Wednesday, May 23, 2007

VEC recommends a more representative Council for Darebin

The Victorian Electoral Commission has recommended that Darebin City Council be elected by proportional representation (PR) from three three-councillor wards at next year's elections. The final report, issued late Monday, affirms the preferred option of the Commission's preliminary report, but makes minor changes to ward boundaries to reflect concerns expressed during the public review process. The recommendation will now be considered by local government minister, Richard Wynne.

The final recommendation, which has dropped any alternative option retaining the current single-councillor structure, is a big win for local democracy in Darebin. The current councillors will now be open to challenge from strongly supported community candidates who, under the changes, will gain a realistic chance of election via the PR voting system that legislation requires for multi-councillor wards. As a result, there is some prospect that the Labor Unity factional monopoly on the current council will be broken, with fresh viewpoints and more open debate in the council chamber.

Though the final recommendation is yet to be approved by the minister, its rejection would risk a public perception of political interference given the care with which the VEC has made its case for change. The closely reasoned report has stated that case clearly while rejecting the case for retaining the current structure on transparent and robust grounds. One factor important to the decision was the ability of larger wards to capture well-supported communities of interest that could achieve the quota of votes necessary to elect a candidate under the PR system. This would result in a more representative council than under the current structure, which divides communities of interest, and therefore support for potential candidates, among a larger number of smaller wards.

Ultimately, the VEC's finding is an invitation for the residents of Darebin to participate in their local democracy, and that's a good thing in the opinion of this writer.

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