Good governance is about the process of decision-making. It’s not about making ‘correct’ decisions, it’s about developing the best possible process to arrive at those decisions. Good governance and good decision making go hand in hand in local government. Both have a positive effect on consultation, policies and practices, meeting procedures, service quality protocols, councillor and officer conduct and role clarification. Getting it right makes for good working relationships with everyone, from community right through to their elected councillors.
Councillor Barbara Murdoch says there are two things you need to keep close at hand to succeed as a councillor – the Good Governance Guide and the Local Government Act. You should download them onto on your ipad or computer, carry them with you and make a habit of checking your facts.
Barbara was first elected to the Shire of Indigo in 2005. She has been re-elected several times since, including a term as Mayor. She shares some practical reflections about good governance.
“I was part of the development group for the Good Governance Guide, and in my view if you don’t use it you are likely to slip up. There is a lot to get your head around in local government and legislation is changing all the time. However, even for a new councillor, ignorance is no excuse and you need to do your homework.
The Good Governance Guide will help you interpret the Local Government Act. It is there to help manage your relationships with other councillors and the community and support you to work in a fair and open manner and follow the rules.
It is critical to familiarise yourself with the Local Government Act, especially the areas in which you have a special interest. The Act is your lifeline as a councillor, you must know the Act or have access to it so that you are aware of your statutory responsibilities.
For effective community engagement you need structure, or you will not get a positive result. Even those who are passionately opposed to your views will respect you if you act in a proper and logical way. The rules and processes of local government are there to ensure you act honestly and equitably.
Most people are not interested in council until there is an issue that affects them. That means councillors are often dealing with people who are not happy. If you follow the right processes you are halfway to a compromise and people will understand, if not accept, your position.
Councils are a complicated business. Our council plays a vital role in promoting tourism, which in turn means jobs. It provides access to health care and community services, is a conduit to the State Government as well as dealing with the traditional tasks of roads, rates and rubbish. Council plays a big role in the lives of residents and if it runs smoothly, then for most people it goes virtually unnoticed.
To develop your governance skills it’s important to attend as many learning opportunities as you can, especially in the areas of planning and running meetings. Take the opportunities offered by the our peak organisations, MAV and VLGA , or join ALGWA (Australian Local Government Women’s Association) and chat to other councillors – it is smart to seek advice and be alerted to the pitfalls, don’t tackle a problem on your own.