Coun­cil plan changes put res­i­dents first

Mansfield Courier - - OPINIONS / PEOPLE -

MANS­FIELD Shire Coun­cil is one step ahead of the State Gov­ern­ment it ap­pears.

Last week the gov­ern­ment un­veiled its first ma­jor de­ci­sion as part of the re­form of the Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment Act re­quir­ing all coun­cils by law to de­velop four year plans with their com­mu­ni­ties.

The change is aimed at giv­ing res­i­dents more say in their coun­cil’s pri­or­i­ties, ser­vices and bud­gets – putting lo­cal res­i­dents first and en­sur­ing im­proved ac­count­abil­ity at elec­tion time.

The need for lo­cal com­muni- ties to have a stronger say in guid­ing coun­cil direc­tions was a ma­jor theme dur­ing con­sul­ta­tion on the new Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment Act.

“We have spent the past two years putting peo­ple first by de­liv­er­ing on the things that mat­ter to them – like giv­ing them a say on the lo­cal ser­vices they use ev­ery day,” Min­is­ter for Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment Natalie Hutchins said.

“It’s com­mon sense t hat coun­cils should con­sult their com­mu­ni­ties when mak­ing their fu­ture plans and then be judged on that at elec­tion time.”

How­ever, Mans­field Shire Coun­cil im­ple­mented a more open ap­proach to­wards its for­ward plan­ning last year and prior to the bud­get be­ing set this year held sev­eral open pub­lic meet­ings where res­i­dents could have a say on what they felt were pri­or­ity items.

Not only en­cour­aged to do so by the in­tro­duc­tion of the rate cap­ping, coun­cil also asked res­i­dents what they felt were the more im­por­tant is­sues fac­ing coun­cil at this time.

Mans­field Shire also ad­vo­cates com­mu­nity con­sul­ta­tion i n many of i t s ma­jor projects be­fore de­ci­sions are made hence al­low­ing res­i­dents to be a part of the plan­ning pro­cesses.

Fol­low­ing a two year trial t hrough other coun­cils, Ms Hutchins s a i d c om­mu­nity con­sul­ta­tion re­vealed 90 per cent of par­tic­i­pants sup­ported a re­quire­ment for coun­cils to en­gage lo­cal res­i­dents when form­ing their plans, with 96 per cent in favour of an­nual re­port­ing on its im­ple­men­ta­tion.

H o w e v e r , c o mmun i t y con­sul­ta­tion may be pushed a rung higher and the gov­ern­ment says this first step will push to make sure res­i­dents play a big­ger role in their lo­cal coun­cil.

Coun­cils cur­rently are only re­quired to ex­hibit the plans for 28 days and take sub­mis­sions.

The La­bor Gov­ern­ment wants coun­cils to in­volve com­mu­ni­ties from the start through tools like cit­i­zens’ ju­ries or com­mu­nity pan­els.

The change, along with many others, will be in­tro­duced late next year.

The gov­ern­ment is un­der­tak­ing the first com­pre­hen­sive re­view of the Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment Act since its in­cep­tion in 1989.

While all el­e­ments of the ex­ist­ing Act are un­der re­view, the re­quire­ment for coun­cil­lors to con­sult their com­mu­ni­ties on strate­gic plans is the first change un­veiled from the on­go­ing re­view.

Other re­forms are pro­posed in the re­view’s Direc­tions Pa­per, Act for the Fu­ture, which was launched in June and is avail­able at www.your­coun­ci­ly­our­com­mu­nity.vic.gov.au.

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