Becoming a councillor

As a councillor, you will take on an important leadership role in your community. Your professional and life skills and experience will help shape policy and decision making for your council. Your connections to your local community will help ensure council is working in the best interests of your local area.

Councillors are sometimes elected on a platform to achieve or oppose particular issues or projects. It is important to understand that councillors do not make decisions on their own. Decisions are made by the majority of councillors at properly constituted council meetings.

What skills and experience do I need?

Councils are complex organisations. They develop strategy; manage budgets; deliver infrastructure and services; run community and local business programs; and influence policy so your formal business skills and education are also highly relevant and valuable.

While there are no specific qualifications needed to be a councillor, you may be asking yourself if you have the right skills and experience to stand for council. The most important skills you need in council are the same ones that hold you in good stead across all areas of your life. The ability to communicate effectively and to listen; to build relationships with people from all walks of life; to weigh up the pros and cons of any given decision; and to balance competing priorities are all key.

Councillors need to work effectively with one another, and as a group, to make decisions so inter-personal skills are important.

Councils are expected to support councillors by offering professional development programs through a combination of on-the-job experience and professional development programs. This can be for budgeting, strategic planning, meeting procedures, advocacy, negotiation and media.

What chance do I have of getting elected, won’t people just vote for someone they know?

Not necessarily. In 2016, one in three candidates standing for council were elected. A little over half of the successful candidates were new councillors. People will vote for who they think best represents them, not just because someone is already doing the job.

As councillors are accountable to the community, their performance over their term of office will have a bearing on their electoral success if they stand for another term.

Why be a councillor?

Being able to have a positive and tangible impact your community’s future is a highly motivating driver for councillors. As a councillor, you directly participate in council’s decision making and have the capacity to shape the immediate, medium- and longer-term future of your local area.

Rules for election

Read below to find out if you are eligible to stand, reasons why you may be disqualified or ineligible and how votes are counted.

A person is qualified to be a councillor if the person is:

  • an Australian citizen or an eligible British subject; and
  • at least 18 years of age
  • enrolled on the voters' roll for the council
  • not be disqualified from standing under the Local Government Act 2020 (refer to Disqualifications below)
  • have completed mandatory Local Government Candidate Training - the mandatory candidate training will be conducted online via a link from each council’s website to the Local Government Victoria online module.

Each council Chief Executive Officer must provide ’reasonable assistance’ to a person to enable them to complete the training. ;A candidate with either a disability or internet connectivity or other technical issues should contact the council for detail regarding the available assistance. Local Government Victoria has advised that it will be providing guidance on ‘reasonable assistance’ in the week commencing 27 July 2020.

All candidates should carefully read the Local Government Elections 2020 Candidate Handbook available on the VEC website.

The period for lodging nominations commences Thursday 17 September 2020 and closes at 12 noon on Tuesday 22 September 2020.

Intending candidates must follow the steps to nominate:

  1. Fill out the nomination form either online using VEC’s Candidate Helper or by hand.
  2. Submit the nomination form to the Election Manager in person.
  3. Pay the $250 nomination fee by cash or bank cheque (payable to the Victorian Electoral Commission) to the Election Manager in person.
  4. Make sure all steps have been completed before nominations close at noon Tuesday 22 September 2020.

Candidates are prohibited from nominating to more than one council. The Election Manager must reject a nomination from a person who is not on the voters’ roll. A person is not eligible to be a candidate for election if the nomination form is not properly completed or the nomination fee has not been paid.

Find out more on the VEC website.

A candidate who has nominated for an election may lodge a candidate statement for the VEC’s website and which may also be published by the VEC in printed form.

The candidate statement must be lodged with the election manager no later than 12 noon on the day after nomination day (12 noon Wednesday 23 September) and must comply with the electoral regulations in order to be published and included in the ballot material posted to all voters.

The candidate statement must include a written statement of no more than 300 words and may include a recent passport-size photograph of the candidate. The candidate statement must not include:

  • a reference to another candidate in the municipal election without the written consent of that person
  • a claim of endorsement or support from a party, organisation or a person without their written consent.

The election manger must reject a candidate statement if in the opinion of the election manager, the statement contains any of the following:

  • material that is offensive or obscene
  • material that is likely to mislead or deceive a voter in casting a vote
  • a reference to another candidate that is included without the written consent of that candidate
  • a claim of endorsement or support from a party, an organisation or a person that is not supported by the written consent referred to in regulation 39(3)
  • material that is in breach of an Act or regulation.

A candidate may be entitled to amend their statement and resubmit it to the election manager within the required timeline.

Where a candidate fails to lodge all candidate statement information that may be published, the election manager must publish a notice that the candidate has not provided all information.

Under the Local Government Act 2020, you may not be qualified to stand for council for a range of reasons.

