Governance reforms at City of Melbourne


December 8, 2016

Here is an account of governance and transparency reforms at City of Melbourne as they rolled out chronologically since the last council elections in October 2012.

* Melbourne rejoined peak body - November 2012
After three years out in the cold, this motion immediately after the election returned City of Melbourne as a financial member of the sector's peak body, the Municipal Association of Victoria. It was unanimously supported and Melbourne was no longer the odd council out. It has given us an opportunity to put up a range of transparency motions at various MAV State Councils, which have run into surprising resistance in some quarters.

* Portfolio selections made and approved by full council - November 2012
A majority of councillors supported a governance change where the full council in open session, rather than the Lord Mayor in private deliberations, determined portfolio allocations.

* Extension of time with senior management - December 2012
The weekly management briefing of councillors was extended from 60 minutes to 90 minutes to allow more discussion on important issues.

* Tenders determined in open sessions - February 2013
Changed the default position on tenders to being done in open session rather than closed confidential sessions. Started with the insurance broking contract in February 2013. This helped almost halve the number of confidential items from almost 40% in the previous council to closer to 20% now. .

* Changes to board appointments process - March 2013
After a Cr Watts proposed referral to the audit committee, an independent consultant recommended that we change the way directors are appointed to subsidiaries so that councillors would be less involved and the process made more transparent, including the requirement to advertise and use a recruitment firm when making major changes. See council report.

* Disclosure of council position on Ministerial planning decisions - March 2013
The Planning Minister is responsible for all applications above 25,000sqm in the City of Melbourne. However, after this motion was passed, council's position on these applications is always known through a public voting process with full community involvement.

* Audio of council meetings available online - March 2013
Audio recordings of council and committee meetings are now available online. See this report approving audio of meetings being released online.

* Adjustments to meeting procedures allowing more transparency and public participation - March 2013.
See the new meeting procedures code.

* Motion to approve release of comprehensive City of Melbourne lease register - April 2013
Was first included in the 2013-14 budget and here is the 2016 version of the lease register. Also see this story in The Age.

* Proposed motion to MAV State Council promoting public disclosure of lease registers - April 2013
See last of the MAV motions in this report. Was surprisingly defeated as a majority of Victorian councils wanted to keep their land holdings and rental arrangements secret.

* Expanding the audit committee - May 2013
Expanded the audit committee from 5 to 7 with the independents expanding from 3 to 4 and a 3rd councillor also joining. See notice of motion.

* Expanded opportunity for public questions - May 2013
The public is now able to ask unscripted questions for 15 minutes at the beginning and the end of our two Future Melbourne Committee meetings each month. That's about 40 separate question opportunities for the public a year. See this report.

* Faster minutes and longer notice period of meetings for public - June 2013
Moved this motion which provided greater certainty over agenda time tables, less late motions and faster but briefer minutes given public now has access to full audio. The law requires giving the community 48 hours notice for public meetings but we are now consistently going live with the agenda at 2pm on the Thursday before our meetings at 5.30pm on the following Tuesday.

* A public commitment to transparency - June 2013
After 6 months of intense work immediately following the October 2012 election, we adopted this 4 year council plan which included key commitments to transparency in goal 8 starting on page 32. The most important was that we strive to be "one of the most transparent councils in Australia". This has underpinned all that has followed, including initiatives such as Melbourne's open data platform.

* Docklands developer agreements disclosure motion - August 2013
Motion passed calling on state government to reveal Docklands developer agreements. Unfortunately, confidentiality has remained a Bipartisan policy in Victoria.

* Proposed this motion to MAV state council embracing asset valuation disclosure - August 2013
Disappointed it was defeated 19-40 as was explained in this council report looking at our MAV motion success rate.

* Not too proud to learn from Sydney - October 2013
Suggested and then participated in a two day visit to the City of Sydney in 2013 to learn about a comparable capital city council. Was an invaluable exercise. See council report.

* Disclosure of specific land and building valuations - October 2013
Another disclosure innovation which can be seen on page 163 of the 2012-13 annual report which picked up everything above $19.3 million. Was not in 2013-14 annual report but then returned on p105 of 2014-15 annual report with a lower threshold of just $2.5m.

* Changes to expenses guidelines - November 2013
Worked with officers and Cr Leppert on changes to these councillor expenses guidelines which lowered the overall cost of expense claims to council and ironed out some past areas of excess. See online quarterly expenses reports.

* Officers must accompany councillors to meetings with developers - November 2013
Whilst not a formal council resolution, secured internal agreement to a new planning protocol which requires a planning officer to attend any meeting between a councillor and a developer. See 3.7 in the updated Councillor Code of Conduct.

