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Committee for Geelong's Weekly Addy Opinion Piece - Directly Elected Mayor

The Committee for Geelong has long been an advocate for Geelong's directly elected mayoral system, but not the system our city was given.  We believe there is a case for urgent improvement of Geelong's mayoral and ward systems. In this context, the Committee has advocated to the Victorian State Government to take a courageous leadership role on this issue and fast-track changes to the City of Greater Geelong Act 1993 prior to the 2016 local government elections. 

Our city's progress is often side-tracked by Council's internal conflict, which cannot operate at optimum levels under current conditions and the existing model.

The idea of directly elected mayors in Australia was first proposed by the Labor Party for Queensland in 1915 to 'make local government more responsive to the community as a whole'.  The system is now widely available across Australia, however, the State of Victoria is unique as only two communities can directly elect their own mayor.

Whilst Melbourne City Council has prospered under its directly elected mayoral system, Geelong's model needs urgent attention.  Evidence from around the world shows that a good directly elected mayoral model can lead to great success, but unfortunately we don't have a good model. 

The State Government's review of the Local Government Act 1989 provides an opportunity to make a positive change and move towards a proven and successful model.

So, why is Geelong different to other cities?  Firstly Geelong's model is unique.  No other successful model simply directly elects a mayor as well as 12 completely separate councillors. The current system does not give the mayor the power to deliver the vision he or she is elected to bring to life and, in reality, the position is little more than 'first among equals'. 

Melbourne runs a ticket system whereby a team is able to suggest to the constituents who should be elected. This system works well. It draws committee chairs from councillors not elected on the mayoral ticket, enables the mayor's vision to be supported, provides the mayor with trusted advisors and, more importantly, it reduces much of the political bargaining we hear so much about.

Secondly, Geelong's ward system is not aligned to council objectives.  Presently there are twelve wards with one councillor in each ward.  This structure potentially facilitates parochialism that inhibits the opportunity for a broad, whole-of-municipality, approach.

Retaining and improving Geelong's directly elected mayoral system is a priority.  Our community is fortunate to have access to this important democratic process. There is evidence that, once a community has experienced a directly elected mayor, they are reluctant to revert to previous systems.  The Geelong community now has the opportunity to advocate to keep the directly elected mayoral system and to call for improvements. We should expect appropriate powers, accountability and team support to be implemented via the new Act.

Given the transformation of Geelong, our city needs strong and strategic leadership.  Now is not the time to retreat to the days of internal council politics determining the leader of our great city.

Rebecca Casson is the Committee for Geelong Chief Executive Officer. Follow the Committee for Geelong on Twitter @Comm4Geelong



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