Cr Mayne

Letter to ALGA delegates

September 11, 2020

A draft letter to ALGA delegates.

Dear ######### councillor,

On Tuesday, June 9, City of Melbourne councillors unanimously passed the following motion in relation to next week's ALGA National General Assembly in Canberra. You can listen here to the audio of the debate at council which occurred in the final 10 minutes of an 80 minute meeting.

Agenda item 7.4


1. That the Future Melbourne Committee, in respect of the Australian Local Government Association (ALGA) National General Assembly (NGA) to be held in Canberra between 14 and 17 June 2015:

1.1. Resolves that Councillors Stephen Mayne and Ken Ong be authorised to vote on matters listed on the business papers and that these Councillors determine the sole voting delegate for each of five debating sessions as required under NGA voting procedures.

1.2. Resolves that in representing the Melbourne City Council at the NGA, Councillors Mayne and Ong take note of this Committee's objections to the following motions:

1.2.1 Motion 6, on the grounds that the removal of the Minimum Grant Principle from Federal Assistance Grants is not supported.

1.2.2 Motion 26, on the grounds that the further reduction of Foreign Aid funding in not supported.

1.2.3 Motion 32, on the grounds that it has not been demonstrated that the exemption for Local Government from truck driving fatigue management laws will not reduce harm.

1.2.4 Motion 42, on the grounds that the reduction of the Renewable Energy Target below current legislated levels is not supported.

1.2.5 Motion 47, on the grounds that the level of funds required to deliver ‘core infrastructure' to Northern Australia as a whole would not be a strategic Federal budget choice.

1.2.6 Motion 77, on the grounds that there is not a general need for the Commonwealth Government to maintain Olympic and Commonwealth Games infrastructure.

1.3. That decisions to vote for or against motions, or any matters raised from the floor, be made by Councillors Mayne and Ong at respective debating sessions taking into consideration matters identified in part 1.2 of this motion and any other matters which may arise during debate at the NGA.

1.4. Notes with concern and disappointment that the City of Melbourne motion regarding the improvement of the reputation of local government as the most open and transparent level of government has been placed last (80th out of 80 motions) on the notice paper.

1.5. That City of Melbourne expresses its general concern that such a large proportion of ALGA motions are calling for more money from other levels of government and encourages the ALGA board to try and broaden the agenda at the 2016 National General Assembly to involve issues such as governance, transparency, shared services, best practice, operating models, important national policy debates and other issues which the local government sector can directly influence.


The following story about ALGA's approach to governance was also published in the Crikey email newsletter on Tuesday, June 9:

ALGA shows disdain for governance and transparency

By Stephen Mayne

The Australian Local Government Association board last week released the 80 motions to be debated at the three-day National General Assembly it will be conducting in Canberra starting next Sunday.

As was explained in this Crikey piece in April, the City of Melbourne is attending as part of an attempt to promote the practice of transparency and disclosure across the local government sector.

A detailed transparency motion was unanimously endorsed by councillors in April as Melbourne's only motion for debate at ALGA.

It was crafted with a view to trying to shift some of the debate at ALGA away from endless demands for more money from Canberra, to some specific governance issues related to the sector, such as disclosing lease registers, releasing audio of council meetings, encouraging more public questions at council meetings and revealing senior executives' pay.

Alas, the peak national body for councils in Australia has shown its disdain for good governance, relegating the motion to what is calls the “reserve list”, which means it will only be covered if there is time on day three.

Indeed, it came in stone motherless last at 80 out of 80, and the ALGA secretariat even managed to mangle the seven-point motion into one barely decipherable continuous paragraph as follows on page 96 of the business papers:

That the National General Assembly endorse the following transparency and disclosure principles as measures to be considered by local government across Australia to demonstrate leadership in good governance and transparency.

1. Public disclosure on council website of a full lease register detailing the terms of any arrangements with third parties who occupy council-owned land and buildings.

2. Annual public disclosure on council website details of independent valuations of council-owned land and buildings above a threshold of $1 million.

3. Disclosure in council annual reports the employment terms of their five most senior officers including name, position, remuneration and length of contract.

4. Making an audio recording of council and committee meetings available alongside the formal minutes where practicable and affordable.

5. Allocation of at least 15 minutes each month to unscripted oral public questions at a full council or committee meeting.

