Many people who begin a career in local politics start by being passionate about an issue. They stand for Council to try to make a difference. Others are political timeservers and seat warmers who are using the place as a stepping stone to bigger things. Many in my state, Victoria, never met a developer they didn’t like.
If you’re thinking of becoming one of the passionate issue-driven ones, now you can forget about it. Under a proposed amendment to the Local Government act, making a submission on any topic in, it seems, any forum, disqualifies a councillor from voting on measures related to that topic. Greens MLC Greg Barber:
Councillors can be banned from voting on any Council matter if they have previously chosen to:
(ii) make an objection or submission in relation to the matter.
* It doesn’t have to be a submission you made to the Council you are running for. If you made a submission to a state government review, your Council forming its position on the same review could be seen to be the same ‘matter’.
* It’s irrelevant what you said in your submission, whether for, against or neutral on a proposal. Writing the submission automatically gives you a conflict of interest.
* It doesn’t have to be a personal submission. You could be an office bearer of a group or other entity and be held responsible for the submission your group made.
Example: Katherine is a local councillor and also the Treasurer of the local Landcare group, who wrote a submission to the Minister for Water on a proposal to declare certain wetlands as protected. Later, the Minister writes to Katherine’s council asking them for their position on the matter. Katherine can’t vote.
* It could be a verbal submission you made by speaking at a council meeting. It doesn’t matter what you said, because the only necessary action is that you made a submission.
* It’s retrospective. Any submission you made in the past could knock you out of voting at any time on the future.
Example: Ian made a submission to his council’s proposed by-law on footpath trading rules. Some time later he is elected to council. Five years after the law was first created, Council considers running a review of the law. Councillor Ian can’t even vote on whether or not to review the law because he made a submission on the original version.
(H/T to Kieran Bennett).
This means that everyone who’s ever spoken out on forests, water policy, Alpine grazing, toxic waste dumps next to housing developments or any other debatable topic is muzzled from here on in, and everyone who hasn’t is prevented from making submissions or otherwise speaking out in the future.
It occurs to me that every time Councils vote, someone has to find out exactly who has ever made a submission on each motion, and as shown above, there’s a multiplicity of fora that have to be searched. For each Council member. Who’s going to do this work? Who pays for this?
Welcome to Victoria: government by time servers, seat warmers and people who endorse big projects and inappropriate development – but have been careful not to make any noise about it.
Crossposted at Road to Surfdom