Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (15:23): It gives me no pleasure to get up to speak on this bill. I must say I do get quite disturbed when we do this in this chamber. This is not the first time we have done this, but certainly I think I am more troubled by this circumstance where we are dismissing a council than I have been in previous cases. When I have read the reports in previous cases I have seen some systemic problems with those organisations. In this report that we only received this morning the monitor clearly states that there are no systemic problems with Casey council. He clearly and repeatedly states that the council is well run, that the administration is excellent, that there has been no reduction in service delivery and that this was reinforced by customer contacts and the complaint information.
This has not been a systemic failing of the council and of the organisation, unlike what we saw in Geelong where there was an absolute failing at every level of that organisation that did require a roots-and-all change to that organisation, change to the structure and change to the culture.
In reading the 10-page report from Ms Gardner I was quite surprised by the findings and recommendations that she makes at the end. She speaks very positively about a number of the councillors there. She speaks to some of their absolute dedication to their work. She raises some concerns about their level of understanding of process and procedure, and that is troubling. She raises some concerns about their lack of preparation before meetings. She raises concerns that the councillors are lazy, but she also points out that that is not all of them, and yet we are being asked to dismiss them all—that is the only way that we can do it.
I must say I actually met with the mayor yesterday. I had received her emails, as I am sure the rest of us in this chamber have. I met her and a number of other councillors to hear from them what it was like in their experience. As the monitor points out, they have been shaken to the core by this IBAC investigation of two of their colleagues. They have been shaken to the core by the front-page deluge that the newspapers have had for this council. They have been affected by it emotionally, they have been affected by it even physically. This has had a significant impact on their confidence.
How do we improve that? How do we restore confidence in those councillors that are doing the right thing? We sack them. That is what we do. We say, ‘Look, you’ve been doing a good job. I understanding that this has been a really problematic time for you. I understand that you were not at fault. However, to restore confidence, we’re going to sack you’. I would have said training. Also, when I look at this and I look at where the monitor raises concerns around the lack of education and the lack of, I guess, commitment to the job, I wonder if we were to cast the same light on all other councils how they would fare. I think if we place the same test on every council in Victoria, many of them would not pass that test, and we would be sacking a whole bunch of councils for not passing the test of passion as it were.
The monitor also raises, I think, some very curious reasoning for dismissing this council—that the media is not strong enough in Casey, that they do not bring the council to task—and by sacking the council this will assist with that.
She also raises her concerns about the civic engagement of the community and the fact that there were not high-calibre candidates and that that is why these ones were elected. I actually had a quick look at the election of Casey council. There were 10 councillors elected; there were 85 candidates. That is actually the largest, second to Wyndham. So to say that there is not civic engagement in that community I think really undermines the interest that there is in that community. When you have got 85 candidates standing for local government, there is a strong interest in local government in that community. I do not accept the monitor’s finding in that regard.
I also do not accept that if we want to repair a council’s reputation, we sack them, and that if we want to get better councillors and if we want to engage with the community to raise engagement, we sack the council. I do not think that that instils in me and those 80 other candidates that may have run any confidence that this will not happen to them. To not have a council for four and a half years as a way of developing extensive municipal awareness and—what does she say:
• the development and implementation of an extensive municipal wide program to develop more and diverse community leaders, greater participation in setting a vison for Casey, and more awareness and interest in local democracy, the role of Council and the responsibilities of Councillors.
So we dismiss the council and we have no council for four and a half years, and that is going to create more awareness and interest in local democracy? I would say it will do absolutely the opposite. As I said earlier, this is a council area where there is great engagement, where there is great interest in standing for that council already, as we saw in their 2016 elections.
I certainly think some of the councillors have failed in their duties, and obviously there are a couple that have not only failed but have been absolute criminals and should be in jail. But is sacking the whole council the answer to that? And certainly is sacking the whole council and not allowing the municipality of Casey to elect local representatives for four and a half years going to fix the problem that this bill is apparently trying to solve?
I will certainly support Mr Hayes’s amendment. When we look at the time that we put Geelong council into administration, the report from Terry Moran on Geelong council was absolutely scathing but we did not put Geelong council into administration for this length of time.
I will continue listening to the contributions, but to me it would seem that we have some very hardworking councillors in Casey who have been trying to do the right thing, who have been absolutely rocked and devastated by the actions of their colleagues and who now will be punished for the actions of their colleagues. I think that is unfair. I appreciate that the minister may explain that this is the only way they could do this. I understand that there are other ways for the minister to stand down individual councillors, and certainly I know with the new bill that we will be debating possibly this week that option will be further reaffirmed in that legislation. So I am going to hold my judgement on this bill, but as I say, I am concerned and I certainly feel very sorry for the very hardworking councillors of Casey who through no fault of their own are going to be tarred by a dismissal. I will leave it at that.
Fiona Patten MP
Leader of Reason
Member for Northern Metropolitan Region
Second reading speech 18/2/20