Category Archives: Have a say in your community

Must read! Investigation into the transparency of local government decision making

Council Transparency

The Investigation into the transparency of local government decision making has been completed and the report publicly released.

I took the time to read through this report and found it very informative and interesting that it revealed some issues relating to Councils. Community members had reasonable concerns about transparency in their Councils and in fact there were many complaints  made to the Ombudsman.

“This investigation arose from a single complaint about a decision made in a closed council meeting – a practice that we found to be widespread across Victoria. Some complaints resonate as a theme: local councils continue to account for some 25 per cent of jurisdictional complaints to my office – more than 3,400 last year. People complaining to my office about council decisions periodically refer to the decision being made “in secret” or “behind closed doors” as evidence to support their concerns. I tabled the report into the original complaint in June 2016, but this has been a far wider investigation, looking at the transparency of decision-making within local government in Victoria.” Source: Deborah Glass Ombudsman.

As part of the investigation 79 Victorian councils were surveyed and 12  were selected to be examined in detail.  

The areas of focus were:

the closure of council meetings and special committee meetings to     the public

• the handling of confidential matters

• the nature and quality of audio and visual records of meetings and       the public’s ability to access records

• the scope and exercise of delegated council functions/powers and       administrative actions; and the reporting of these to council and           the public

• the nature and content of information discussed in ‘assemblies of         councillors’

Due to the findings, there were specific recommendations made in the report to be introduced or implemented. Here is a summary of   some of the recommendations or suggestions:

• relating to the Local Government Act, a requirement for more              detailed reasons in relation to the closure of meetings to be                    specified in the minutes and that embarrassment to, or potential          adverse criticism of, council are not reasons to close a meeting to        the public

implement a mandatory ‘Code of Councillor Conduct’ training               program       

• conflict of interest requirements to extend to advisory committee      members and to have an updated list of committees on a Council’s      website                               

• ensure that agendas are made available to public five days before a     council meeting

 public questions and answers to be recorded in minutes,  through       audio or audio-visual recording and publication, as well as posting       recorded open meetings to council websites

Did you know about section 15 Your right to freedom of expression’ under the Human Rights Charter?  

“People are free to say what they think and want to say. They have the right to find, receive and share information and ideas. In general, this right might be limited to respect the rights and reputation of other people, or for the protection of public safety and order.” Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission

How does this right play a role in Council? As stated in the report: 

“Councils also need to take care regarding restrictions on public question time. Unreasonable restrictions have the potential to be incompatible with not only the right to participate in public life, but the right to freedom of expression in section 15 of the Charter. For example, where councils require questions in writing prior to meetings, they should ensure there is appropriate assistance available to those who may have difficulty placing their question in writing. A number of councils mentioned they offered such assistance. Councils should also ensure that any restriction on the content of questions or submissions by members of the public at meetings which could be considered to limit their right to freedom of expression is appropriately balanced with any lawful restrictions reasonably necessary to respect the rights and reputation of other persons or national security, public order, public health or public morality.”

You will also find a summary of transparency in the report:
What does a transparent council look like?
What does a transparent council look like?
Page 150 -151 of the Investigation into the transparency of local government decision making report. Click to view!

Link to full report: Victorian Ombudsman: Investigation into the transparency of local government decision making

Related links: 

Local government transparency a postcode lottery: Victorian Ombudsman

Victorian public being shut out of local council meetings, ombudsman says

Victorian Ombudsman Deborah Glass says councils must be more transparent over their decisions

Empowering Monash & YOU post – Transparency in Council 

Empowering Monash & YOU post – Feedback to Council: Streaming/recording of meetings

Comments are welcome!

HarikNG – Administrator and Contributer

Empowering Monash & YOU

City of Monash Election Results – Meet Your New Councillors!

