Training targeted for councillors

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CANDIDATES for election as councillors at October’s council elections across Victoria will be encouraged to answer a voluntary questionnaire outlining candidates’ experience and suitability for public office as part of a plan to better inform voters before they cast their votes.

New candidates will, for the first time, be asked for details of any previous training undertaken to prepare for life as a councillor and incumbents seeking re-election will be asked to state their attendance record at council meetings during the previous four-year council term.

“Victorians voting at this year’s council elections will have more information about their candidates than ever before,” Local Government Minister Natalie Hutchins said.

“Asking candidates to tell the public about training undertaken highlights the importance of improving standards in local government.”

The Times asked Frankston Council and neighbouring Kingston and Mornington Peninsula Shire councils to confirm how much councillors at each council had spent on training in the past four years.

Training expenses are listed in a collective ‘Conferences and training’ figure in councils’ annual reports so a breakdown in spending between the two categories was requested.

Frankston’s nine councillors have collectively claimed $10,225 for training expenses since 2013-14 and $42,068 on conferences and training in total.

“Undertaking directorship courses can be beneficial for newly elected councillors who may not have a business background so they can understand annual reports and budgets,” Frankston mayor Cr James Dooley said.

Kingston Council corporate services general manager Paul Franklin said its nine councillors had spent a combined $5135 on two training courses.

Mornington Peninsula Shire was unable to confirm how much its 11 elected representatives claimed in training expenses in this council term amid ongoing tensions between councillors about expenses entitlements during this council term.

“Council will release figures relating to council expenditure on training and conferences over the current term later this month,” shire chief financial officer Matt Green said.

There was no legislative requirement to list councillors’ expenses in annual reports prior to the 2015-16 financial year but both Frankston and Kingston councils did so.

The shire only began listing expenses in annual reports in 2014-15 but heralded itself as a “proactive … leader in local government reporting in Australia” in that year’s annual report.

Shire councillors collectively spent $44,881 on conferences and training in 2014-15 alone, the only figures available at this stage, outspending Frankston’s total of just over $42,000 over three years and dwarfing a total conferences and training spend of $11,343 over three years at Kingston Council.

Any completed questionnaires by councillors and council candidates will be available online at the Victorian Electoral Commission’s website before 22 October council elections.

First published in the Frankston Times – 29 August 2016

UPDATE 4/9/16: The VEC now says any completed questionnaires by council candidates will be available to see online from Thursday 22 September.

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