Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Council resentment lingers over representation review

Monday's Darebin Council meeting was the last for Mayor Peter Stephenson, and a veritable hit parade of Council's claimed achievements that was nicely timed to bolster the electoral chances of the handful of Councillors choosing to contest November's election.

On this night of self-congratulation there was, however, a clear and continuing resentment of last year's Darebin representation review, in which the Victorian Electoral Commission recommended the move from nine single-councillor wards to the three three-councillor wards to be elected in Darebin in November.

Rucker Ward Councillor, Steven Tsitas, spoke of the potential for 'duckshoving responsibility', proposing that the three new, larger wards be divided into 'clear internal boundaries' of responsibility (strangely that would mean nine de facto wards). Councillor Mendo Kundevski spoke of a loss of 'accountability' compared with the old system.

Those who participated in the review saw Council fight tooth and nail to prevent change. However, that wasn't because of accountability. It was due to the fact that the new structure threatens to break the 100% Labor Unity strangle-hold on Council.

The old structure entrenched the nine Labor Unity councillors because preferences under that system (majority preferential voting) worked very much in their favour. In contrast, the new system (proportional representation), limits the effectiveness of a host of ALP running mates contesting the election only to direct preferences to a key ALP candidate.

The new system therefore gives other candidates, including independents, a fairer chance of being elected - despite the challenges of campaigning in larger wards.

In its representation review, the Victorian Electoral Commission considered the issue of accountability in multi-member wards, and on balance decided that the benefits of the new structure outweighed any disadvantages. Many community submissions argued for the change, and the VEC found these persuasive. I made two submissions and presented at the public hearing.

The final report, preliminary submissions and response submissions to the review are still available at the VEC website. Local Government Minister Wynne announced his approval of the new structure back in July last year in this media release. He thought it was a good idea. The City of Darebin didn't think so (and here).

Coverage from the time is available in previous posts.

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