Just like Federal and State governments, Victorian councils observe special arrangements during the period leading up to a general council election. These are referred to as “caretaker arrangements” and they apply during the “election period”.
The special caretaker arrangements that apply to Victorian councils broadly aim to avoid the use of public resources in a way that may unduly affect the election result and minimise councils making certain types of decisions that may unduly limit the decision making ability of the incoming council.
The election period
The “election period” is defined in the Local Government Act to be the period from the last day of nominations, until the election day. This is a 32 day period in Victorian local government elections.
By law, a council may not make the following types of decisions, either directly or by delegation, during an election period:
decisions relating to the employment or remuneration of a permanent chief executive officer of the council
decisions to enter into contracts that are valued at more than $150,000 (for purchase of goods or services) or $200,000 (for carrying out of works) or 1% of the council’s revenue from rates (whichever is the greater)
decisions to enter into entrepreneurial ventures that are valued at more than $100,000 or 1% of the council’s revenue from rates and charges levied (whichever is the greater)
An exception can apply if the council seeks and obtains an exemption from the Minister for Local Government to allow it to make a decision of one of the above types.
In addition, councils may voluntarily place additional limits on their decision making during an election period to ensure they are not unduly committing an incoming council. These limits would usually be described in the council’s code of conduct.
Publication of electoral matter
The Local Government Act prohibits a council from printing, publishing and distributing material that is electoral matter during an election period. Electoral matter is broadly defined to be matter which is intended or likely to affect voting in an election. This limitation does not apply to electoral material that is only about the election process.
Some councils describe how they apply this principle in practice, in detailed form, in their codes of conduct.
Use of public resources
Councils are also able to include in their codes of conduct provisions to ensure the resources of the council are not inappropriately applied during an election period. This includes such matters as:
ensuring the appropriate use of council facilities and equipment during an election
ensuring that council staff are not inappropriately involved in electoral matters