The current Local Government (General) Regulations 2004 (Current Regulations), made under the Local Government Act 1989 (Act), are due to expire on 25 October 2015.
In August 2015, the exposure draft of the Local Government (General) Regulations (Proposed Regulations) and accompanying Regulatory Impact Statement (RIS) were released for public comment.
The Proposed Regulations are largely similar to the Current Regulations, with some notable exceptions. In particular, the Proposed Regulations propose the following:
- adding to what must appear on a valuation and rates notice
- reducing the scope of information that must be made available for inspection under s 222 of the Act
- adding to the prescribed information included on Land Information Certificates (LICs) under s 229 of the Act
- removing the requirement for a vendor to lodge a notice of disposition following the sale of land
- clarifying the scope of exemptions to the Councillor conflict of interest regime.
The Proposed Regulations have been released for public consultation and will be open for submissions until 5pm on 25 September 2015.
Following consideration of any submissions, and subject to any amendments, the Proposed Regulations will commence operation on 25 October 2015.
Valuation and rates notices
Regulation 10 of the Proposed Regulations will expand the information that must be included on a valuation and rates notice. In particular, r 10 of the Proposed Regulations will require councils to specify the following:
- the method of calculating the relevant rate or charge
- where applicable, the rights of a person to:
- apply for a review of differential rating under s 183 of the Act
- appeal to the County Court for review of a rate or charge under s 184 of the Act
- apply for a review of a special rate or charge under s 185 of the Act
- where rates are raised by the application of a differential rate:
- the type or class of the person’s land subject to the differential rate
- where the following information required by s 161(3) of the Act is available for inspection:
- definition of the types or classes of land subject to the rate
- objectives of the differential rate
- rate and amount of rates payable in relation to each type or class of land and what proportion of the total rates that represents
- any other information the council considers necessary.
Councils will be required to include the newly prescribed information in the first valuation and rates notice issued each financial year, after their declaration of rates for that year.
This means that, if the Proposed Regulations are made in their current form, councils will need to review their valuation and rates notices to ensure that they include the information prescribed by r 10 of the Proposed Regulations in time for next financial year.
Information available for public inspection
Regulation 12 of the Proposed Regulations will provide that, if the documents prescribed for the purposes of s 222 of the Act are available on a council’s website, they need not also be made available for public inspection in hard copy format at the council’s offices. This recognises that the public generally prefers to access information online, rather than in person.
So, if the information listed in r 12 of the Proposed Regulations is published on the council’s website, there will be no obligation to also make it available for inspection, in hard copy format, under s 222 of the Act.
There will also be a lesser amount of information that will be required to be available for public inspection, with r 12 of the Proposed Regulations removing the need to make available:
- names of members of council staff required to submit returns and dates those returns were submitted
- names of Councillors who submitted returns and dates those returns were submitted
- a list of all special committees established by the council and the purpose for which they were established
- submissions received under s 223 of the Act in the previous 12 months
- any agreement to establish regional libraries under s 196 of the Act
- details of any leases involving anything other than land
- a list of the names of organisations of which the council was a member and details of membership fees
- a list of contracts with values requiring a tender process which were entered into without going to tender and which were not contracts referred to in s 186(5) or (5A) of the Act.
These reduced obligations should not, of course, discourage councils from making information available on their websites other than that which is prescribed.
Information included on LICs
In addition to the information to be included on LICs under the Current Regulations, r 13 of the Proposed Regulations will require councils to include details of any:
- rates in lieu, owed to an electricity company under s 94(5) of the Electricity Industry Act 2000
- environmental upgrade charges owed under s 27O of the City of Melbourne Act 2001.
The prescribed fee for issuing a LIC would be increased from $20 under r 12 of the Current Regulations to 1.82 fee units (currently $24.75) under r 14 of the Proposed Regulations.
Discontinuing notices of disposition
The requirement for vendors to lodge a notice of disposition with the relevant council upon sale of their property will be discontinued under the Proposed Regulations.
The obligation on a purchaser to lodge a notice of acquisition upon purchasing a property will remain.
Clarifying the conflict of interest exemptions
The LGA imposes a regime to minimise the potential for conflicts of interests in Council decision making. The RIS notes that a balance should be struck between preventing conflicts between a Councillor’s public duties and their private interests and maximising the ‘participation benefit’ that comes from a Councillor’s involvement with certain external bodies.
Regulation 9 of the Proposed Regulations clarifies the exemptions that apply to certain of those positions, providing that there will be no indirect interest arising by virtue of a Councillor’s:
- appointment as a:
- representative of the council on a Local Government Waste Forum, or
- director of a Waste Resource Recovery Group,
established under the Environment Protection Act 1970 – this rectifies a current inconsistency in terms since that Act was amended in 2014
- membership of the Country Fire Authority under s 7 of the Country Fire Authority Act 1958 – this is now worded to reflect recent amendments to that Act.
The Proposed Regulations have been released for public consultation and will be open for submissions until 5pm on 25 September 2015. Information regarding the submissions process can be found here.
Following consideration of any submissions, the Proposed Regulations may be amended and, once finalised, they will be made by the Governor in Council and published in the Victoria Government Gazette. The Proposed Regulations will then take effect on 25 October 2015, following the expiration of the Current Regulations.