LOCAL government elections will go ahead across Victoria as scheduled in October.
The official election date remains Saturday, October 24, with votes to be submitted via the post.
Local Government Minister Shaun Leane said the decision was made based on advice from the Victorian Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton and the state government solicitor’s office about how best to proceed during the coronavirus pandemic.
“I also engaged with the local government sector to fully understand concerns regarding the impact of current restrictions in Victoria on campaigning, and relayed that I would act on advice from the Chief Health Officer,” he said.
“The Chief Health Officer has advised that October represents a period when risk is likely to be substantially lower than at present, and there are no compelling public health grounds for the elections to be delayed.
“The Chief Health Officer has also worked closely with the Victorian Electoral Commission and is satisfied that appropriate physical distancing, cleaning and hygiene and workforce planning have all been considered and integrated into the VEC’s COVIDSafe plans.
“The VEC have advised that election preparations are already well underway and that there are no administrative or procedural barriers to the election being held on October 24, 2020.”
Mr Leane said safe campaigning guidelines had been developed in consultation with the Department of Health and Human Services to help candidates follow the Chief Health Officer’s directions and health advice during the campaign.
“The guidelines include advice on how to safely conduct permitted campaign activities, safety for campaign teams, hygiene and physical distancing,” he said.
“The government has also launched its candidate training course online, which all prospective candidates will need to complete.
“It covers how councils are run, support available to councillors, the councillor code of conduct, conflict of interest guidelines and election donation rules.
“The training course is one of a suite of reforms introduced through the new Local Government Act designed to enhance integrity and build community confidence in councils.
“All candidates will also be able to provide voters with a 300-word statement in their ballot packs to be sent to voters.
“In a first for Victoria, councils will be elected by statewide postal voting.”
However, the Municipal Association of Victoria is disappointed by the decision not to defer council elections.
It maintains the October elections have been seriously compromised by COVID-19.
With the ongoing restrictions across Victoria, there are fears many candidates will not nominate.
MAV president Coral Ross said it was incredibly frustrating the state government had not listened to the local government sector, and not taken the commonsense decision to delay elections.
“We have been calling for a deferral of local government elections for months now due to the significant impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on free and fair elections,” she said.
“Minister Leane’s announcement today means that the elections will not have the quality and diversity of candidates that Victoria deserves.
“We know that not all councils were in favour of postponing council elections until 2021, but in the current environment and state of disaster, it would have been a sensible and practical decision, for communities, candidates and councils.”