Journal article

Local government in Victoria: reform at last?

Local government Central-local government relations Victoria

In March 1969, the citizens of the tiny Borough of Koroit in Western Victoria were urged to a rally “to keep Koroit on the map”. It was “MELBOURNE versus KOROIT - Put on your Guernseys, roll up and speak up”. Koroit won. Fifteen years later, [in 1984], the Borough quietly merged with the adjoining Shire of Warmambool on its own initiative. The story is remarkable for two reasons. First, the 1969 response typified the historic local reaction to every proposed local government restructure in Victoria. Second, the subsequent merger reduced the number of Councils in Victoria from 211 to 210. Until very recently, it was the only local government merger achieved in this state in 50 years. Over the same period, the number of local governments in bigger NSW was almost halved down to 175.

Committees of enquiry into local government chaired by Mohr (1962), Voumard (1972), Bains (1979) plus a raft of other agency reports in between recommended major structural change. Nothing happened. In 1986 the Cain government (Labor) bit the bullet. A new Local Government Commission under an enthusiastic young chairman, Stuart Morris, announced in February the principles and programme for a root and branch restructure. The state was divided into 14 “segments”. Detailed “options” for each segment were presented along with implementation plans. The timetable was for consultations and decisions for all segments to be completed in 15 months and restructured councils elections to be conducted in August and November 1987. All hell broke loose. The Labor factions in the inner Melbourne councils and the outraged councils in non-metropolitan Victoria organised and mobilised. Legal injunctions, filibusters at segment consultations and street marches dominated the news. By September, the government had waved the white flag.

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