Why Does A Council Advocate On Non Council Issues?

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by Cr Dick Gross Mayor of the City of Port Phillip.

Councils frequently advocate for stuff that they don’t control. This is controversial for there is always an argument that we should just stick to our knitting in roads and rubbish. But my view is that advocacy is our knitting. So for many years, Port Phillip has advocated on LGBTIQ+ rights including marriage equality, social housing, pill testing, climate change mitigation, refugees and CCTV. This has antagonised some members of the community and we need to explain ourselves. 

First, let’s look at the most important document in our world, the Local Government Act. This noble text tells us what we can and can’t do. Section 3D of the Act explicitly says that our job description includes “advocating the interests of the local community to other communities and governments”. There, in black and white is our obligation and power to advocate. This is repeated in the next section Section 3E which describes our functions. Whilst there may be a ferocious debate on the substance of the issues, we have to agree that Councils can and must advocate. 

Sometimes we back up this with dollars and sometimes we don’t. In the recent pill testing controversy we virtually spent nothing. It is just that every two years, Councillors point out the obvious, that prohibition and police enforcement are failing and causing death and injury. No money is spent on this campaign.

Other campaigns however cost millions and become programs in themselves. Over the decades we have put literally millions into advocacy ideas that are not strictly Council business but State government. Here I am thinking of social housing, local lifesaving clubs, CCTV and LGBTIQ+ advocacy. All of these are arguably the work of other tiers of government. But when these other governments fail, notably the Federal Government on climate change, then our advocacy should be also buttressed by projects. I am thinking here of our involvement in the Melbourne Renewable Energy Project, a pre-purchase of wind power by several councils, unis, banks and businesses. I concede that this is cost shifting from the Feds to Local Government which is unfair to us. But I would rather get on and do necessary projects rather than fiddling around with dreary arguments about intergovernmental cost shifting while the world burns. 

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