Regional Op Ed - 2021 Year in Review
It goes without saying that 2021 has provided unprecedented challenge and social change.
When you are the level of Government closest to your community through a pandemic, it will be council staff who are delivering food packages, making contact with recently arrived Australians, supporting vaccinations being undertaken in Council facilities, and generally reaching out to every corner of our diverse communities.
Many councils continue to deal with the aftermath of the 2020 black summer fires, while adding flood recovery and storm damage repair, and recovery to their workloads, once again adapting to meeting local needs.
The Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV), continued to work to support and advocate for councils as they face both challenges and opportunities throughout 2021.
We have seen significant social change with councils and communities working hard to implement the Gender Equality Act 2020 and support initiatives for early childhood services, mental health, and aged care.
MAV and councils also welcomed the plans to introduce a container deposit scheme for Victoria in 2023. We are examining the implications of significant legislative reforms to the State’s waste and recovery and planning systems and we were pleased to have positively influenced reforms to the Building Act.
We continue to address ‘first and last kilometre’ impediments for industry on our road networks and supported significant initiatives in active transport.
And while we welcomed the Victorian Government’s $5.3 billion Big Housing Build to construct and create 12,000 new social and affordable housing dwellings as filling a policy vacuum, we still have deep concerns about its implementation. The State is currently pursuing a rate exemption for all public housing, amounting to a net loss of income to the local government sector of $1.6 billion over 10 years. This rate exemption means our ratepayers will be contributing 30% of the cost of the State’s big build for no return.
Similarly, the housing affordability crisis requires all levels of government to act and not point at each other.
The decisions of other levels of government can profoundly affect how we operate. This year alone we prepared and delivered 23 submissions to the State and Federal Governments, in order to manage impacts on our communities. These submissions are all publicly available on our website.
As the year draws to a close, we remain focused on our policy thinking and examining the implications of legislative reform on councils and communities. In recent weeks, we have worked hard to influence the State Government’s Circular Economy Bill, whichhit parliament in October.
Despite its name, the Bill misses the mark on addressing the circular economy in any meaningful manner, largely ignoring the construction, demolition, commercial and industrial waste streams which together represent 80% of the State’s waste.
Recycling Victoria (RV) will, we believe, be ineffectual in providing the leadership and change the community expects to see in waste reduction, being placed as an agency within the Department of Environment Land Water and Planning (DELWP), rather than as its own independent Authority.
The commitments from the Parliament are yet to be realised in regulation, where we will test the Government’s resolve to make a four bin kerbside collection mandatory for all Victorians, given such an approach is likely to be highly inefficient and costly for many Victorian households.
MAV, along with councils, support practical improvements to recycling practices, however the implementation of a container deposit scheme in 2023 should alone give cause to pause major reform until the scheme is operational.
We will continue to fight for the capacity of each council to put in place appropriate glass, food and organics (FOGO) collection mechanisms, rather than a blanket mandated third and fourth bin, the cost of which is borne entirely by the household.
It has been a big year for us and moving forward, there is still much to do. We hope to continue working toward your longer-term community aspirations, all the while supporting COVID- recovery and to achieve the best outcomes in your community for now and the future.
Wishing everyone a restful and re-energising Christmas and New Year.
Cr David Clark
Municipal Association of Victoria