MORNINGTON Peninsula Shire councillors seeking election to either state of federal parliament do not have to stand down until after their nominations are lodged with the electoral office.
In the year since being elected (November 2020), three of the shire’s 11 councillors have shown ambitions to stand for either state or federal government.
Two are now candidates and one tried but missed out on getting a seat in state parliament.
Rules for councillors wanting to be MPs have been highlighted by Cr Despi O’Connor announcing her intention to stand as an independent in next year’s federal election and Cr Paul Mercurio becoming Labor’s candidate for the state seat of Hastings.
The federal election can be held as late as May next year followed by the state in November.
Cr O’Connor last week stood down from her role as a Briars ward councillor to concentrate on her election campaign to win the seat of Flinders being left vacant by the retirement of Greg Hunt who has held the seat for the Liberal party for 20 years.
She will return her council-supplied mobile phone, computer, home office hardware iPad and building access card.
Cr Mercurio is the endorsed Labor Party candidate for Hastings at the November 2022 state election.
Unless he chooses to follow Cr O’Connor’s example and take leave of absence, he can remain as an active councillor until his nomination is lodged with the Victorian Electoral Commission.
However, he cannot use council-provided equipment or “resources” for election campaigning.
Cr Mercurio was chosen by Labor’s administrators despite the Western Port branch voting in favour of Joshua Sinclair, office manager to Nepean Labor MP Chris Brayne and failed Labor candidate for Flinders in 2013 and 2019.
Cr Mercurio represents the single-councillor Watson ward while Cr O’Connor has two Briars ward council colleagues, Steve Holland and the mayor Anthony Marsh.
In October, Cr Holland missed out on being chosen to fill the Liberal Party vacancy in Eastern Province created by the resignation of Edward O’Donohue.
If each of the three councillors was successful in being elected to parliament, the shire’s 11 councillors would have been whittled down to eight, with replacements being chosen through recounting votes cast in November 2020 (single-councillor ward) or by-election.
The shire’s legal and governance manager Amanda Sapolu last week told The News that councillors “have a duty to ensure any conflicts of interest are declared and managed, which includes any conflict that might arise as a result of being a candidate in a state or federal election”.
“We are following the policy position of the Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV) on the candidature of councillors in state or federal elections. Guidance is also provided by the Local Government Act 2020, our councillor code of conduct and our governance rules,” Ms Sapolu said.
“Councillors are prohibited from using council resources for electioneering purposes.
“MAV guidance advises councillors need only take leave once their nomination has been delivered to the respective electoral office.”
Ms Sapolu said Cr O’Connor, a teacher, take leave as from15 December until the close of the polls in next year’s federal election.
On Friday (17 December), Local Government Minister Shaun Leane
Invited public participation in the Local Government Culture Project Discussion Paper.
“Victorians deserve the best from their elected representatives, and this is an opportunity for the local government sector to work towards improving the culture of councils across the state so that they can best serve their communities,” he said.
Mr Leane said the discussion paper identified three main themes: “role, responsibilities and supporting mechanisms”; “councillor journey”; and “dispute resolution and resolving conflict”.
Feedback on the discussion paper is open until 28 February 2022. To read the paper and make a submission visit localgovernment.vic.gov.au