THE Victorian Government says it will take advice from the Chief Health Officer on the upcoming council elections and escalated coronavirus restrictions.
It comes after local government minister Shaun Leane faced questions during a controversial three-hour sitting of the Victorian Legislative Council yesterday.
The government in May confirmed the elections would go ahead, with postal voting to be used by all councils for the first time.
A second peak in coronavirus infections has since seen restrictions ramped up throughout the state, with regional Victoria reentering lockdown and Melbourne's measures intensified.
In parliament yesterday, Member for Western Metropolitan Region Dr Catherine Cumming asked Mr Leane how the October 24 elections could continue while upholding worker safety, and whether he would defer them.
Mr Leane is understood to have said he would provide Dr Cumming with written responses within the prescribed standing orders.
Yesterday's session took place against the Chief Health Officer's orders.
Story continues below tweet
We shouldn’t be at parliament today. We should all be staying safe. The @VictorianCHO advice was to delay this sitting. It’s a dangerous trend for leaders to ignore medical advice. We should set the example. The longer we’re here, the greater the risk to all who work at #springstpic.twitter.com/eocRLzM7mW— Jenny Mikakos MP #StayHomeSaveLives (@JennyMikakos) August 4, 2020
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The local government minister is believed to have committed to keep an open dialogue with Dr Cumming over the next few weeks, and to continue to take the Chief Health Officer's advice regarding council elections.
Mr Leane said he had been talking with the Victorian Electoral Commission and had further meetings planned.
The Victorian Electoral Commission is understood to be developing a COVID Safe Election Plan.
"Victorians have the right to a say on who represents them at all levels of government," a government spokesperson said when asked to clarify the minister's stance on council elections.
"We will continue to take advice from the Chief Health Officer on stage 4 restrictions and the upcoming council elections."
The state's peak body for local government, the Municipal Association of Victoria, has been calling for council elections to be deferred to October 2021.
The MAV's position remained unchanged earlier this week.
What Greater Bendigo candidates had to say
Greater Bendigo council candidates are taking their campaigns online, given the COVID-19 restrictions.
Stage three restrictions are expected to be in place in regional Victoria for six weeks.
But several candidates said they would rather meet the challenge of campaigning digitally than have elections postponed.
"COVID-19 could be with us for a very long time, so I don't think simply deferring for a year would be a solution," Whipstick Ward candidate Dave Fagg said.
"Everyone is in the same position, so it's a level playing field."
Lockwood Ward candidate Vyonne McLelland-Howe was hopeful restrictions might have lifted enough in six weeks' time to enable candidates to get out and about in their communities.
"It's our democratic right to have our council elections," Ms McLelland-Howe said.
Whipstick Ward candidate Pauline Murtagh was among those who had launched virtual events, such as listening posts.
"I would have loved to be talking to people face to face... but that's not the reality of the current situation," Ms Murtagh said.
Eppalock Ward candidate Matthew Evans was investigating his options for online campaigning.
"It's about being flexible," Mr Evans said.
"You've just got to do what works in these circumstances."
Two candidates, who already had online presences, expressed concerns about reaching out to members of the community who were not online.
"I met some lovely people in the park during a walk last week", Whipstick Ward candidate Kathryn Stanislawski said.
"They weren't on Facebook, so campaign trail social media posts from myself and the other active candidates clearly do miss a sector of the community."
She encouraged people to call candidates and share their experiences of local government.
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Fellow Whipstick Ward candidate Thomas Prince said campaigning in 2016 showed him how much people valued making a connection in person.
"Although my online presence would be one of my strengths, I was still looking forward to getting out in my community," Mr Prince said.
He was rethinking his campaign strategy in light of the latest surge of COVID-19 infections, believing people wanted a greater focus on virus response and recovery.
Whipstick Ward candidate Michelle Goldsmith said there were lots of things about campaigning during the COVID-19 pandemic that were less than ideal, but she was supportive of the election proceeding.
She believed it was important to maintain the timelines and plans that came with new council terms.
"It's just another one of those things we need to adapt to in the situation we find ourselves in," Ms Goldsmith said.
Lockwood Ward candidate Nathan Rogers said not having elections might change people's situations even more.
"To stay positive, you just need to continue on the process," he said.
"The community will understand candidates can't be out doing face-to-face. I think they'll just adapt to it as well, like everybody else."
Fellow Lockwood Ward candidate John Cooper could understand the arguments for holding off the local government elections, one of which was that fewer people were engaged because of the pandemic.
But he believed postponing would be risky to the democratic process.
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