October green light for council elections

By Jackson Russell

Mitchell and Macedon Ranges shire councillors and Victoria’s peak local government body have expressed their disappointment in decision to proceed with council elections.

Minister for Local Government Adem Somyurek announced that council elections will go ahead via postal vote on October 24.

It will be the first time postal voting has been used across all Victorian councils, following changes introduced to the Local Government Act that requires a state-wide and uniform approach to voting.

The decision comes after advice from chief health officer Dr Brett Sutton stating it was safe to go ahead with a postal election.

Mr Somyurek said Victorians had the right to a democratic say on who represented them at all levels of government.

“By making every vote a postal vote, we’re ensuring this vital democratic process is conducted in a safe manner that also allows for the participation of more voters,” he said.

The Municipal Association of Victoria quickly expressed its disappointment in the decision.

A statement from the MAV said it had written to the Minister more than three weeks before the announcement advising the MAV board’s position was for elections to be postponed by 12 months.

MAV president Coral Ross said it was now critical the State Government worked with councils to ensure appropriate measures were put in place to protect the health of residents, candidates, electoral and council officers, council officers and scrutineers.

“In reaching our position in favour of postponing the elections, councils were most concerned about the health and safety risks as well as the potential for incumbent councillors to be unfairly advantaged in their campaigns,” she said.

Mitchell Shire councillor Bob Humm personally wrote to the MAV to express his individual concern, saying new councillors would have a ‘hell of a time’ trying to learn while navigating the ongoing pandemic.

“It’s just too hard for a new councillor to come in and they’ll find it very difficult to come in and try to continue to control what a previous council might’ve had to change in the last six months,” he said.

“We really need to keep as many of the current councillors in the first 12 months of the new council.

“Being the fastest growing shire in Victoria, we need some stability, especially coming out of COVID-19. That’s really what the problem is.”

Macedon Ranges Shire councillor Bill West said he was personally puzzled by the Minister’s decision, particularly in light of the MAV’s submission, which reflected ‘the opinion of a substantial majority of councils across the state, to defer elections for 12 months’.

“The positive is that it has removed speculation about whether or not elections would be held,” he said.

“With COVID-19 placing huge pressures on councils and communities, and exceptional circumstances created, elections could well prove to be an additional distraction in an unpredictable climate.”