Victoria’s Local Government Act 2020 (2020 Act) introduced compulsory candidate training for prospective Councillors. The training aims to ensure candidates understand the role of a Councillor and the standards they are expected to uphold if elected.
To understand the development and impacts of this training, LGIU Australia spoke to a Senior Adviser for Local Government Victoria (LGV), who established the course. LGV has provided LGIU with insights from the introduction of the Victorian mandatory candidate training course. You can try the course here.
Mandatory candidate training requirements were introduced in Victoria (Australia) following a review of the Local Government Act 1989. Following a five-year review, the aim of the 2020 Act was to move the Local Government Act, from a prescribed act, to a modern principles-based act which gives Councils more autonomy.
The purpose of the training is to ensure prospective candidates understand what is involved in being a Councillor before they nominate for election. It is also mandatory for sitting councillors to complete the training to ensure they have a full understanding of their obligations. Although there are no education level qualifications to be a Councillor, it is imperative that nominees understand their obligations.
The challenge for LGV was to ensure the training wasn’t mistakenly viewed as a test or certification, and that it was inclusive and didn’t create any barriers to participation.
LGV wanted to ensure that those standing for election understood the core principles in the Act, such as how (and what) decisions can be made by Council, and the importance of confidentiality and conflict of interest issues. Additionally, LGV wanted the training to demonstrate that becoming a Councillor is a significant time commitment, and to provide advice on the supports available, such as briefings from the council officers, remuneration, education and childcare support.
In developing the training course, LGV considered the fundamental principles of the 2020 Act and the areas from the 1989 Act that had led to concerns for some Councillors (such as clarity of the remit of councillors and confidentiality and conflicts of interest).
With this framework established, LGV performed an audit of courses from Australian states which already had some form of training. Research indicated the best length of training was about an hour and this seemed appropriate and fair given that about 20% of candidates will be elected as a Councillor. The course is valid for two years, meaning existing Councillors need to re-sit the certification for each new election, keeping their skills and awareness up to date.
LGV also considered courses already offered by the key local government sector bodies: Municipal Association of Victoria, Victorian Local Government Association, and LG Pro. It was expected that they would want to run the mandatory training course. However, their courses did not cover the range of topics aimed at introducing candidates to the sector, what to expect if elected, and the basic principles of the Act. LGV met with the peak organisations to consider candidate and councillor training requirements in general.
Based on research and feedback from the sector, LGV determined that the course should cover 11 topics over three main areas:
- Councillor responsibilities;
- Governance and decision making; and
- Support and entitlements.
The mandatory candidate training was designed as a digital course so time and geography weren’t barriers to participation.
LGV worked with the Victorian Electoral Commission (VEC) on the course framework and content, as well as the documentation or the evidence to be used to prove that the course was completed and passed. A candidate must certify that they have completed the course and the Secretary of the Department keeps a register of participants who have completed the course, allowing the Local Government Inspectorate to perform random checks or obtain information as evidence if required.
Following the training, candidates are provided an option to complete a survey about the training. A total of 212 participants completed the survey. Participants were asked to rate how useful they thought the training was in explaining the role and responsibilities of a Councillor on a scale of 1 (not useful) to 10 (extremely useful). Almost 60 per cent of the participants thought the training was useful (a score of 6 or higher) for explaining the role and responsibilities of a Councillor. Other feedback from participants included that some did not see the point of explaining the legislative requirements or found the three tiers of Government of little interest or relevance. Feedback showed that participants found the most useful content was the insight into Councillor conduct and conflict of interest information
LGV reviewed the participant surveys to consider if the course had met the policy objectives. It was determined that the course is a great way of focusing and ensuring a consistent message is given to every new councillor.
The mandatory training course has created a baseline for candidates and new councillors that is fair, insightful, and relevant.
LGIU Australia would like to thank Local Government Victoria for taking the time to explain the development and insights of the candidate training course. If you want to know more about how to run for Council in Victoria, the Victorian course and legislation or the role of Local Government Victoria, then check out these resources:
- Become a local council candidate
- Candidate training
- Local government (electoral) regulations 2020
- Local government Victoria