The local government minister has called on Bendigo voters to deliver a more diverse council at next week’s elections.
Minister Natalie Hutchins said it was time the City of Greater Bendigo followed the lead of other regional Victorian cities by electing more women to council.
“It’s not just gender equity, but also about people from different backgrounds,” Ms Hutchins said.
“To see the faces that are most prominent in the community reflected in the local council is really important, different nationalities but also different age groups as well,” Ms Hutchins said.
“Quite often councillors tend to be at the older end of the spectrum but there is a lot of talented young people coming up through the ranks in a whole range of leadership positions who should think about council as a future option for them.
“I think having a broad range of backgrounds only makes the council richer in experience.”
The local government minister compared Bendigo to the Ballarat and Benalla councils, where four of nine councillors and four of seven councillors are women, respectively.
“We didn't see that same result in Bendigo, we had three out of nine women elected to council, which is not a bad result – but 50 per cent of the population are women and we are looking to make sure that our councils are representative of the make-up of our communities,” she said.
But the minister cited the 10 candidates in Eppalock Ward as an example of change within the City of Greater Bendigo.
“I think times are now changing and we've certainly got one ward in Bendigo which has got 50-50 candidates running, and I hope that that sees an increase in the number of women that perhaps may end up getting elected,” she said.
The state Labor MP for Sydenham said the elections would also be a litmus test for current councillors who had been at the forefront of the debate around approval of the city’s first mosque.
“I had to deal with some complaints from ratepayers and residents in Bendigo about some of the stances that have been taken by some councillors and I know it has not been an easy road over the last two years, in particular for residents in the arguments around whether Bendigo should have a mosque of not,” Ms Hutchins said.
“But certainly now is the time for people to say whether they are happy with the performance of the councillors and whether they are prepared to put those numbers in the box again against that candidates name – or whether it's time for change.”
Ms Hutchins said women could be at the forefront of that change.
“Certainly you've got some great women leaders in Bendigo and some great women that have come out in recent years who have led the charge in defending multiculturalism in Bendigo,” the minister said.