Minister for Local Government Jeanette Powell has today introduced the Local Government Legislation Amendment (Miscellaneous) Bill 2012 into State Parliament.
The Bill amends the Local Government Act (the Act) to correct a number of shortcomings in the legislation and provide better governance for local government.
The Bill deals with, amongst other things, differential rates, election campaign donations, processes regarding complaints about council Chief Executive Officers and council costs in VCAT hearings into councillor misconduct.
The Victorian Coalition Government will develop guidelines for the appropriate use of differential rates by councils and empower the Minister to seek an Order in Council to stop councils applying differential rates that are inconsistent with the guidelines.
There will be a six month public consultation process regarding the new guidelines before councils determine their budget for 2013.
"There are concerns regarding the growing use of differential rates by councils," Mrs Powell said.
""In my view the Act currently provides councils with insufficient guidance regarding the application of a differential rate.
"A significant increase in the use of differential rates by local councils has created a complex web of different rates for similar ratepayers across Victoria.
"There is considerable variation in the application of differential rates between councils with 14 councils levying no differential rate, 39 councils having four or more differential rates and six councils have at least 10.
"Some differential rates are only applied to a small number of properties. 36 councils have differential rates that apply to less than 30 properties.
"The Bill will also improve the public transparency around campaign donations in council elections.
"Candidates are required by law to disclose all election campaign donations, in money or in kind, that are valued at $500 or more.
"In future, each council will be required to publish a list of all donations disclosed by candidates on the council website.
"The Bill also includes amendments to provide for a probity auditor to oversee handling of a complaint about the conduct of a Chief Executive Officer.
"The amendment will give all parties to a complaint confidence that proper processes are being followed by allowing the Mayor or the CEO to ask the Secretary of the Department of Planning and Community Development to appoint a probity auditor to monitor the council's processes.
"The Bill will also reduce the incidence of councils having to pay the legal costs of councillors in VCAT misconduct hearings.
"Under the changes a council will only be liable for a councillors costs when the council is the applicant in VCAT or has requested to become a party.
"A council will not be liable for costs when an individual councillor has applied for the matter to go to VCAT instead of a Councillor Conduct Panel.
"Councillor Conduct Panels are the appropriate forum to deal with most councillor misconduct matters, as they specialise in councillor conduct matters and involve less cost to ratepayers," Mrs Powell said.