This is the third of a series of articles on the staged introduction of the Local Government Act 2020 (Vic) (the Act), which applies to local Councils in Victoria. For our previous articles, please visit here.
On or before 1 March 2021, Victorian local Councils are required to adopt and maintain a community engagement policy (CE Policy) as set out in accordance with section 55 of the Act.
The purpose of a CE Policy is to ensure local Councils actively initiate, promote and support community engagement whenever they make strategic or significant decisions to achieve long-term and sustainable outcomes and relationships.
How does a CE Policy actually affect local Councils?
A CE Policy sets out a series of principles and rules which local Councils must adhere to when exercising some of their functions and powers under the Act. These include matters such as:
1. Proposing local laws
When making local laws, a local Council must notify the community of the proposed local law and consult the community in accordance with its CE Policy (sections 73(2) and (3)).
2. Asset Plan
Local Councils must develop, adopt and maintain an “Asset Plan” in accordance with their CE Policy. An Asset Plan is a document which sets out information about the maintenance, renewal, new acquisition, expansion, upgrade or decommissioning for each class of infrastructure assets under the control of the Council (section 92(3).
3. Preparation of budget or revised budget
Local Councils must develop their budget and any revised budget in accordance with the financial management principles and the Council’s CE Policy (section 96(1)).
4. Purchasing or compulsorily acquiring land
Any purchase or compulsory acquisition of land by a local Council must be undertaken in accordance with the Council’s CE Policy (section 112).
5. Selling or exchanging land
Before selling or exchanging land, a local Council must undertake a community engagement process in accordance with its CE Policy (section 114(2)(b)).
Developing a CE Policy
The Act requires Councils developed their CE Policy in consultation with the community (section 55(2)(a)).
What this consultation involves will depend on the approach taken by each Council, but might include steps such as:
- conducting a survey of local residents about their preferences for community engagement;
- holding community and staff workshops to discuss community engagement with the Council;
- develop an initial draft policy and seek feedback on the draft; and
- incorporate feedback where appropriate and formally adopt a final CE Policy.
CE Policy Content: general requirements
In terms of content, section 55(2) of the Act contains a general list of requirements which a CE Policy must conform with, including the requirement that the CE Policy:
- describe the types of community engagement that will be used for different types of matters;
- describe how the community will be informed of the outcomes of engagement processes;
- include deliberative engagement practices (for example, authentic community engagement, and the availability of accessible and relevant information); and
- address any matters prescribed by regulations in relation to community engagement.
CE Policy Content: community engagement principles
A CE Policy must also give effect to the community engagement principles which are set out in section 56 of the Act. These principles are:
- a community engagement process must have a clearly defined objective and scope;
- participants in community engagement must have access to objective, relevant and timely information to inform their participation;
- participants in community engagement must be representative of the persons and groups affected by the matter that is the subject of the community engagement;
- participants in community engagement are entitled to reasonable support to enable meaningful and informed engagement; and
- participants in community engagement are informed of the ways in which the community engagement process will influence local Council decision making.
Have questions or need assistance?
FAL Lawyers has extensive experience advising on administrative procedures, compliance and governance and can assist local Councils with understanding how the Local Government Act 2020 (Vic) may impact them. If you have any queries or would like to discuss, please do not hesitate to contact us.
 City of Monash, Community Engagement Policy (2020), accessed 8 December 2020.