The State Governement’s bill to dismiss the Central Goldfields Shire Council has officially passed parliament this evening, sacking all current standing councillors.
Minister for Local Government Natalie Hutchins introduced the bill earlier today in response to last week’s damning report by the Local Government Investigations and Compliance Inspectorate.
Once the bill receives Royal Assent, the council will be legally dismissed and an interim administrator will be installed to perform the roles and functions of the council, a government statement has confirmed.
The government will appoint three administrators who will act as the council until the next election in October 2020.
“The Central Goldfields Shire Council has let down local residents and businesses. The passing of this bill means they finally get the representation they deserve,” Minister for Local Government Natalie Hutchins
“With the leadership of three Administrators, the Shire will be able to make the changes that are needed ahead of the October 2020 election.”
The Municipal Association of Victoria, the legislative peak body for the state’s local councils, has said they are “disappointed” at the Minister for Local Government’s decision to sack the Central Goldfields Shire Council.
“While we acknowledge that this is the Minister’s prerogative, we question whether this drastic response is warranted, given the Inspectorate’s report was handed down just five days ago. The report identified poor governance practices, lack of internal controls, and inadequate policies and procedures,” MAV president Cr Mary Lalios said.
“These matters need to be addressed as a matter of urgency to restore public confidence that the council is upholding transparent and accountable good governance practices, and operating in the best interests of its community.
Ms Lalios said the council should have been provided with more time to implement changes before the “drastic step” to sack elected representatives was taken.
“As a matter of principle, dismantling a democratically elected government is never the ideal solution,” she said.
“The report findings substantially related to administrative issues over a long period of time, and not failings of the current councillors – two of whom were only elected in October last year.
“It would be a better outcome for the community if the municipal monitor appointed last month continued to work with councillors and the interim CEO to oversee improvements to governance processes, and the performance of administrative functions and statutory obligations.”
The Minister for Local Government Natalie Hutchins has said the the failure of councillors to take responsibility of the Local Government Investigations and Compliance Inspectorate’s report findings has lead to today’s decision to dismiss the Central Goldfields Shire Council.
“There are substantial things that fall on the shoulders of the CEO and senior management at council, however there are also many things that, as councillors, the responsibility lies,” she said.
“There were policy frameworks in place that had been in place for a very long time and had not been reviewed. That falls back onto the elected councillors. What have they been doing? Clearly it looks like they haven’t been doing their job effectively to protect the residents of the Central Goldfields.
“Upon receiving the LGICI’s report last Friday we were quite taken aback. It was an explosive report which highlights clear evidence of failings of the council painted throughout.
“We were obligated to act quickly this week given that a lot of the findings have been entrenched for a number of years now.”
Ms Hutchins said through the numerous communications between the department for local government and council, the resounding response from councillors was that the responsibility “landed at the feet of the CEO”.
“When in fact, there is a lot in here which falls at the feet of councillors,” she said.
“The report quire clearly spells out that there were problems at both the elected level and the administrative level, both need to be dealt with going forward.
On the Greens’ proposal for an amendment to hold a 2018 election, rather than one in 2020, Ms Hutchins said she did not agree with the recommendation.
“Given the nature of the report’s findings and how significant they are, it will take some time to turn around the culture of the council and to put proper governance in place and 12 or 18 months is not going to be long enough to do that,” she said.
Dismissed councillors will be able to run for the 2020 election, Ms Hutchins said.
The bill, which was passed through the lower house of the Victorian Parliament earlier this morning is set to be introduced into the upper house later this afternoon. The bill has to pass the Victorian Legislative Council before being given Royal Assent.
The Greens are pushing for a 2018 election to appoint new councillors to the Central Goldfields Shire Council, rather than in 2020 as proposed in the bill passed through the lower house this morning.
Greens local government spokesperson Samantha Dunn said that while she supports the decision to sack dismiss the current council, her party believes an early election will signal a return to democracy and is consistent with the previous times the State Government has sacked a council.
“Administrators can clean up administrative messes, but only elected councillors can represent the people,” she said.
Central Goldfields Shire mayor Geoff Lovett has said he is “shocked” at the news the Minister for Local Government Natalie Hutchins has moved a bill to dismiss the council through the lower house of parliament this morning.
“We had absolutely no warning that this was even being considered,” he said.
“The first councillors knew about it was when I got a phone call at 9.30 am this morning.”
Mr Lovett said council does not question the authority of the Ms Hutchins to make this decision, however labelled the decision as “pre-emptive”.
“Since the report was released last Friday, council have worked almost non-stop to address the various issues in the report,” he said.
“Last Friday we presented to the local government minister, a draft action plan to identified every issue in the report and how the various issues would be worked through.”
Mr Lovett said council had indicated to Ms Hutchins that the council would like time to prove to her and the government that the council are capable of solving the various issues that they face.
“To sack the democratic elected council on a report that was based solely on operational matters, I find incomprehensible,” he said.
“There has never been an indication from the minister or the minister’s office that there was concern about the action of the elected council and that’s why this decision has come as such a shock.”
The Andrews State Government has moved a bill to sack the Central Goldfields Shire Council this morning.
The bill was presented to parliament by the Minister For Local Government Natalie Hutchins and received unanimous support in the lower house.
An interim administrator will be appointed shortly, before ongoing administrators are appointed to perform the roles and functions of the Council until elections are held in October 2020.
The decision follows last Friday’s release of the Local Government Investigations and Compliance Inspectorate’s scathing report on the governance of the shire which detailed “severe governance failings.”
Included in the report were concerns related to the management and sale of public assets, the management and expenditure of public funds and an apparent apathy for laws and governance requirements at a senior leadership level.
The Inspectorate found a lack of transparency and a disregard for legislative requirements in the sale of council land, which resulted in a significant loss of public funds – estimated to be over $730,000.
The Inspectorate also found a significant amount of government grant funding could not be accounted for, that council employees were providing private contracting services to the council on weekends, and poor management of staff performance reviews.
“We have not taken this decision lightly. Dismissing a council is a significant step, and is the result of extensive and disturbing mismanagement by Council over many years,” Minister for Local Government Natalie Hutchins said.
“The Central Goldfields Shire Council has let down local residents and businesses, and lost its right to govern on their behalf.”
Minister for Regional Development Jaala Pulford said; “The Andrews Labor Government is committed to building stronger regional communities and will work with the Central Goldfields’ community to ensure they have strong leadership well into the future.”
The government will provide $150,000 over three years to fund a program that will target future leaders in Central Goldfields. It has also asked the Loddon Campaspe Regional Partnership to hold a mini regional assembly over the next few months in the area, to help build a more resilient community.
Member for Yan Yean Danielle Green, who has family connections to the Central Goldfields Shire, spoke on the bill and said the State Government will stand with the shire’s residents during this time.
MORE TO COME.