* Disclosure of major service contracts above $1 million - February 2014
Here is the motion from February 2014 and here is the newly produced public register of our biggest service contracts.

* Automatic call in of contentious planning matter - March 2014
Created a new trigger of 16 non-identical objections automatically bringing a planning matter to an open committee meeting for determination. See Cr Leppert's notice of motion which also covered heritage demotions and City of Melbourne's own applications. This was also strongly promoted by Cr Watts.

* Supporting unpopular State Government council governance reforms - April 2014
When the sector was complaining about a range of State Government governance reforms, offered support and proposed additional reforms in this notice of motion. It's a shame these changes didn't get through the Parliament before the 2014 state election, partly courtesy of Geoff Shaw.

* Funding vehicle for Queen Victoria Market renewal - April 2014
After the public announcement of a spend of up to $250 million on the Queen Victoria Market renewal, pushed for the establishment of a dedicated fund to provide some discipline and visibility around the funding challenge. This now reports to council on a quarterly basis.

* Online register of conflict of interest declarations - May 2014
Seconded Cr Foster's proposal to disclose which issues councillors declare conflicts on. A good reform and most unusual in the sector. See register.

* Reduced discretionary budget - June 2014
Councillors were spending more than $500,000 a year from a discretionary budget, largely determined in confidential sessions. This was not good governance and we cut it to $300,000 per year in the 2014-15 budget, where it has remained for the rest of the term.

* City of Melbourne participated in Govhack - July 2014
Part of the push for open data. See press release. We are now a leader in open data and have participated in three GovHack events.

* Disclosure of full contract with state government land swap - September 2014When we did a land swap deal with the State Government related to QVM, the full contract was released.

* Disclosed planning rules and then bid for Munro site - October 2014
Council pushed for maximum transparency in managing the delicate issue of being a planning authority and successful bidder for the $76 million Munro site adjacent to the Queen Victoria Market. We also released the resolution supporting the $76 million bid.

* A more transparent State Planning process - September 2014
Persuaded the state Planning Minister to publicly release his departmental advice on 70 different major applications in the City of Melbourne where he was the responsible authority. Also, see Council's delegate reports on Ministerial applications. See Crikey explanation.

* Unprecedented community panel advising on 10 year plan - October 2014
City of Melbourne embarked on a world first community consultation process around our inaugural 10 year financial plan which John Brumby's former chief of staff Nicholas Rees summarised as follows in The Age. Also, listen to this Big Ideas debate about participative democracy on Radio National.

* Leveraging council's position in the state election - September 2014
Council formally wrote to all parties ahead of the 2014 state election on important matters, which resulted in this management report outlining 15 key issues for candidates in the state seat of Melbourne.

Better disclosure of remuneration arrangements for senior officers - October 2014
Here is the motion calling for increased disclosure of senior officer contractual arrangements and you can see the results on page 76 of the 2013-14 annual report.

* Made public long list of outstanding matters before out-going Planning Minister Matthew Guy - October 2014
See motion calling for the "polite letter" and see the detailed letter later noted by council.

Disclosure of developer contributions to council - July 2014
After learning about Sydney's huge developer contributions revenues, won support for a request to the Minister for Melbourne to lift our modest revenue from this source and requested public release of data which confirmed the low tax nature of Melbourne's development approvals regime. See the full register of contributions over more than 20 years.

Separated financials of Citywide and Queen Victoria Market in quarterly reporting - February 2015
These numbers used to be grouped so it was hard to tell who was not meeting budget. It changed for the first time with the half year report in 2014-15. See page 6 of these financials.

Report revealing historical data on property taxes - February 2015
See motion calling for report and excellent resulting paper that shows the State Government collects more in property taxes from within the City of Melbourne than council does.

Public submissions now published online - March 2015
The March 3, 2015 committee meeting was the first where this happened. See bottom of this agenda.

* Proposed more transparent engagement with development industry - April 2015
The following was added as a new annual action for 2015-16: “Plan and run three developer forums to improve communication with the development industry and increase our contribution to public debate about planning and major development applications.”

* Early release of 2015-16 annual actions - April 2015
De-coupled the release of 140 annual actions from the budget process to give community more opportunity for input - see Crikey story.

Transparency motion for MAV on pay disclosure - April 2015
This motion was narrowly defeated at MAV state council

Promoting good governance through ALGA - April 2015
City of Melbourne proposed a broad good governance motion for debate at the 2015 ALGA National General Assembly. See Crikey story and motion passed on April 14, 2015. Sadly, it was smashed on the floor of ALGA after being relegated to last on the long agenda.

Brought all 80 MAV state councils motions to committee for approval - May 2015
Most councils don't bother with this transparency of decision making at the peak body - see motion.

