4 February, 2024

Push to entice new / council candidates

Hot on the heels of news that the October local elections will for the first time seek seven councillors for seven new wards, Horsham Rural City Council has announced a Community Leadership program in a bid to attract candidates.

By Tony Curran

Jude Holt
Jude Holt

Hot on the heels of news that the October local elections will for the first time seek seven councillors for seven new wards, Horsham Rural City Council has announced a Community Leadership program in a bid to attract candidates.

The program was one of the recommendations of the Municipal Monitor Jude Holt, appointed in July 2022 to advise and assist on council's governance processes. Her report to the Minister for Local Government was released in March last year.

One of Ms Holt's four recommendations to the Minister was the initiation of a Community Leadership program, in an effort to not only lift overall standards, but also to resolve the apparent disconnect between community interest in council affairs and low candidate numbers at elections.

"This (community) interest does not appear to be translating into candidates," her report stated.

Only nine candidates stood for seven seats at the 2020 election, 14 at the 2016 election, and 11 at the 2012 election.

Of the 26 individuals who put their hands up, 22 had never taken office before, exposing a high rate of attrition among those who did win a seat.

In his response to her report, council CEO Sunil Bhalla pledged to turn around the leadership vacuum that had haunted the council chamber for more than a decade.

"It's now up to us to deliver the improvements that have been highlighted," Mr Bhalla said last March, promising to invest in a community leadership program which would be announced "in the coming months".

HRCC confirmed on Thursday that the program would run over six sessions from May to July.

Expressions of interest are now open, in the hope the program will generate "an engaged, proactive and diverse pool of potential candidates".

“This program is intended for existing, new and emerging leaders of community groups within our municipality,” Mr Bhalla said.  

“Participants will learn about community leadership, communication approaches, public speaking, goal setting and monitoring, understanding community and diversity, reflection and resilience.

“We look forward to seeing participants’ leadership skills develop for the benefit of our broader community."

Ms Holt's six-month appointment was requested by mayor Robin Gulline and Mr Bhalla, who recognised shortcomings in council procedures and councillors' behaviour.

Chief among these - and top of the list of Ms Holt's terms of reference - was "councillors’ understanding and performance of their statutory roles and responsibilities, including the adequacy of the council’s councillor induction training program and any ongoing professional development opportunities".

* Cr Gulline this week reinforced her opposition to the new seven-ward division of the municipality, announced last week and to take effect for the first time at this year's council election.

"I know where some of them (councillors) live and they'll be standing against each other if they stand in the wards that they nominate in," she said.

"Three of the councillors live in Pine Lake ward.

"I struggle to see under this system that you actually get the diversity targets that they're wanting. It's counterintuitive. I find it quite strange."



Applicants will be selected by an independent three-member panel with a background in community or executive leadership.

Potential council candidates must satisfy five selection criteria:

1. Be 18 years or over

2. Have an interest in developing own and other people’s leadership in the community

3. Have motivation to participate and engage in community and civic life

4. Have desire to use skills to make a difference and enhance the community

5. Have the ability to commit to full attendance at all sessions

HRCC says applications are welcome from people with a range of cultural backgrounds, abilities, gender, sexual orientation, ages and diversity of personal and life experiences.

However, no more than 25 participants will be admitted, "to achieve an effective outcome from the program".

The Victorian Local Governance Association will run the courses, independently of council, on Wednesday evenings and Saturday mornings 

There is no cost for participants other than their time and commitment to participating fully in the program.

For application forms and further information, visit



Local council elections will be held on Saturday October 26.

Candidates must lodge their nominations with the Victorian Electoral Commission between September 19-24.

However, the only mandatory training for would-be councillors is a one-hour course run by Local Government Victoria.

A candidate handbook for the 2024 elections will be published later this year, although previous versions are available for reference on the VEC website.

The candidate handbook provides a detailed overview of the nomination process, including the legal requirements.

The VEC also runs candidate information sessions ahead of each election, and will provide a "candidate information kit" with all the relevant forms.

To be a candidate for a local council election, you must:

1. Be an Australian citizen

2. Be aged 18 years or more

3. Be enrolled on the voters' roll for the council in which you wish to stand

4. Have completed the mandatory Local Government Candidate Training

5. Not be disqualified from being a councillor

Further information on the election will be made available on the VEC website.


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