It is an offence to nominate as a candidate when not eligible or qualified to do so. Candidates should check their enrolment and seek independent advice if they are uncertain about any disqualification that may apply.

Should an election manager believe a candidate is not entitled to nominate under the Act, the election manager must send a notice specifying the reasons for that belief and inviting a response as to why the candidate should not be prevented from contesting the election.

If the candidate does not respond or provides deficient reasons, the election manager must either

  • reject the nomination (if nominations have not yet closed) and advise the candidate that their nomination has been rejected and the reasons or
  • if nominations have closed but the declaration of the election has not been made, advise the candidate that he or she is retired and provide the reasons why. The candidate will cease to be a candidate from the date the advice of retirement is sent.

Under the Local Government Act 2020, a person is not qualified to be a councillor if the person:

  • is a Member of Parliament
  • is employed as a Ministerial officer, a Parliamentary adviser or electorate officer and has taken leave for the election period
  • is a councillor of another council
  • is a member of council staff of the council and has not taken leave for the election period
  • is an undischarged bankrupt
  • has property that is subject to control under the law relating to bankruptcy
  • has failed to take the Oath or Affirmation of Office of Councillor when required under the Local Government Act 2020
  • has been disqualified from being a councillor after a finding by Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) of gross misconduct while the disqualification period is in force; or
  • has been subject to two or more findings of serious misconduct by separate Councillor Conduct Panels in specified circumstances
  • has been convicted of the offence of failing to lodge an election campaign donation return in relation to the current term of the council
  • has been convicted of an offence against the Local Government Act in the preceding eight years for which the maximum penalty is at least 120 penalty units or a period of imprisonment of at least 12 months
  • has been convicted of an offence in the preceding eight years, committed when the person was of or over 18 years of age, which is punishable upon first conviction for a term of imprisonment of two years or more
  • is disqualified from managing corporations under the Corporations Act.

There are two types of systems used when counting votes:

  1. The proportional representation system is used for counting election results for un-subdivided councils and multi-member council wards.
  2. The preferential system of voting is used to count results in single member council wards.
Preferential voting system

This system applies where an electorate is electing a single member. Under the preferential system, all valid first preference votes are counted and sorted to ascertain the number of first preferences for each candidate.

Where one candidate has a majority (50 per cent plus 1) that candidate is declared elected. If no candidate has an absolute majority the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and their votes are allocated to their second preferences. This process is repeated until one candidate obtains an absolute majority and is declared elected.

The full preferential voting system applies and requires voters to place a 1 in the box against the preferred candidate and number all remaining boxes in order of preference.

Proportional representation counting system

Proportional representation is used where more than one candidate is to be elected and applies to elections for un-subdivided councils and where more than one councillor is to be elected in a ward.

Candidates must obtain a ‘quota’ or a proportion of votes to be elected. The quota is determined by the election manager by calculating the total number of formal votes and dividing that number by one more than the number of vacancies to be filled and then adding one to that number.

The quota is obtained by dividing the total number of formal votes by one more than the number of candidates required to be elected, then increasing the result by one. For example, in an Un-subdivided ward with seven councillor positions and 60,000 formal votes, the quota would be [60,000 ÷ (7+1)] + 1 = 7501].

Any candidate who receives a number of first preference votes equal to, or greater than, the quota is elected. If no candidate receives a quota on first preference votes, the candidate with the lowest number of first preferences is excluded and his/her votes are distributed. If no candidate has achieved a quota following the distribution of the surplus, this process is repeated until a candidate achieves the quota. This process continues until all vacancies are filled by candidates who have achieved the required quota.

Should a candidate gain an exact quota, he or she is declared elected and his or her ballot papers are set aside as there are no surplus votes to distribute. If the elected candidate receives more votes than the quota, that candidate’s surplus votes are transferred to the remaining candidates according to the preferences on that candidate’s ballot papers.

Because it is not possible to tell which votes elected the candidate and which are surplus, all the candidate’s votes are transferred at a value calculated by dividing the surplus by the total number of ballot papers for the candidate. Each ballot paper transferred to another candidate has this value. Any candidate who has gained the quota once the surplus votes have been transferred is elected.

If there are still vacancies to fill once the surplus votes have been distributed, the candidate with the lowest number of votes is excluded. The excluded candidate’s ballot papers are then transferred to the remaining candidates (at the value they received), according to the preferences on them.

This process of transferring surpluses from elected candidates and distributing preferences from excluded candidates continues until all vacancies have been filled.

For more information on the voting systems and counting methods for local government elections contact the Victorian Electoral Commission (VEC) on 13 18 32 or visit the VEC website.

Peter Stephenson GAICD, former mayor and councillor at City of Darebin.

“The thing I’m most proud of during my time in council is how collectively councillors, CEO and the executive team work together.”