Monash Council

The City of Monash Election results were finalised on Sunday 30 October 2016. The following candidates were successful and elected:

Glen Waverley ward

Geoff Lake (re-elected)
Lynnette Saloumi (first-time Councillor)

Mount Waverley ward

Brian Little (re-elected)
Rebecca Paterson (re-elected)
Mt Pang Tsoi (first-time Councillor)

Mulgrave ward

Paul Klisaris (re-elected)
Robert Davies (re-elected)
Shane McCluskey (first-time Councillor)

Oakleigh ward

Theo Zographos (re-elected)
Stuart James (re-elected)
Josh Fergeus (first-time Councillor)

Gayle Nicholas who is the founder of Empowering Monash and YOU, sadly was not successful in been elected for the Glen Waverley Ward, but campaigned very well and had a worthwhile experience. Link: Following an unsuccessful bid 4 Monash Council. EM&U will continue to push or support for recording and broadcasting of Monash Council meetings, which Gayle has also strongly advocated for. Click on link provided for further details abut streaming of council meetings and what some Councillors had to say prior to elections. Link: Feedback to Council: Streaming/Recording of Meetings.  

You will have an opportunity to meet the elected Councillors at the:

  • Council Civic Centre (293 Springvale Rd, Glen Waverley), Monday 31 October, at 5pm. The VEC will declare the election results. For the City Of Monash election results, visit the Victorian Electoral Commission (VEC) website.
  • Special Council meeting (Council Chambers), Thursday 3 November at 6:30pm. Councillors will be sworn in, and a Mayor and Deputy Mayor elected or a date set for the election of the Mayor and Deputy Mayor. 
Community Members are welcome to attend! 

For more info click on link provided: City of Monash Council 

Attention Update! ‘Hands on Head’ at Monash Council Meetings

Do you remember this post? Have you heard? Monash Council meetings just like a school class? | Empowering Monash & YOU

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Monash Council has introduced measures to improve the functioning of Council meetings. However many believe that Council meetings are now more like a school classroom. “If people behave like children and act in an unprofessional way, they can expect to be treated like children.  I make no apologies for that.  I was elected Mayor a few weeks ago to fix our dysfunctional meetings and I am determined to do that” stated Mayor Geoff Lake – Hands on heads improves Monash Council meeting. Councillors were required to place hands on their head if they wish to raise a point of order.

Now after spending $10,000 on his idea of a behaviour monitor and taping the meetings (which other Councillors were not allowed to assess) Mayor Geoff Lake wants to relax the  ‘Hands on head’ requirement!  

Snippets of Motion Document:

Cr Geoff Lake

“I proposed that these matters be raised by a councillor silently signalling their desire to raise a Point of Order or move a Procedural Motion. In the case of a Point of Order, this could be done by placing both hands on their head. In the case of a Procedural Motion, it was by placing one hand on their head. Although ‘novel’ and ridiculed by some, the adoption of these measures immediately improved the functioning of our meetings. Since the May meeting, we have barely had a single Point of Order and no disruptive Procedural Motion raised. Part of the reason for this improvement has been because the signalling process meant that it was immediately apparent what it is that a councillor is wishing to raise – i.e. a Point of Order or a Procedural Motion – and the mayor is placed in the position of being able to immediately and specifically engage the Councillor on the matter they are raising. These measures have succeeded in making Points of Order and Procedural Motions an exception rather than the norm they had previously become. As I said at the time of proposing these reforms, I am not concerned in the slightest if requiring someone to put their hands on their head does dis-incentivise a councillor from Council Meeting, 19 October 2016 Section 7.3 – Page 4 Mission Accomplished: time To Relax the ‘Hands On Heads’ Requirements moving these – as we were getting far too many of these interventions than was warranted or reasonable. Indeed we were getting more Points of Order and Procedural Motions raised at a single meeting than what was experienced across the entire previous four year Council term. I am pleased that since the May reforms, we are once again back to how things were in the previous term.” 

“I thank all councillors and attendees in the Public Gallery for contributing to the improvement of our meetings. Given this improvement being sustained over the past five months, I recommend to Council that we now relax the more contentious and onerous elements of the Supplementary Standing Orders (i.e. the ‘hands on head’ requirements) because the objectives of these measures have now been realised. With a new Council to take office from the November meeting onwards, it is appropriate in my view that it be given the chance to conduct its meetings in the professional and respectful way expected by our community without the need for these more extraordinary measures which were unfortunately necessary five months ago.” Source: Motion to relax ‘hands on head’ requirement.

