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Joint Select Committee on the Constitutional Recognition of Local Government
Majority finding of the expert panel

ARCHER, Mr Toby, Director, Policy, Victorian Local Governance Association

McPHERSON, Ms Maree, Chief Executive Officer, Victorian Local Governance Association


Evidence was taken via teleconference—

CHAIR: Welcome. Although the committee does not require you to give evidence under oath, I should advise you that this hearing is a formal proceeding of the parliament and therefore has the same standing as proceedings of the respective houses. Would you like to give a brief presentation, Ms McPherson?

Ms McPherson : Yes, thank you very much. It is probably useful for me to overview very quickly for the committee the VLGA perspective on these issues. Thank you very much for having us provide evidence today and for inviting us to make this submission. The VLGA is not an ALGA member. We are not the statutory authority for Victoria but we are one of the peak bodies for local government within our state and we have observer status at the ALGA National General Assembly.

Our interest in the constitutional recognition issue is primarily around the community's perspective, and there are a number of preconditions that we feel are important for a successful referendum. We have been listening in to some of the discussion this morning and we think the ALGA has covered those preconditions very well. In our original submission, we supported the constitutional recognition of local government, including the amendment of section 96 of the Constitution for financial recognition. I am going to hand over to my colleague, Toby Archer, our Director, Policy, to take you through the preconditions that we feel are important. We will do that fairly quickly so that you have an opportunity to ask us some questions in the time that remains. Thank you.

Mr Archer : Obviously, a range of experts have set out preconditions for a successful referendum and they include bipartisan support, support from government at all levels and also the need for voters to be informed about the problem of the recognition of local government in the Constitution and the problem that it is seeking to address. We believe that a large-scale public campaign to communicate to the public about financial recognition and about what it means for citizens, ratepayers and service users is the crucial element to ensure success of a referendum. Essentially, voters need to comprehend the importance of local government if we are to secure a successful vote in a referendum. We concur with a lot of the evidence that ALGA has provided to the extent that we have been able to listen to it this morning.

CHAIR: Thank you. We will move straight to questions. Mrs Prentice.

Mrs PRENTICE: Thank you, Madam Chair. I keep looking up to the ceiling to the speakers! I was just wondering whether you had done any community surveys to ascertain the level of support in your state for constitutional change, perhaps along the lines recommended by ALGA—

Ms McPherson : I think if we have understood the question correctly there is an interest in whether we have undertaken any community surveys ourselves about support from Victoria?


Ms McPherson : Is that correct?

Mrs PRENTICE: Yes, that is right.

Ms McPherson : We have not specifically done any surveys from our own organisation. We understand that in Victoria the level of council resolution support is at 60 per cent currently. In terms of the public perception, I believe that the ALGA has done some market research around the nation.

We have not undertaken our own surveys, but certainly the sense from our membership is that people within Victoria are not fully aware of the implications around constitutional recognition and would value more public information about that.

Mrs PRENTICE: And would you yourselves be conducting promotion of the case, and not just leaving it to ALGA?

Ms McPherson : Do you mean are we conducting promotion?

Mrs PRENTICE: No, I mean would you. If the referendum was on the books, would your association be promoting the yes case? Or would you be leaving it to ALGA?

Ms McPherson : We would be working with the other peak in Victoria, which is the Municipal Association of Victoria, and seeking advice from ALGA, certainly about any kind of campaign and the implications for Victoria. We would be supporting a yes vote.

Ms LIVERMORE: I just want to confirm something: was part of the answer that 60 per cent of councils have passed resolutions in support of constitutional financial recognition?

Ms McPherson : That is correct.

Ms LIVERMORE: That figure seems quite low. Is there some explanation behind that?

Ms McPherson : Our understanding—and this is taken from the ALGA website, in its summary of council resolutions across the nation—is that Victoria is currently tracking at 60 per cent. There are a number of cautions that we would probably give around interpreting that data. One would be to ask whether all councils in Victoria have put constitutional recognition up as a resolution to be passed. It does not naturally assume that 40 per cent of them have put the resolution and it has been defeated. It may be that not all of them have put that forward. But at the moment it is tracking at 60 per cent, and we do think that is a relatively lower level of support compared with the other states.

Senator BUSHBY: You indicated in your earlier comments that you supported ALGA's submission so far as it went to the preconditions for the referendum. Can we as a committee take it that you also support their conclusions as to timing, in that they do not think that the referendum should be held in 2013 because those preconditions have not yet been met?

Ms McPherson : I think it is fair to say that we are interested in the urgency of the public campaign. Really, I think that the ALGA's concerns and cautions are quite valid in the sense that the public campaign has not really begun. So, for us, we think that the only way to secure a successful vote is to have the public understand this issue in a way that is meaningful for them—what is the impact for them directly as ratepayers and as citizens? And if that campaign has not commenced then we are concerned about the timing.

Senator STERLE: You say there are two peak bodies in Victoria representing local government, of which you are one.

Ms McPherson : That is correct.

Senator STERLE: How many councils are there in Victoria?

Ms McPherson : Seventy-nine.

Senator STERLE: And you represent how many?

Ms McPherson : Fifty-five.

Senator STERLE: Are those 55 members of both? Is there any joint membership?

Ms McPherson : Yes, they would all be members of both. If they have that membership of the VLGA they are also members of the MAV.

Senator STERLE: Thank you. That is all I need to know.

CHAIR: Ms McPherson and Mr Archer, thank you very much for joining us today. You will be sent a copy of the transcript of your evidence, to which you can make corrections of grammar and fact. Thank you very much.

Ms McPherson : Thank you for having our submission.