The Hepburn Shire Council electoral structure will change before the next Council election. The Victorian Electoral Commission is currently considering options for the new structure and you have an opportunity to have your say.
Changes to the electoral structure are required to comply with the Local Government Act (2020) which requires that there be an equal number of councillors for each ward in the municipal district or that councillors are elected “at large” to represent the whole of the municipal district.
Currently, the Council has seven elected Councillors from five wards with two Councillors representing Birch (Daylesford, Hepburn, Hepburn Springs) and Creswick and one Councillor for each of Cameron (Clunes), Coliban (Trentham) and Holcombe (Glenlyon) wards.
One option is that the ward structure be abolished and Councillors (probably seven) be elected “at large”, that is, a preferential ballot which includes all nominees from across the Shire. The number of councillors would probably not change as the current number is the same as similar small, regional councils. One risk of an unsubdivided structure would be that some smaller, more remote areas of the Shire could be without local representation in Council. Another risk is that party political organisations might seek to influence preferences to gain control of the Council at the expense of independent candidates. And a full preferential ballot paper would be like a senate ballot paper in federal elections – at the last council election, the ballot paper would have contained 19 candidates.
Another option is to redraw electoral boundaries to create seven single-councillor wards. This option would mean dividing Daylesford from Hepburn and Hepburn Springs and dividing Creswick either into a township ward and a more remote hinterland ward or into two mixed urban and rural wards. The structure would ensure local representation on Council but would risk uncontested elections with a single nominee elected unopposed as has happened in the past in some of the current single-councillor wards. There would also be a risk that an ineffective councillor would fail to represent strongly the views of their electorate.
A third option would involve dividing the Shire into a smaller number of multiple-councillor wards. A model that has been considered is three three-councillor wards. An advantage of this structure would be that the workload could be divided between councillors in the ward and residents of the ward would have more ready access to at least one of their elected representatives. This would require an increase in the number of councillors to nine, a change which may not be supported by the VEC because of the disparity in the total number of councillors compared to similar small rural shires but the increased cost would be relatively small. An advantage of having a larger pool of councillors would be that the tradition of passing the role of mayor to the next councillor in line could be avoided and the most capable councillor elected because of the larger pool of councillors. Ward boundaries for such a structure which would provide an equal distribution of the population between wards are not easily identifiable but a possible structure is illustrated in the accompanying image. In this division, each of the three wards would include approximately 5,400 residents.
The public consultation period is now open and Shire residents have an opportunity to present their views to the electoral representation advisory committee. “Community members, and councillors, have the opportunity to submit on the fundamentally important matter of representation at the grass roots level of democracy,” said Hepburn Shire Mayor, Cr Brian Hood. “We encourage community members to have their say.”
Residents can make a submission on the VEC website. The submission site includes an interactive map which enables users to redraw electoral boundaries and count the population in the proposed area.
Submissions to the panel for the Hepburn Shire Council review close at 5:00 pm on Wednesday March 1, 2023. A submission guide and fact sheet are available on the VEC website.
The panel will consider the submissions and the requirements of the law to propose options for the council’s structure in a preliminary report which will be published on March 29. The preliminary report will also be opened for public comment until April 19. A public hearing will be held on April 26 for people who wish to speak to their submissions.
The panel will then make a final recommendation to the Minister for Local Government in a report to be released on May 24. If the Minister accepts the recommendations, the structure for Hepburn Shire Council will apply at the October 2024 local council elections.