* Only council in Australia to publically endorse voting positions at ALGA - June 2015
See resolutions passed at June 9 committee meeting and this Crikey story.

Better disclosure from wholly owned council subsidiaries - June 2015
Proposed motion at council meeting which required more public disclosure of subsidiary financials and the arrangements with our governance and executive leaders of these organisations. The 2015-16 annual reports are coming to the open council meeting on October 16.

Dedicated web page for council submissions to third party bodies - July 2015
Put up a notice of motion on July 7 calling for a dedicated webpage for council submissions to be created by November 30. See 50-plus interesting submissions.

Consolidated report assessing voting success at peak body forums - July 2015
Commissioned this report assessing the success rate for Melbourne motions at peak body meetings. No other Victorian council has ever done this and it makes public some of the governance luddites who have opposed sensible transparency reforms.

Promoting interesting data on visitor numbers to Melbourne - August 2015
Called this report in as a notice of motion to better alert the public on some fascinating visitor data. Lead to stories in the Herald Sun and The Age.

Push for other councils to embrace City of Melbourne transparency measures - September 2015
Responded to state's draft regulatory update with September 8 motion proposing roll-out of City of Melbourne transparency measures to other councils.

Letting the media and public attend MAV state council meeting - September 2015
City of Melbourne endorsed this motion for MAV state council which was supported and has led to more transparency at the local government peak body.

Insisting on public disclosure of Munro development joint venture process - September 2015
After confidential and blind councillor vote on shortlist of 5 joint venture partners for Munro site, moved amendment to increase public disclosure through this press statement in September 2015.

Update the public on expanded 2015-16 capital works budget after material carry forward - October 2015
After record $27m carry forward, proposed amendment to budget process which lead to re-stated $114m capital works budget being presented and endorsed at committee on October 6, 2015.

Greater quarterly disclosure of developer contributions as they are made - October 2015
See last page of this quarterly financial report for new disclosure on individual developer contributions. Was approved at August FMC meeting. See 1.6 on p3 of these minutes.

Comprehensive public report on everything you need to know on 2016 council elections - November 2015
Put up this motion calling for this comprehensive public report in February 2016 on the upcoming 2016 council election.

* Public disclosure of $230,000 sponsorship of News Corp's Good Friday Appeal event - December 2015
A discretionary request which officers opposed but councillors backed, so insisted on public disclosure. See report and see resolution.

* Ensured comprehensive officer submission to Local Government Act review was made public - December 2015
Put up this motion noting the submission and ensuring it was also published on our submissions page. Much of it was taken up in a subsequent State Government discussion paper.

* Notice of motion calling for more transparency in audit committee process - December 2015
See the motion supported at the December 1 committee meeting which lead to more visibility, transparency and authority for the audit committee as is apparent on this page of council's website. For instance, we've released 4 years of performance reports. See the 2015-16 version.

* Changing the way board fees are set at subsidiaries Citywide and Queen Victoria Market - February 2016
Rather than micro managing precise board fees and not capping committee fees, moved to a global cap model like applies to listed companies. See the motion and officer report in June 2016.

* Pushing for a Federal anti-corruption watchdog - April 2016
See motions proposed to MAV and ALGA along with Tony Walker column in The AFR.

* First to publish MAV early motions - April 14, 2016
By putting it on the agenda at City of Melbourne committee meeting, 30 early motions for MAV state council were made public earlier than usual. See motion.

* Agreement for establishment of comprehensive gift register - August 30, 2016
See this originating motion on May 31, plus the alternative on p4 which was passed unanimously. Then see the officer report in response along with the final resolution passed.

* Stop limiting access to speeches to people in the room - July 19, 2016
See original motion plus how the speeches page looks online

* Comprehensive officer report on City of Melbourne transparency reforms - September 6, 2016
Was inserted as a year 4 council action and here is the full report summarising much of the program from an officer perspective.

* Secured unanimous support for a voluntary donations register run by The Age - September 20, 2016
See original motion, plus slightly amended version in this document. And here is what The Age first published.

* Disclosing latest financials and full history of QVM and Citywide board appointments - September 27, 2016
Passed as a supplementary motion after 3 confidential motions to ensure community fully informed on latest developments ahead of the election.

* Release of 20 QVM resolutions and voting records - September 27, 2016
Was put up as a confidential report after this earlier motion, but then released after the vote to fully inform the community about all QVM votes, including some conducted in confidential sessions.

* Publishing some of our statements to journalists - October 5, 2016
Journalists are privileged insiders. If we tell them something, why not inform the whole community like this.


* End of year media report - December 2016
Two years after asking, we finally got a comprehensive media report for the 2015-16 year. Has any other government done this?