Lesley Hewitt

I’m writing this on a total fire ban day with a severe heatwave warning from the Bureau of Meteorology (17th February). We’ve had a relatively mild summer to date and it’s a timely reminder to have a fire plan and to follow all the health and emergency warnings about heat waves. Keep an eye out for those who are vulnerable – the elderly, the young, people with a disability and our animals and pets. Take care.

The first Council meeting for 2023 is next week on 21st February at 5.30pm. You can find the agenda here at Ordinary Meeting of Council – 21 February 2023 . Items coming to Council include the Disability Action Plan 2023-2026 and the updated terms of reference for the Gender Equity Committee. The focus of the Disability Plan is about removing barriers to participation for children and adults with a disability in all aspects of community life. There are a number of statistics which demonstrate that 17% of Victorians have a disability and that the rate of disability increases with age. The recent Census figures indicated that Hepburn Shire has a higher proportion of older residents that the rest of Victoria and that this is increasing. Given that rates of disability increase with age, you can see why the Disability Action Plan , which has been supported by the Disability Advisory Committee, is an important part of Council Planning. Please take the time to have a look at it. There is a link in the Council meeting agenda and, should the Plan be adopted by Councillors on Tuesday night, a link will be provided on Council’s webpage.

The Victorian Electoral Commission (VEC) is undertaking a review of the ward structure of 39 Councils that are not compliant following changes to the Local Government Act 2020. Hepburn Shire is one of those. Large and small rural councils (we are one) can only have one of three structures – unsubdivided or multi-councillor wards with an equal number of councillors per ward or single-councillor wards. What this means is that the current structure where Birch and Creswick wards have two councillors and Holcombe, Cameron, and Coliban wards have one councillor is not compatible with the Local Government Act 2020. There are pros and cons for each of the structures that Hepburn can have, but it boils down to what is the best form of representation for all residents and rate payers in all parts of the Shire. Please have a think about it and consider making a submission to the VEC. You can find information on the process at Hepburn Shire Council electoral structure review . Preliminary submissions close on the 1st March 2023 but there will then be an opportunity to provide feedback on the preliminary report which is due to be released on 29th March. There is a really good interactive map on the VEC website where you can play around with ward boundaries and what you think might be most effective.  Whatever structure is selected, it will have an impact on how Council operates and how you are represented. There weren’t many submissions last time, so let’s try and let the Review Panel know what we are thinking this time. If we don’t, we can’t expect to get a structure that best suits the needs of the entire Shire.

Lesley Hewitt is the Deputy Mayor of Hepburn Shire and an elected councillor for Birch Ward.