Geelong City Council … is unable to provide the longer term vision, leadership and good government required to meet these challenges.
It says good governance has 'broken down' and that:
The mayor, although committed to the betterment of the city, has been unable to build good working relationships with either councillors or council staff.
It also says:
There is a deep-seated culture of bullying not only within the council … but also within council administration.
Bullying is one ugly facet of a wider suite of cultural issues …
And it goes on. Many issues have been raised in this report. I can only accept the fact that this report has been prepared by three very reputable people at the behest of the government and that it should be relied on. I do not doubt that that is why the government has brought this bill before the house. I do regret the fact that it is being rushed through in what seems to me is an unseemly way. I do not think that another 24 hours would have mattered and that more opportunity to debate the bill would have in any way impinged on good governance in this house.
Local government is a really important part of the structure of our overall government. In regional areas in particular it is regarded as very important. People in our community are close to local government. They look at what happens, they know the people involved, and local government elections are very direct in a way that perhaps state and federal elections are not. It is really important that the governance of those organisations is at a high level and that there is a quality of behaviour demanded from people in those positions.
Bringing this bill before the Parliament and the dismissal of the Greater Geelong City Council is something that will be looked at across the whole of Victoria. Local governments will look at this and take stock of their own situations. They will see the sorts of things that have gone wrong in the Geelong city council, and they should take note and be very careful about how they conduct themselves in their own local government organisations. This piece of legislation is not just about the City of Greater Geelong; this is setting an example, and it will hopefully set a standard for the future in terms of what should be good governance.
When I stood for election I spoke long and loud about how unfair I thought it was that Bendigo, Ballarat, Geelong and the Latrobe Valley were so heavily invested in because they are largely marginal seats. I know that Geelong does get a lot of investment. I recall that during the election campaign there were ministers going around announcing at great length handouts for Geelong. It really did not sit very well with the people of Shepparton, I can tell members, because nobody was making any promises much in our area.
When a city such as Geelong is getting that level of investment and often those funds are being administered through local government, it is essential that they are being administered properly. People want to know that government is administering funds properly, that its services are being rolled out in the manner they should be, that people who work in these organisations are treated respectfully and that they treat members of the community respectfully, and that does not seem to have been happening in this case. The report would suggest that anything but that has happened. To me this is an issue of public importance across the state, and it will set a standard, I believe, for what should happen.
I do not support the reasoned amendment. I think there are times when you identify serious cultural problems within an organisation but they are not going to be fixed up within 6 months or 18 months. It will take time for that sort of cultural change to take place, so it will need administrators who will be able to effect that change to enable the administration to do what it needs to do to put regular practices, good practices, in place in the organisation before it then goes to election in 2020. While I do not support the way this bill has been brought before the house, I do support the bill and I do not support the reasoned amendment.