THE gloves were off during last year’s Kingston Council election.
A new Local Government Inspectorate report has revealed that more complaints were made in the Kingston area during local council elections than almost any other municipality. Just three local government areas statewide had more complaints made.
Five per cent of all complaints made in 2020 Victorian council elections were from the Kingston LGA. Of the 79 councils statewide, Kingston ranked fourth for complaints with 39.
After the release of the report in June, Chief Municipal Inspector Michael Stefanovic AM said “we saw trends and heard anecdotal evidence that the behaviour of a number of candidates [in Victoria] went well beyond what might be considered robust political activity. Long-time councillors reported to us that this was the most toxic and vitriolic election that they had ever experienced. In addition, we saw numerous examples of unethical and underhand behaviour – but it was behaviour which did not breach any laws. This is a concerning trend that we will continue to monitor.”
Mr Stefanovic blamed the end of the long lockdown last year and the rise of social media as two factors that led to more vitriolic behaviour at election time. “Complaints about unfavourable interactions, false or misleading material or, at the extreme end, harassment and abuse on social media rose two and a half times (by 241 per cent) from 2016 figures. Social media is free and easy to use. Consequently, it is a very popular place to campaign – but regulation and limitations on content posting have been slow to occur. The ability for people to set up anonymous or unauthorised political accounts may have allowed some candidates or campaigners to post false, misleading or abusive material,” he said.
“The new Local Government Act 2020 made some significant changes to the election process, such as introducing mandatory training for candidates. In this report, we have recommended further amendments to the legislation to rectify some ongoing election issues and to be authorised to issue penalty notices in lieu of pursuing potentially lengthy and costly prosecutions for minor infringements.”
Statewide, the majority of the 848 complaints made during the 2020 election were about candidates or councillors running for re-election.