Thursday, April 12, 2007

Darebin council review flies under radar

Despite a healthy number of submissions from the politically engaged, the Darebin council representation review is flying under the radar with regard to the broader community. The result could be that, despite a positive preliminary recommendation from the Victorian Electoral Commission (VEC), the community doesn't mobilise to ensure fairer and more diverse representation of its views. The community response to the VEC's preliminary report will play a key part in shaping the VEC's final recommendations to the Minister for Local Government, Richard Wynne.

The VEC has so far recommended three three-councillor wards for Darebin from the 2008 elections onwards. This welcome but preliminary recommendation would bring with it a legal requirement for proportional representation. A key outcome would be that, given substantial community support, diverse voices would stand a chance of election to council and therefore broaden the representation of the community.

In contrast, the current preferential majority voting system has delivered Darebin nine councillors who are all members of the ALP's Labor Unity faction. Such a result is too often achieved with the support of 'dummies' – candidates who run only to direct their preferences to another – the more dummies you can muster, the greater your chances of election. A big benefit of the VEC's recommendation is that the role of dummies would be very much diminished, and clear community support for alternative candidates would not be undermined by the preference game.

The bad news is that the VEC's second alternative recommendation leaves open the door to retaining the present unrepresentative council structure, depending on responses to its preliminary report. The ALP's Labor Unity faction and the Darebin council will resist tooth and nail the VEC's recommended shake-up of council. Residents who value more inclusive local democracy are urged to read the VEC's preliminary report and respond by 24 April. The report and preliminary submissions can be found at the VEC's website,

Community questions and discussion are also invited here.

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