Herald Sun - Stray councils' splurges must be banned

My Opinion Pieces
December 1, 2019

Local government is important. It provides many services that are vital for the functioning of a cohesive society. But ratepayers are becoming utterly sick of local councillors spending their money on political campaigns for which they have absolutely no jurisdiction or responsibility.

These councillor activists are spending the public’s money on their own personal political penchants. This is wrong and it should not be happening. There are many hardworking local councillors who are frustrated by these usually Leftwing councils, who bring the good work of many in local government into disrepute.

That’s why when the Labor Party introduced its Local Government Bill in parliament this week, I sought to amend it, to ban local councils from spending any ratepayer money on political advocacy and campaigns for which they have no role — self-appointed or otherwise.

Unfortunately, the Andrews Government voted against my amendment, so it would appear Labor likes local councils spending Victorians’ money on various state, national and international political causes. This Labor government should have more respect for
ratepayers’ money and should have sided with the Liberals in stamping out this practice.

Former Labor Party state secretary and councillor at the City of Melbourne, Nicholas Reece, attended the Australian Republican Movement’s gala dinner held at the Royal Exhibition Building in 2017, when then Labor Leader Bill Shorten was guest speaker.
The City of Melbourne spent $1718 of ratepayers’ money on a table so Cr Reece could attend the event, which he said was the
“biggest gathering of republicans since the Eureka Stockade”.

He defended his position, saying “the decision to support was unanimously supported by councillors” and “it’s a question of
what sort of country we want to be and where we see our future”. I am not sure ratepayers were all that delighted to have paid for
Cr Reece’s attendance at this republican gathering. Many ratepayers in the City of Melbourne, I am sure, voted “yes” at the 1999 referendum, many I’m sure support Australia becoming a republic now, but I do not think they expect to have their rates spent on an overt political cause like the Australian Republic Movement.

While I disagree with him, Cr Reece is entitled to his views about our future constitutional arrangements. But he’s not entitled to spend ratepayer money on his republican activism. And let’s not forget those councils that have taken it upon themselves — such as Darebin, Moreland and Yarra — to advocate against January 26 being the date of Australia Day, which is a matter for the federal parliament.

Melbourne Council also approved $6364 for the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. What’s nuclear disarmament
got to do with a local council? The City of Yarra, another Labor-Greens council, spent $15,000 paying for students to get
involved in climate change campaigns and events put on by the Australian Youth Climate Coalition, including the Strike4Climate rally in September.

And back to the City of Melbourne, when the CBD was closed down by “climate extinction” extremists, instead of implementing its own local law, which bans people from camping in public parks, it allowed the protesters a right to camp in Carlton Gardens that no other citizen would ever be given.

So when this council has an issue it genuinely has responsibility for, it fails to enforce its own rules. Then the City of Melbourne
decided to weigh in on the state government issue of pill testing, which Victoria Police is opposed to and has nothing to do with a local council.

Lord Mayor Sally Capp recently announced that she supports pill testing. Why did the City of Melbourne undertake a report for
councillors about this issue, how much did this cost and how much time did council officers spend preparing it?

Councils are not debating clubs. They are important local authorities that deal with hundreds of millions of dollars of ratepayers’ money and it is not their job to spend it on campaigns against nuclear disarmament or supporting climate protests, the republic, pill testing or changing the date of Australia Day.

Worthy causes some of them may be, but it is not their job. It is not my job as a state member of parliament to waste the public’s
time and money with my thoughts about Australia’s foreign policy or what submarines we purchase and from what country.
The Labor Party should back our proposed changes to the Local Government Bill. It makes sense, as ratepayers are utterly sick of
hearing about local councillors spending their money on the latest woke cause that has nothing at all to do with them.