But why is he adding the motion now? The requirement was not relaxed when community was  so against it?

Is it  really due to the excuse that behaviour has been improved or is it possible, due to the Monash Council elections and voting by the 21 October 2016? What do you think?  Leave your comments by clicking on the Leave a Comment button above.

 

Is your Preferred Candidate Committed to the Role of Councillor?

Victorians will vote for new municipal councils between today and October 22. The new councils will be elected for a four year term.

It’s appropriate to consider the commitment of the people who offer themselves as our representatives at the level of government closest to our community.

Since the start of this council term in November 2012 there have been two Federal and one Victorian election. Many seats in those elections have been contested by municipal councillors who had been elected on the presumption they would serve the local community for a four year term.

In the City of Monash, of 11 Councillor positions, the list looks like this:

2013 Federal Election 

Cr Geoff Lake (Glen Waverley ward) was preselected by the ALP for the seat of Hotham but returned to council after internal factional shenanigans kicked him out days before he would have been obliged to resign from council.

2014 State Election

Cr Steve Dimopoulos (Oakleigh ward), ALP, stood in the seat of Oakleigh. He was elected and resigned from council. Stefanie Perri, having been defeated as the ALP candidate for Box Hill was elected by countback to fill the vacancy.

Cr Theo Zographos (Oakleigh ward), Liberal, stood for Oakleigh and returned to council after defeat.

Cr Robert Davies (Mulgrave ward), Liberal, stood for Mulgrave and returned to council after defeat.

Cr Paul Klisaris (Mulgrave ward), ALP, unsuccessfully sought preselection for Prahran.

2016 Federal Election

Cr Stefanie Perri (Oakleigh ward), ALP, resigned from council while Mayor to stand in Chisholm. Defeated. Replaced on council by Nga Hosking after a countback.

Cr Paul Klisaris (Mulgrave ward ), ALP, resigned from council to stand in Aston. Defeated. Replaced by John Starkey on countback.

That’s six of our elected representatives using council as a political career stepping stone.  For State elections, a councillor is not required to resign, rather they take leave from close of nominations until declaration of the poll.  During that period, they are not representing the council ward by which they were elected.  Once nominations close in the Federal elections a councillor must resign thereby allowing the electoral commission to promptly conduct a countback election for a replacement councillor.

In this council term (running until October 2020) there is expected to be a Victorian State election in 2018 and a Federal election in 2019.  Which candidates standing for council are planning to quit their role, if elected, and stand for one of these elections?

There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with a councillor being a member of a political party. This is only a problem when the membership combines with career ambitions incompatible with a commitment to serve residents and ratepayers.

When considering your vote this election it’s worth asking your prospective candidates about the duration of their commitment.

Public Question Time Apparently is NOT Public Answer Time!

Why is it that a simple question at council does not get a simple, direct answer?

Over the past three years I have regularly attended Monash Council meetings and often asked questions in public question time. Council gives a “written response”.  The name “response” is apt because the “response” rarely is an “answer” to the question that is asked.

By way of example: on September 27, an amendment to Council’s Financial Hardship Policy was proposed and, while well intentioned, it offers benefits to one group of struggling ratepayers while denying the same to others in equally straitened circumstances.  I asked why this was.  The response was a long-winded, contradictory evasion. Judge for yourself.

The Proposed Policy Amendment

financialhardship

Extract from Monash Council Agenda – September 27, 2016

My Question To Council Tonight

Compassion for ratepayers suffering financial hardship is commendable; no question.

Imagine:

  • I have lived in Monash for 30 years.
  • 18 months ago I downsized near to Boyanna Rd.
  • 12 months ago (remember, we’re imagining), aged 57, too ill to work I invoked my income protection insurance (reduced income, no pension, huge medical bills).
  • 3 months ago revaluation doubled my CIV and increased my rates by 40%.
  • I qualify under council’s hardship provisions for interest rate relief on deferred rates (part 1 of the amendment).

Next door is an older, struggling pensioner who moved into Monash for the first time eleven years ago who qualifies for zero interest (part 2 of the amendment).

