Twice a year, representatives from Victoria’s 79 councils gather at the Sofitel Hotel at the top end of Collins Street to vote on about 60 resolutions proposed by member councils of the Municipal Association of Victoria. It used to be only 78 out of 79 councils, but, after a three-year absence, the City of Melbourne rejoined as a financial member of the MAV in late 2012.

The MAV’s state council decision-making is quite a fast-moving process because votes are cast electronically and you can see the results in a pie chart on the screen within a few seconds of the poll closing. (The meetings are interesting and open to the public, but for some reason journalists rarely bother to cover them.)

The only problem with this system is the lack of visibility as to how member councils have actually voted. The audio of debate is also not available.

The majority of motions are comfortably passed, but it has become something of a sport — especially among some non-metropolitan councils — to oppose City of Melbourne motions, so we’re batting at four wins and five losses over the past three gatherings. We’re putting up another three motions at tomorrow’s MAV state council, as you can see in this 135-page package of papers sent to delegates.

Perhaps the most surprising Melbourne defeat at the May 16 meeting earlier this year was motion 50, which read as follows:

“That State Council encourages Victorian Councils to voluntarily disclose their 20 most valuable land building holdings in their 2013-14 Annual Reports.”

The background material (see page 3) presented to MAV delegates included the 20 most valuable City of Melbourne properties, which had already been disclosed on page 163 of our 2012-13 annual report. It was explained that the sky hadn’t fallen in, but after a lively debate with half-a-dozen speakers, the motion went down reasonably convincingly. The only division of the day was then called (not initially by Melbourne), and we got a similar result using our electronic voting handsets. This means there were 40 delegates happy for their councils to appear secretive on the record.

The minutes only came through a couple of weeks ago, but here’s the roll call of those 40 councils that voted against informing their communities about their 20 most valuable property assets:

Alpine, Ballarat, Bass Coast, Baw Baw, Bayside, Boroondara, Brimbank, East Gippsland, Frankston, Glen Eira, Golden Plains, Dandenong, Geelong, Shepparton, Hepburn, Hindmarsh, Hobsons Bay, Horsham, Kingston, Loddon, Macedon Ranges, Maribyrnong, Maroondah, Mitchell, Moorabool, Moyne, Murrindindi, Port Phillip, Pyrenees, Queenscliffe, South Gippsland, Strathbogie, Swan Hill, Warrnambool, Wellington, West Wimmera, Whitehorse, Whittlesea, Wyndham, Yarra Ranges.

And the 19 councils that voted in favour were:

Banyule, Campaspe, Cardinia, Central Goldfields, Colac Otway, Corangamite, Darebin, Bendigo, Indigo, Knox, Latrobe, Melbourne, Moira, Moonee Valley, Mornington Peninsula, Nillumbik, Surf Coast, Towong, Yarra.

This defeat was a little hard to fathom because 12 months earlier the delegates had voted to put their full lease registers online, following this lead by the City of Melbourne.

After a broader transparency and disclosure motion was also comfortably defeated (40-17) in October 2013, the new approach is to politely make less challenging disclosure requests. It will be interesting to see how this proposal fares at tomorrow’s MAV state council:

Motion 46, Melbourne City Council: Improved formal record of council meetings

That the MAV state council:

  1. Encourages councils to maintain a publicly accessible audio archive of council meetings in order to provide a fuller public record of proceedings than can be made available in the former written minutes.
  2. Encourage councils to record the individual for and against votes on each item of business in the minutes of each meeting, without the need for a formal division.

The City of Melbourne has now produced audio archives of about 50 council and committee meetings since early 2013, and it is working well. It doesn’t cost much and it also means the minute takers no longer have to painstakingly summarise the arguments put by each speaker.

Whether that cuts the mustard with 70 or so governance leaders from communities across Victoria tomorrow is anyone’s guess. We’ll let you know what happens, but unfortunately won’t be able to share any audio with you.

Peter Fray

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