LOCAL GOVERNMENT BILL 2019
Mr FREGON (Mount Waverley) (14:21:32): I rise to speak, as everyone else has, on the Local Government Bill 2019. I am looking forward to some very good contributions for the rest of the day. I know the member for Bayswater is champing at the bit to get up and say a few words on this big daddy of a bill. I would like to thank the previous members for their contributions. I will come back to the member for Sydenham’s couple of points, and of course the member for Mordialloc always has a special take on such very important legislation. I must thank the Minister for Local Government for the huge amount of work that has gone into this by his office, the department and all involved. There were four years of consultation working alongside councils to ensure that this bill provides the new local government act that we all require. As some have mentioned before me, the Local Government Bill 2019 is one of our biggest reforms in 30 years—that was 1989. I note the member for Essendon has left the Assembly, but I know he likes a good history lesson so I had a little bit of a read and 1989 was the year when Joan Kirner became our first female Deputy Premier. That is pretty good. It was also the year that the first GPS satellite was launched, so we have changed a little bit. A member interjected. Mr FREGON: Probably not in Mount Waverley, but I am sure it looks down on us, and we can all drive around and Siri tells us where to go. It was last year of the VFL, and I think anyone who loves the Hawks, like I do, fondly, fondly remembers the 1989 grand final—possibly not some of the Geelong supporters like yourself, Acting Speaker Carbines. It was such a good year that even Tay Tay named an album after it. How is that? There is a bit of history for us. This bill is part of one of the commitments that the Andrews government made in 2015 in its ministerial statement on local government to create a modern local government act. This is another example of our government delivering on what we say we are going to do, everything from level crossing removals to the Suburban Rail Loop and the North East Link. The member for Bayswater is always telling us the great news about that. We all know how much local government contributes to our communities. They help deliver vital and valued local services. I was lucky enough to have a pop-up office last weekend at Hamilton Place, which is in my district of Mount Waverley. The new mayor of Monash, Cr Stuart James, joined me. We were able to have two levels of government working side by side to address the issues of constituents. It was a very great morning. We were also lucky enough to have the office of the federal member for Chisholm there as well. It was very good to see three levels. Unfortunately the member herself had a meeting and could not attend, but I think it is great to see that our three levels of government work side by side, sometimes across the divide. I know when you look at the Prime Minister coming down to Victoria to see all the building we are doing and getting involved in that, that is very encouraging as well. Mr T Bull: On a point of order, Acting Speaker, I am aware that this has been quite a wideranging debate, but community forums with a federal member of Parliament and a local mayor have absolutely no relation whatsoever to the content of this bill. A member: The mayor does. Mr T Bull: Not to the content of the structure of the Local Government Bill—a community forum? I would urge you to bring the member back to addressing the bill, which I do not think he has done in the first 5 minutes. The ACTING SPEAKER (Mr Carbines): I do not uphold the point of order this time, but I will continue to listen attentively to the member for Mount Waverley as he continues to contribute to the Local Government Bill. Mr FREGON: Thank you, Acting Speaker. Regarding the mayor, if I can just address some of the point the member tried to make there, there is a part of this bill that addresses the remuneration of said mayor, and I think he would probably think that is very relevant. I will move on because there is a lot to cover. As a daddy to three kids—Soph, Linds and Sam—I understand the importance of relationships between our local government and the services they provide, whether they be community kinders or men’s sheds—many services. I served on a local community kinder for two years and had a lot to do with the local council at that stage. They deliver our vital services. The bill’s five key aims are to improve financial management within local governments; provide stronger local democracy and ensure accountability to the community; create clear behaviour standards and stronger mechanisms to address poor conduct by councillors—and I think we have all got some eyebrows raised at the moment; reinstate confidence in the community through reforms to the election process and candidate requirements; and define the relationship between state and local governments and the community. Why do we need a new act? I think the member for Sydenham brought up some examples previously about Geelong council and Melbourne City Council and unacceptable conduct. When the current Local Government Act was introduced we had 210 councils and more than 2000 councillors, compared to our current 79 councils. The current act has undergone hundreds of individual amendments and expanded to four times its original size. We are a government that listens, and we have been hearing that this change is needed, and we are providing it. Of course changes to such an integral part of our community take a massive amount of work. The member for Hawthorn discussed the consultation and the understanding that that consultation was bipartisan, which is good to see. The member for Prahran was saying something about younger voters. He did not say how young, so I do not know if he wants my five-year-old, Sammy, to be voting in a council election. I would think that was a bit of a stretch. If we start getting the kids voting, I note that the member for Croydon said earlier that he has seven children. If they can all vote, that is your swing right there. Well done. A member interjected. Mr FREGON: You could—you could preselect yourself. If councillors do not uphold standards set out for them, there will be repercussions. Importantly, this bill expands the definition of ‘serious misconduct’. I just want to talk a little bit about single-member wards because this is about representation. There are examples in the great council of Monash where you will see some councillors who have issues that they are specifically focused on to the detriment of the citizens that they represent. They spend all their time across all the council on very niche issues. I do not have a problem with councillors being focused on specific issues, but they must represent the people that voted them in. I think single-member wards as a default structure is a better idea because it ensures better grassroots democracy. If you can indulge me on this last little voicing for the year, I would like to do a shout-out to people who work in the municipality of Monash in my office: my staff, John, Rachel, Caitlin, Alex and Josh. We could not have got here without you. Thank you so much. And thank you to all my friends and family. I wish them all and the council and the local government a merry Christmas, happy Hanukkah and happy holidays. I will get back to the bill. These reforms are about creating a new and stronger relationship between councils and the communities that we are all a part of. Reforms in this space have been a long time coming, and I am proud to be part of a government that is getting it done. Thank you to my local council for all the hard work they do and the many services they provide, and very sincere thanks to the outgoing mayor of Monash, Cr Shane McCluskey. I know that the new mayor will be working strongly. Local government is a very important part of our democracy. The legislation that works for the structure of local government is just as important, and I commend the bill to the house.