CONCERNS remain about the impact of coronavirus on efforts to achieve gender equity in local government, despite additional state government funding.
The Victorian Local Governance Association and Gender Equity Victoria have together called for further state government investment.
Though they welcomed the minister's announcement of $50,000 to encourage women to run for council in this year's elections, the organisations said there was considerable work to be done to address gender inequities in local democracy.
"COVID-19 is exacerbating gender inequities," Gender Equity Victoria chief executive Tanja Kovac said.
"The jobless figures have shown that 55 per cent of people unemployed as a consequence of the disaster are women, mostly in part-time roles.
"There is a need for targeted support and stimulus for Victorian women in a range of settings, and that includes lifting support for programs that encourage more women to stand for local government."
Victorian Local Governance Association chief executive Kathryn Arndt said pandemic recovery needed women to lead at the local level.
"It's important women are part of developing local solutions to job losses, economic insecurity, violence prevention and disaster management," she said.
The VLGA is providing training, workshops and resources to help encourage women to stand for election.
City of Greater Bendigo chief executive Craig Niemann has welcomed the local government minister's confirmation October's council elections would proceed.
"It provides clarity, which is really helpful," Mr Niemann said.
A postal election is nothing new for the municipality, which has used the process for "quite a number of years."
Mr Niemann said information sessions for prospective candidates were the only aspects of Greater Bendigo's election planning slowed down by the pandemic.
Only one of a planned series of sessions was staged before restrictions came into effect.
The city is considering how further sessions will be conducted.
It is also a requirement of the new Local Government Act that all candidates attend an information session, separate to those being staged by the city.
"There is a bit of work to be done to make sure that works, and works well," Mr Niemann said.
He said campaigning was one aspect of staging an election this year that might be a bit different, "if there isn't the opportunity to get out and about."
"We've yet to see that," Mr Niemann said.
Nominations don't open until September.
Mr Niemann acknowledged the sector's concerns that a period of uncertainty and change might advantage incumbent councillors.
"You can say that in any election year, that continuity is good in most cases," he said.
Likewise, he said there were factors that might impact on people's willingness and ability to run for council in any year.
Mr Niemann said he would hope there was still a strong interest in wanting to represent the community at a local level, resulting in a strong field of candidates.
VICTORIA'S peak body for local government has deemed the continuation of council elections this year disappointing, having sought a 12-month postponement.
The Municipal Association of Victoria said it wrote to the minister more than three weeks ago advising the position of its board, which was shaped by concerns not only for health and safety but the potential for incumbent councillors to be unfairly advantaged in their campaigns.
"Coronavirus has thrown up a raft of difficult challenges, but councils have stayed focused on delivering essential services, supporting their communities in an extraordinary variety of ways, organisational recovery, and future planning," MAV president Coral Ross said.
"It is frustrating that these efforts will now be distracted by the cost and challenges that come with planning for and holding elections.
"In our view a 12-month deferral would have also allowed for fairer elections and enabled the state and councils to implement important reforms provided for by the Local Government Act 2020."
Cr Ross was concerned the minister's decision might deter women from running for council, despite the state's efforts to do the opposite, as the MAV understood women had been more severely impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.
Since the minister had made his decision, Cr Ross said it would be critical the state worked with councils to ensure appropriate measures were put in place to protect the health of residents, candidates, electoral and council officers and scrutineers.
"We will seek to work closely with the state to deliver elections that are safe and that encourage and support candidates," she said.
LOCAL government elections will go ahead on October 24, the Victorian government has confirmed, with postal voting to be used by all councils for the first time.
"By making every vote a postal vote, we're ensuring this vital democratic process is conducted in a safe manner that also allows for the participation of more voters," local government minister Adem Somyurek said.
The state government said the Victorian Chief Health Officer had deemed the postal election safe to proceed.
Longer candidate statements would be allowed in Victorian Electoral Commission Voter Information packs, in recognition of the COVID-19 conditions.
Guidance would also be provided on suitable and safe campaigning methods, the state government said.
A state-wide, uniform approach to voting was one of the changes arising from the new Local Government Act 2020, which received Royal Assent on March 24.
"We're supporting more women to run for local government and be successful in the 2020 elections as we take another step towards the goal of gender equality [on councils] by 2025," Mr Somyurek said.
The state said it was investing an additional $50,000 to encourage women to run for council this year.
It had already invested $87,000 to increase overall diversity among councillors at this year's elections.
Mr Somyurek had also sought advice to ensure councils provided more flexibility to support and encourage more women and carers to serve as councillors, a statement released today said.
More than 4.5 million people are enrolled to vote in October's elections.
The state government expects more than 2000 candidates to contest.