What is the difference in NEED between these two hypothetical ratepayers that warrants preferential treatment of one over the other?

Comments

The question is not critical of the idea that relief should be offered – in fact it applauds the concept.  The question points out the inequities based on the assumption that two ratepayers are both suffering extreme financial hardship yet they are treated differently:

  • I have no pension yet, hypothetically, I have no more disposable cash than the pensioner next door
  • I am not receiving any government assistance because I am funding myself through my own income protection insurance yet I am eligible for less public assistance than my neighbour
  • I have lived in Monash, paying rates, for 19 years more than the pensioner yet, having moved house recently, I am penalised in comparison
  • I am too ill to work yet, being younger, may well have more years ahead of me in which to accumulate a compounding burden of interest on my deferred rates jeopardising far more of the equity in my home

Council’s Response

Councillor Lake’s response on behalf of council (he has couched it in the first  person so I believe it fair to attribute it personally to him) follows below with embedded comments.

Thank you for your question.  At the outset, assuming both have applied for deferred payments under the proposed amendment, they would both be better off than under the current policy. My proposal, as set out in Item 7.2, is seeking Council approval to reduce the interest rate charged for the deferral of Council rates for persons qualifying under our Financial Hardship Policy. This represents a reduction from the current 4.75% to 2.5% per annum.  The current 4.75% rate which applies is already lower than the proscribed statutory rate of 9.5% and follows the development of Council’s current hardship policy which I instigated around two years ago.  So an interest rate of 2.5% on deferred rates would be the outcome for your hypothetical non-pensioner in the example you have proposed.  That is an interest rate substantially lower than anything else commercially available at the moment.

My question asked about the unequal treatment of two struggling ratepayers.  The fact that both get a reduced rate was never in question and the fact that both are better off than under the current policy does not address the inequity.

Commercial interest rates are irrelevant – governments are not commercial entities.  And the fact remains that, in these straitened circumstances, any interest rate compounds the debt accumulating against my property.  The question is not about whether or not a rates debt ultimately needs to be paid regardless of personal circumstances, it asked about the different treatment of two disadvantaged people.

In the proposed Notice of Motion I am also seeking  councillor support to reduce the interest rate charged on deferred rates for eligible aged pensioners to 0% where a person is over the age of 65 and can prove they have lived in their home for more than 10 years.

The latter approach recognises a person who has passed the current age in Australia when someone becomes eligible to apply for the Age Pension. This approach is proposed by me to offer residents of pensionable age an ability to live completely free of any concern around the payment of their Council rates.  This is in response to the dozens of pensioners I have spoken to over the past month, and the hundreds who have responded to Council’s petition to the state government, who have told me about the significant impact on their life arising from the significant rate increase they have received because of property values increasing substantially.

Being older doesn’t mean the financial hardship is greater.  Being an aged-pensioner (but not a disability or other pensioner) does not mean you’re, automatically, harder up.  Financial Hardship is a question of your ability to pay your rates bill without being put in a situation where you cannot pay for the necessities of life and neither age nor pension status change that.

The requirement to prove that a person has lived in their home for at least 10 years is also unfair.  In the example I cited, I was well and truly qualified on this count until I downsized.  After living in my own home for 28.5 years I downsized and, 18 months later, in serious financial hardship, I’m told I don’t qualify for help because I haven’t lived there for long enough.

Still the inequities, the subject of the question, is not addressed.

If my changes are supported tonight, aged pensioners with more than 10 years living and contributing to our community, can choose not to pay another dollar in rates and be completely confident that over time interest will not reduce the equity they have paid off in their home.  Their rates will simply sit as a charge against their property to be recouped by Council when the property is sold.  This in an option which will not be for everyone but it does offer immediate financial relief to anyone who is otherwise feeling they have no other choice but to leave the local area they have lived in for most of their life.

And there is the contradiction.

The hypothetical me in the example has lived and contributed to our community for nearly three times as long as the hypothetical pensioner but it’s the pensioner who gets the benefit described in this paragraph and the long term resident who misses out.  It’s the long term resident who, contrary to the comment above, may “have no other choice but to leave the local area they have lived in for most of their life”.