6. Periodic disclosure on council website of expense claims made by councillors.

7. Pre-approval of interstate and international travel by councillors at an open council or committee meeting.

The City of Melbourne will be resolving in public today on how we will vote on the 80 ALGA resolutions. Based on the extraordinary attitude displayed in 2015, next year it might be tempting to adopt the City of Sydney approach of not bothering to attend.

Then again, this year's line-up features Tony Abbott, Bill Shorten, Richard Di Natale, Environment Minister Greg Hunt and Nationals leader Warren Truss, although Truss is the only one of these five federal MPs who has committed to turn up and isn't still listed on the program as “invited”.

*Stephen Mayne chairs the Finance and Governance committee at the City of Melbourne and was not paid for this item.


This follow-up piece was published in Crikey on Friday:

On local government transparency

Stephen Mayne writes: Re. "Local government peak body shows disdain for council transparency" (Tuesday). Cr Troy Pickard, major of the City of Joondalup in Perth and President of the Australian Local Government Association (ALGA), was miffed by this piece in Crikey on Tuesday ahead of next week's ALGA National General Assembly. He articulated his concerns in the following terms after I wrote to all Joondalup councillors pushing the merits of the 7-point City of Melbourne governance motion which was relegated to the very bottom of the ALGA notice paper as 80th motion for debate:

The Call for Motions documentation sent to the City of Melbourne by ALGA contained some important information about the need for motions to address the theme of the NGA, namely Reform of the Federation and Taxation, Regulation, National Fiscal Settings, Commonwealth National Commission of Audit and Regulation.

No one would argue that good governance is at the core of Local Government, however it is not relevant to the theme of the 2015 NGA and is accordingly captured as a Reserve Motion.

In isolation your comments sound logical and reasonable, however when cast in light of the Call for Motions, your comments are misleading, ill-informed and derogatory to the Association. Indeed, I find your commentary rather ironic given that you have erred in being fully informed, an important principal of good governance.

Given your comments were made publicly, I respectfully request that you consider correcting the public record.

In the interests of good governance, I will be bringing your correspondence to the attention of the ALGA Board.
We were fully aware of the themes of the conference, but there is no blanket ban on any member councils from putting up whatever motion they like. That is why Latrobe City Council in Victoria's east was able to propose that the whole of Australia adopt its “Wood Encouragement Policy”. This was ranked three ahead of Melbourne's governance motion at 76 (see page 93 of the business papers).

Similarly, ALGA claims that motions which go against existing endorsed local government policies are not generally encouraged. If so, why on earth is the Etheridge Shire motion from outback Queensland included as number 6 when it would see a large number of tier one metro councils completely removed from the Commonwealth's controversially frozen $2.3 billion annual untied Financial Assistance Grants program for all Australian councils.

This will no doubt cause a stoush over subsidies between city and rural councils, but as ALGA notes in the business papers:

“The retention of the minimum grant is supported as policy by all state local government associations as well as ALGA.”

Sure, Etheridge would like to see Brisbane City Council's $21 million FAG payment redirected to rural councils but the rurals are already receiving much more on a per capital basis and there are a multitude of ways that Australia's cities subsidise the bush, not just through Federal grants to councils.

ALGA is still refusing to provide a list of delegates until conference packs are distributed on Sunday night, but there is likely to be more than 200 voting councils and 831 delegates attending the three days of debate. Warren Truss, Bill Shorten, Richard di Natale and Greg Hunt are all scheduled to speak.
The beauty of being put last is that there will be three days to lobby delegates to support our motion, assuming we get through the whole agenda, as occurred at last year's conference. If Melbourne's motion is defeated, a division will be called so that those councils which oppose broad transparency measures will be on the record for all to see.


ALGA have so far declined to provide a list of delegates before the opening function on Sunday night, so the purpose of this email to all ????? councillors is to seek support for City of Melbourne's motion to embrace a broad range of good governance and disclosure measures, all of which are currently in operation at our council. If interested, here is the full list of more than 40 transparency and good governance initiatives at City of Melbourne over the past 3 years.

If our ALGA motion is supported it would obviously be advisory only and no council would be obliged to adopt all or any of the suggestions. However, support from ALGA would demonstrate to the wider public that our peak body takes seriously our record of already being the open and transparent level of government in Australia.

I look forward to catching up with your delegate(s) in Canberra at ALGA next week.

Yours Sincerely
Cr Stephen Mayne
Chair Finance and Governance Committee
City of Melbourne