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Local Government – Local Government Legislation Review

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 8 June 2022

Tags: Local Government, Local Government Elections

Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you. Minister, I'm just trying to get a fix on all the moving parts in this portfolio now. We've got revised time frames and scope for the local government legislative review and the original plan was for there to be a final bill, I think it was in September last year, so we're a good six or seven months behind that. We understand that this has been deliberately delayed and will become part of the future of local government review. Then you have code of conduct amendments to the Local Government Act, so are you foreshadowing that they'll come into parliament before the other legislative review processes?

Mr STREET - I am.

Ms O'CONNOR - Given that there were many submissions made to the legislative review in good faith and, in fact, when you have a look at the recommendations the Government has accepted the vast majority of recommendations are endorsed by government, why wouldn't you consider getting the legislative changes to the act all done in this second tranche at the same time?

Mr STREET - It's a fair question and it's something I'll be turning my mind to, Ms O'Connor. The initial report from the review process will come to me at the end of this month.

Ms O'CONNOR - The future of local government review?

Mr STREET - The first six month report will come back to me at the end of this month. I obviously want some time to consider that but in the last couple of days I've had a discussion with - I have to be a little bit careful because the director of local government is an ex officio member of the board that is progressing that process, but what I've said is that I would like to make that interim report publicly available once I've had a chance to consider it because what Sue Smith and that board are bringing back in terms of the interim report is they have identified the areas of concern that they need to spend another 12 months drilling down on. I want members of parliament and the public to understand what is in that interim report so they understand the scope of work that the board are going away to do over the next 12 months. My chief of staff has reminded me that I need to take that interim report to Cabinet as well for their consideration before I publicly release it.

Once I have that interim report I will be able to identify the recommendations within the local government framework review that got parked that don't necessarily cross over the work that is going to be done over the next 12 months with regard to the review of local government. My intention is to potentially look at progressing some of them over the next 12 months before the final report comes back. I don't want to do anything that steps over the work that is going to be done in the next 12 months but I do recognise, as you said, that there are recommendations we have already agreed to that could potentially be progressed without stepping over that work as well.

Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you for your answer. I can tell you really want to get on with the job. Is it possible that by the time Tasmanians go to local government elections in October this year that we will have some of those amendments that were recommended in the local government legislative review in place, because one of the concerns is that the only reform that will be in place is the compulsory voting reform and so Tasmanians again will go to local government elections without some of those strengthening measures in place?

Mr STREET - I am not going to give a commitment on particular recommendations that I might progress before the local government elections this year. The commitment I gave in the House during the debate on compulsory voting last week was that the reason I progressed that is that it was time-sensitive in regard to the local government elections this year. We will progress initiatives and changes as quickly as we possibly can.

One of the things LGAT asked for was the caretaker provisions around local government and the fact that they do not exist at the moment. Either LGAT or my office brought to my attention the fact that Kingborough have already voluntarily submitted themselves to a caretaker provisions policy. I wrote to all 29 mayors either yesterday or the day before with a copy of Kingborough's policy, encouraging them to take that up before this year's council elections and also indicated that once we get past this year's elections we will look at legislatively making that something they have to take up in the future as well. They will have an opportunity to take it up voluntarily this year and I would hope that councils will see the benefit of doing that, but if they don't there will be legislation progressed to formalise that process as well.

Ms O'CONNOR - Among the recommendations for the legislative review were recommendations around the general manager's roll, which has raised concerns among members of local government and the broader community about the potential for issues around the general manager's roll. What are your thoughts on reform of the general manager's roll?

Mr STREET - My thoughts in general is that reforms are necessary. In the initial meeting I had with the LGAT president and vice president, one of the first issues they raised when I told them that I was progressing compulsory voting, was the issue of the caretaker policy for local government. The other thing they raised was the general manager's roll.

The general managers, as a rule, without having spoken to all of them, don't like administering the general manager's roll. One of the reasons for that is they feel like they are being put in a position where they have to decide the merits of eligibility for who goes on the roll, then those people get a vote in electing, basically, their employers. The only responsibility councillors have for employment is the selection of the general manager, and they said it seems an apparent conflict that they are in charge of this roll.

While that work has been stalled or chosen to be stalled, I think it is absolutely necessary. The TEC is appropriately placed to be managing the general manager's roll. The process as I understand, is that the general managers administer the eligibility of the roll then, at election time, it is passed to the TEC anyway, in terms of issuing ballots and making sure that elections conform with it. I agree that there needs to be reform around the general manager's roll.

I know that there have been suggestions about some additional reforms about who should be on it as well. Whilst I'm not committing to any particular position on that, I understand the reason for the conversation and I'm more than happy to have it with any stakeholder who wants to contribute to that conversation.

Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you, minister. In terms of a broad principle, do you agree with the principle of one person, one vote per municipality? What is your view on potentially business owners, for example, who operate in a number of different municipalities who might at local government election time have half a dozen, a handful, of votes?

Mr STREET - I absolutely agree with the one vote per person per municipality. If you live and own a business in the municipality you shouldn't be voting twice. I do have some sympathy for the view that people who have businesses across multiple municipalities have a vested interest in who represents them at a local government level if they own a business in Clarence but live in Kingborough. Again, I don't want to commit to a specific position but I do have some sympathy for the fact that business owners in Clarence who live in Kingborough feel that local government decisions that are made in Clarence have a direct impact on them and should be entitled to a vote, but I certainly don't support multiple votes in a municipality for one person.

Ms O'CONNOR - One of the recommendations that was accepted by the review was around eligibility and at the moment in state and federal governments it's a requirement that you're an Australian citizen to be eligible to vote. The Government has accepted that as a principle for local government elections, but do you agree as a principle that there's an argument for permanent residents in local government elections having a say in the government at a local level?

Mr STREET - As a principle I can accept that somebody who is a permanent resident is potentially affected by the decisions that are made, not just by local government but potentially all three levels of government. I'm probably getting outside of my remit in the Local Government Estimates portfolio.

Ms O'CONNOR - It's slightly fraught territory but I'm interested in exploring the ideas with you because we engage with multicultural communities, there are lots of permanent residents here -

Mr STREET - Yes. As a migrant culture that's becoming more so, I think it's a conversation, I really do.

Ms O'CONNOR - When you have a look at the Government's response to the local government legislative review around the general manager's roll, there's a commitment to reform broadly. We've seen some of the potential elements of the reform. The Government has stated that it supports the recommendation around Australian citizens only being eligible to vote, but are you saying there's potentially some flexibility in that?

Mr STREET - I am saying that you have a broad commitment that in terms of discussing reform around the general manager's roll, I'm more than comfortable having a wider conversation than just Australian citizenship.

Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you.