ALGA thinks Scales Report deserves closer scrutiny
The ALGA President Geoff Lake says "The decision this week to sack Brimbank Council is the second time since the Bracks/Brumby government came to power in 1999 that a council in Victoria has been dismissed. Since the release in May of an Ombudsman's report about the conduct of the previous councillor group at Brimbank, there has been widespread criticism of the council. NSW has its Wollongong and now, it seems, Victoria has its Brimbank. Both have become emblematic of what are the most rotten elements associated with government at the local level.
However, this week's report by Municipal Inspector, Bill Scales, recommending that Brimbank now be sacked deserves closer scrutiny. Scales was appointed in the immediate aftermath of the Ombudsman's report and was tasked with monitoring the conduct of the new group of councillors elected last November. The report cites four reasons to justify why the council should be sacked: an attempt by a councillor to have a parking fine reviewed, the leaking of confidential information, councillor conduct and an attempt by an outside organisation to influence councillors. The evidence supporting each reason is surprisingly weak given the severity of the conclusion that the council ought to be sacked and also given Scales' considerable experience (he once headed the Victorian Public Service).
However, it is the inclusion of the fourth and final reason that is the most breathtaking: the undue influence of an external organisation. This refers to a letter sent openly to councillors by a local branch of a political party expressing a view on an issue which is still to be considered by the council. There's nothing at all remarkable with a person or organisation writing to express a view on a council issue. Such representations occur every day in every council across the country. It is what democratic process is all about - the contest of ideas and the lobbying of decision makers. To suggest that this letter amounts to undue influence and a matter for which the council is itself accountable is bizarre and displays one of the most naïve conceptions of the local government environment that I have seen.
Viewed either individually or together, the reasons cited to support sacking the council are glaringly inadequate. There may well be grounds to support sacking the council, but this report does not demonstrate them. If there was a capacity for judicial review of this decision, I have no doubt a court would tear the report to shreds."