25 February, 2024

Biggest shake-up for city in 30 years

Horsham Rural City Council is keeping tight-lipped despite an announcement of the city's biggest electoral shake-up in 30 years.

By Wimmera Mallee News

Horsham's new electoral boundaries.
Horsham's new electoral boundaries.

Under the long-awaited local council electoral structure review, Horsham Rural City Council will be split into seven wards at the October local government elections.

All seven current councillors objected to the move.

However, two Horsham residents were "winners" in the restructure, with their proposals accepted for the names of three of the new wards.

The announcement concluded a protracted government review process which began in October 2022.

The Victorian Electoral Commission, through a specially appointed advisory panel, was briefed to consider if 39 councils had the appropriate number of councillors, and whether or not each municipality should be one large unsubdivided area, or subdivided into wards.

In its preliminary findings, released in June last year, the VEC proposed three models under which Horsham Rural City could be split into seven council wards - each with one councillor.

Of the 14 submissions to the VEC commenting on the restructure options, eight were "highly critical" of any move to a single-councillor ward structure.

Among those were objections lodged by all seven Horsham councillors, in a 1469-word submission to the Electoral Review Advisory Panel, arguing against any change to the existing unsubdivided structure.

They maintained the current system worked best because it offered the community the opportunity to choose the "best" seven candidates, regardless of geographical boundaries.

Horsham has remained an unsubdivided electorate since amalgamation in 1994.

Now electors must vote only for the candidate/s who choose to stand in their own ward.

Councillors argued a subdivided structure would "disadvantage and limit the diversity of candidates elected".

They said the challenge of attracting sufficient people to stand for council would be exacerbated by the creation of single-councillor wards, which could see only one person standing for any one ward.

"Candidates will potentially delay nominating to see which ward would provide them with the best chance of election," the Horsham councillors' submission stated.

"We believe the community deserves to choose their 'best' seven candidates from a large pool and not single councillor wards where a candidate could be elected without a contest."

Councillors said such a change would be "to the detriment of good governance and cohesion" between councillors and the community they represented.

"Our current councillors are engaged with and interact on a regular basis with the many different segments within our community," their submission stated.

"Giving our community choice in which councillor they share their concerns is an important element of our democracy."

In its findings, the panel said while it had considered models with fewer or more councillors, seven councillors was an appropriate number for Horsham.

There are about 15,750 voters in the council area, with an approximate ratio of 2250 voters per councillor.

"The panel felt the change from an unsubdivided structure was significant for the council and considered an additional change in councillor numbers would be too disruptive for the council and some residents," the report stated.

"More generally, the panel saw no reason and was not presented with any arguments to change the number of councillors."

Each of the three models proposed different boundaries for the wards.

Models 1 and 2 proposed east-west and north-south splits of two rural wards, while Model 3 presented a "pizza cut" proposal which provided each equally-sized ward with a "slice" of the city and rural areas.

Model 3 earned the most support from the public, while "many submissions" were critical of Model 1.

Horsham councillors objected to Model 1 in the belief it would place an "unfair burden" on the two councillors elected from the two large rural wards, either side of the CBD.

"It was also suggested the urban boundaries were arbitrary and did little to capture urban communities of interest," the panel stated.

However, the panel decided Model 1 offered "the best potential to promote fair and equitable representation for voters in Horsham Rural City Council and consequently facilitate good governance under the requirements of the Act".

The names of the seven new wards are Green Park Ward, Horsham North Ward, Kalimna Ward, May Park Ward, Oatlands Ward, Pine Lake Ward, and Wyn Wyn Ward.

Horsham residents Dean Lawson and Alan Williams had between them proposed the names Green Park, Horsham North and Kalimna - and corrected the spelling of Oatlands, which had been incorrectly spelt as Oaklands in the VicNames register.

The make-up of all Victorian local councils under review will be changed, after Minister for Local Government, Melissa Horne, accepted the recommendations in the final report, released last Thursday.

Horsham is one of 30 which will move to the single-councillor ward structure.

This means Horsham voters will not necessarily return the seven most popular candidates to council.

Instead, they must vote only for those who are standing for the ward in which they (the voter) are enrolled to vote.

A candidate can nominate for any ward in the council area in which they are enrolled to vote, but can only nominate in one ward for that election.

If there are no nominations received for a ward in an election at the close of nominations, it is considered a failed election, and a by-election for that ward would be held at a later date.

Horsham Rural City Council has yet to comment on the move.

A council spokesperson this week said: "We have just received the media release and will provide an update once we have considered the information."

The Horsham Times also canvassed each of the seven councillors to ask for their comments.

Only one responded.

“While my personal preference would have been a council structure without wards, the decision to shift to single-councillor wards is beyond our control and presents a new way forward for our community," Cr David Bowe said.

"This change offers us an opportunity to foster closer relationships between council, councillors and the community, ensuring that every ward’s unique needs are met and we continue to work towards collective outcomes for the entire community.”

The Victoria Government has implemented the final advice from the electoral structure reviews to ensure compliance with the Local Government Act 2020.

For details of the changes in Horsham, visit the VEC website at


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