Elections must lead to good government and governance

Elections must lead to good government and governance

Published 30 January 2016, The Courier, Ballarat

The year ahead
There’s been good commentary about the leadership positions currently vacant in Ballarat and how this may affect our Team Ballarat approach if individual new CEOs choose to forge their own path. (John Fitzgibbon letter in The Courier 18 Jan.)

This is a very important point for discussion in the light of what 2016 may bring.

Committee for Ballarat is a membership based group which looks to the long term. However, the importance of key short term decisions within government, business and “for purpose” (NFP) sectors cannot be understated.

This year brings both a Federal Election and Council Elections that are significant opportunities for our city and region. Opportunities for future prosperity and sustainability that will depend on the strength of leadership within newly elected Councils. Their ability to take considered strategic positions and work together, both within their Chambers and across the region, is vitally important.
At Federal level the physical and virtual connectivity of our region through major infrastructure needs of rail, roads, telecommunications are just some key platforms for Committee’s advocacy and influence.

Different government
Of course the difference between local and federal is significant, but why? In Canberra there is a Cabinet system which provides a framework for coordinated decision making. In local government there is no such thing except at the Brisbane City Council which has a wide remit, greater area and larger population. It is no coincidence that it provides excellent services at neighbourhood level and a generally cohesive approach to its task.

If Ballarat is serious about being the capital of Western Victoria, it needs scale for service provision in our region and this means larger area and population. Bigger can only be better if administrative efficiencies and scale economies deliver better services with lower rates.

I seem to recall the 1990s reforms delivered something along those lines actually!

Council governance
There is much debate and discussion that happens around the activities in Ballarat Council and Committee does not participate in those matters except for instances where there is potential for harm to the broader team goals. It is much easier to criticize from the outside than get elected and work with other Councillors.

A lot of controversy stems from the individually based ward system and the scale of responsibility involved. Former Mayor, Judy Verlin, is proposing a two tier Councillor system which would reinforce the small scale thinking that Councillors find easier as individual ward representatives.
The idea of differential roles for Councillors in strategic or local issues looks highly divisive and problematic within our democratic framework .

And this is the essential dilemma once a Council starts work. It is not about the individual ward or personality. The substantial work required in governance involves an agreed approach to plans and budgets for the WHOLE Council area.
There are Councils in our region that have exemplified this principle through a consistent vision, a clear strategy and a collaborative approach underpinned by good governance, which achieves results.
This is what all constituents should expect from local Government and their representatives.

It is difficult to imagine how Council governance can meet future funding and asset maintenance requirements unless something changes.

Perhaps the community is not so excited about local government things in the way some of us are because of our previous involvement. Until they get the rate bill that is!

We must challenge the sustainability of the current model. I have heard said on many occasions “bring back the Commissioners, they made decisions”. It is ironic that was a time of non-elected governance with a mission for change, and it was twenty years ago.

Reform is needed again as a reality check on rate levels, the future affordability by ratepayers and the ability of council to fund its day to day operations and major works. Without it, individuality, short termism and inadequate governance could create an environment unlikely to attract people, jobs and investment to this wonderful region.

Janet Dore - Committee for Ballarat Chair - 22 January 2016