But what is even worse here is the underlying implication that compassion must first be earned – “…aged pensioners with more than 10 years living and contributing to our community…” are worthy or more care and compassion than others!

When it comes to council rates, age pensioner ratepayers are the most vulnerable section of our community because they are living off very low fixed incomes with little prospect of increasing their income in real terms in the future.  The proposed amendments will provide some immediate relief to some of those most in need.  This is in addition to our strong advocacy around these mattes to the state government and my proposal tonight represents assertive action we can take ourselves right now.

Pensioners are vulnerable.  Invalids are vulnerable.  The chronically ill, unemployed and many others are vulnerable.  They all live of very low fixed incomes.

It is true that the hypothetical me may recover and resume working and earning in which case I’d have to start to repay my deferred rates.  But I may have already been forced to sell up to escape an increasing and insurmountable interest burden despite having lived and contributed to the local community for most of my life.

So, I return the the question which was not answered:

What is the difference in NEED between these two hypothetical ratepayers that warrants preferential treatment of one over the other?

Why Can’t Citizens Get Answers?

When you consider the above example the only answer I can see is that there is no legitimate reason for the different treatment.  If it’s fair to charge one person 2.5% interest on deferred rates when they’re in financial hardship then it’s fair to charge everyone 2.5%.  If it’s fair to grant a 0% interest rate to one person then it’s fair to grant it to everyone.

And if that’s true then the answer to the question asked is very short and direct, “There is no difference in their needs, I will amend my proposal to recognise the unintended inequities”.

Time for a Change to Question Time

The final insult to the community in the above example is that my question was required to be kept to no more than 100 words (I got away with a few extra this time) but Council responses face no such restraint.  Cr Lake’s response used six paragraphs, about 500 words, to NOT answer the question.

 

Are you sick of over-development and loss of greenery? Then sign this petition before it is too late!

Save Us! Sign the petition!
Save Us! Sign the petition!

If you are worried about over-development in Monash – huge houses on tiny blocks, trees and gardens disappearing, then you have an opportunity to stop this from happening by signing this petition!

The petition was created by an Ashwood resident concerned with over development in Monash.  Link to more information relating to this matter – Petition against over-development. So far some signatures have been collected by community members, but need more to make a big impact! If you are a Monash resident, please feel free to print as many petitions as you can get your relatives, neighbours and friends to sign. Once you have the completed forms email EMonashU@gmail.com and I will email you the address to forward them to.
Click on image to open up petition document to print and sign!
PETITION_c125_2016
PETITION_c125_2016

Brandon Park Secondary College site development – ensure its community friendly petition

Council has informed the community about a proposed development plan for the former Brandon Park Secondary College site. Proposal for Developing buildings (3-5 storeys in height) which will be for independent retirement living, and aged care facilities. The applicant is Ryman Healthcare, which developed and operates the Weary Dunlop aged care and retirement complex in Wheelers Hill.

The Brandon Park Residents Action Group has created a petition to ensure any development on the site did not dilute the liveability of the neighbourhood, especially the loss of open space. The Petition is asking Council to ensure that Ryman Healthcare address the requirements in the Development Plan Overlay for the site, such as open space, drainage, trees, traffic and parking.

To support them please click on link provided to direct you to petition. Feedback needs to be provided to Council by 26 September 2016, so please sign petition before then.

Link to petition: Brandon Park Secondary College site development – ensure its community friendly

Related information:

Proposed Development Plan: Former Brandon Park Secondary College site

Brandon Park Residents Action Group

Monash Council Election in October – What you need to know!

Monash Council Election

The City of Monash Council Election will be held in October. It will be by postal vote and enrolled voters will receive their ballots via the mail in the first week of October.

What is in the ballot pack?

Council Elections Ballots
State of Victoria (Victorian Electoral Commission) – Easy English Guide
Creative Commons Attribution Non-Derivatives 4.0 licence
(http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/4.0/)

How to complete the ballot paper or vote?

After completing the sheet or adding your vote, then you will need to return it in the mail by 6.00 pm on Friday 21 October 2016, so please be aware it needs to be mailed by this date as voting closes on 21 October 2016. However you do have the option to hand-deliver it to the election office by this date. You can visit the Victorian Electoral Commission website for more information.

