Democracy

Australian Greens (Victoria) policy for the City of Melbourne. Endorsed July 2012.

Background

As the tier of Government closest to the people, Local Government should be engaged in a system of democratic decision-making that is as accessible and consultative as practicably possible. The City of Melbourne is a well-resourced municipality and has the capacity to be far more engaged with residents and ratepayers on questions of the strategic direction of the City as well as individual Council decisions. The Greens believe that both the electoral system and the decision-making conventions of the Council are currently a hindrance to this engagement.

Electoral processes for Melbourne City Council remain undemocratic, contradict the principles of local representation for Local Government, and require urgent review. The deeming provisions for the electoral roll, the unique Leadership Ticket arrangements that result in anti-proportional electoral outcomes, and the lack of a substantive review of the electoral representation structure for over a decade, have resulted in Councillor representation that disproportionately favours non- residents, and that leaves communities without resident Councillors feeling underrepresented.

Due to the reluctance of some Councillors, Melbourne City Council as a whole has not pursued systems of decision making which deliberately engage the community; systems that neighbouring Councils have been practicing for some time. Community Forums can be tokenistic and at times residents and ratepayers don’t have meaningful opportunity to ask questions without notice at appropriate Committee meetings, and the City’s consultation processes for matters that are open for public consultation are demonstrably inadequate.

Council should have no role in the silencing of dissent, and should recognise peaceful protests as legitimate. It should never call on the police force to disperse peaceful protests.

The Greens will work to change the culture at Town Hall so that it becomes more democratic, more transparent, and more accountable.

Principles

The Greens believe:

  1. The City’s current electoral system disproportionately favours non-residents, is anti- proportional, and must be overhauled.
  2. Council should be as accountable and transparent as practicably possible within the bounds of the Local Government and City of Melbourne Acts.
  3. Residents and ratepayers can and should be more directly involved in the decisions of their Council, and it is incumbent upon Councillors to facilitate this.
  4. Peaceful protests should be allowed to occur within the City without the threat of police force.

Goals

Greens Melbourne City Councillors will work towards:

  1. Council being known among residents and ratepayers for clear, transparent consultation processes and accessibility, largely facilitated through a much greater use of technology.
  2. A new electoral representation structure being in place before the 2016 election, after a full electoral representation review is conducted with maximum resident and ratepayer consultation.
  3. Attendance voting, rather than postal voting, for Council elections.
  4. Local Government being recognised in the Australian Constitution.
  5. Peaceful protests within the City not being prohibited by local laws.

Key priorities

Greens Melbourne City Councillors will:

  1. Seek a comprehensive and consultative review of the City of Melbourne’s electoral structure, and advocate for:
    • Retaining the popular election for the position of Lord Mayor, but not Deputy Lord Mayor, and allow Lord Mayoral candidates to also stand as Councillor candidates;
    • The retention of an unsubdivided district, in the interests of fair proportionality, but requesting that the review explore the feasibility of future multi-member wards;
    • The abolition of the deeming provisions; and
    • A review of the enfranchisement of non-citizens such as permanent residents and Temporary Protection Visa holders.
  2. Request the State Government to alter the City of Melbourne Act (2001) to require an Electoral Representation Review at least once every eight years, in line with every other Victorian municipality.
  3. Hold community forum meetings, with all Councillors present, in community centres across the municipality.
  4. Expand Council’s program of Community Forums and trial specific deliberative democracy programs to ensure that the community has regular opportunities to meet and be engaged with issues of importance to them.
  5. Improve online public access to Council documentation and data.
  6. Ensure that Council information is translated and that interpreters are available during community consultations as required.
  7. Initiate an annual, well-publicised, and transparent process of consultation with residents and ratepayers regarding the expenditure priorities of Council.
  8. Strengthen the measures of sustainability by which Council’s performance is monitored and publicly reported on to residents.
  9. Employ Community Engagement Officers to identify communication problems in different parts and demographics of the municipality, so that Council can focus on improving residents’ and ratepayers’ engagement with Council business, and to regularly review the performance of community engagement programs.
  10. Commission a full review of local laws to ensure that the right to protest peacefully without adversely affecting others on City-owned or managed land is supported in accordance with the requirements of section 15 of the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities, which guarantees freedom of expression.
  11. Live stream Council and Committee meetings online.
  12. Hold Council meetings no earlier than 5.30pm to allow for maximum public attendance.