Click on Factsheets to enlarge and view! 

Council Election Ballots
State of Victoria (Victorian Electoral Commission) – Easy English Guide
Creative Commons Attribution Non-Derivatives 4.0 licence
(http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/4.0/)
Council Election Ballot
State of Victoria (Victorian Electoral Commission) – Easy English Guide
Creative Commons Attribution Non-Derivatives 4.0 licence
(http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/4.0/)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monash Council Election Candidates and voting

You will find candidate statements in the ballot pack, which is a little information about each candidate before deciding who to vote for. Community members may be already aware who some of the candidates are, but it is very important to vote for a person who you think will do the best for you or the community.  Hence why it is important to get enough information about the candidates by visiting their websites, reading their flyers or contacting them and asking questions. The other option is to  make arrangements to meet them at a convenient time or at their launches and express your views or concerns.

You vote is important so vote wisely!
Monash Council Ballot Voting
State of Victoria (Victorian Electoral Commission) – Easy English Guide
Creative Commons Attribution Non-Derivatives 4.0 licence
(http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/4.0/)

If you interested in meeting some of them, there will be a ‘Meet the Candidates’ event on 6 October 2016 at the Mount Street Neighbourhood House. For further details, you can contact them by phone on 9803 8706 or through their website – MSNH Contact.

For more information regarding the Council Elections:

City of Monash Council Election – Voting 

Victorian Electoral Commission (VEC)

Easy English Guide – Victorian Electoral Commission Vote in Local Council Postal Elections

Reminder! Gayle Nicholas who is the founder member of Empowering Monash and YOU has suspended her role with EM&U while standing for Council.  Community members have contacted EM&U in regards to Gayle’s Campaign and would like to remind people that EM&U’s role does not involve election campaigns, so if you would like to contact Gayle Nicholas, details below.
Website: Glenwaverleyward.wordpress.com.au
Facebook Page Page: @Gayle4Monash 
Twitter: @GayleNicholas4M

Monash Council Meeting Agenda! Hot Issues – What to look for?

Monash Council Meeting

The Next City of  Monash Council Meeting will be held on Tuesday 30 August 2016 from 7.00pm. You will need to submit your questions by noon  today (Monday 29 August).

Hot issues to pay extra attention too!

Hot issues Empowering Monash and You

Development: Five residential apartment towers 6-10 storeys in height and 17 double-storey townhouses

79 objections were submitted by public members: “Key issues raised within objections relate to neighbourhood character, visual bulk, overshadowing, design detail, compliance with residential policy, car parking provision, increased traffic, overlooking and residential amenity.” Source – Monash Council Agenda, 30 August 2016.

The Council has recommended to refuse the proposal!

Monash Community Grants Program:  Report relating to the 2017/18  Grants Program (MCGP) and assessments of applications.

Due to the Public Health Approach to Gambling Policy Statement, funding will not be provided to applicants or community groups who meet at venues that have Electronic Gaming Machines. Already two organisations will be affected! There were some objections to this alteration .  

Links relating to this issue and comments: Dealing Monash Ratepayers a Dodgy Hand

Announcement! EM&U Founder Gayle Nicholas has stepped down from her role!

IMG_9662

I would like to announce that Gayle Nicholas who is the founder member of Empowering Monash and YOU has suspended her role with EM&U while standing for Council. Gayle and I established EM&U to provide information to community members and to give them the opportunity to have a say, such as community issues relating to Local Government.

Thank You Gayle Nicholas

I would like to thank Gayle for her outstanding role with EM&U and strongly advocating for community engagement with Monash Council.

Please keep in mind though EM&U will still be running as usual and team members or contributors will still be involved.  If you have any enquires please do not hesitate to contact us by email at eMonashu@gmail.com or through the ‘Contact Us‘ page.

EM&U’s role does not involve election campaigns so if you would like to contact Gayle Nicholas, details below.

Facebook Page Page: @Gayle4Monash 

 

Hariklia Nguyen – Co-founder of Empowering Monash and YOU (EM&U)