Verging on a lawsuit
THE City of Vincent’s ‘adopt a verge’ program seems like a good idea.
Under the program, a resident submits a plan to the council to approve plantings of native plants or whatever on the verge outside their homes.
But homeowners might want to do their homework before signing up for the program: it could end up costing them a lot of money.
For instance, they might want to double-check the conditions in the council’s verge approval form.
The form says residents will have to maintain the verge in the future and will ‘indemnify the city against all actions/claims arising from the development or maintenance of the verge’, presumably for years or even decades to come.
But when I contacted the insurance company that provides our house and contents insurance, I was told in no uncertain terms that our public liability insurance would not cover the council’s verge.
In effect, we would be uninsured: the insurance company said our coverage ‘starts from the letterbox’.
This means, if we were to join the ‘adopt a verge’ program, we would be responsible for maintaining a verge that we do not own; under a city of Vincent endorsed program; the council would shift all legal liability to us; and there’s no way our insurance company would cover us!
Doesn’t sound like a great deal to me.
When I rang the city of Vincent and queried if residents would be legally liable for accidents on the verge under the ‘adopt a verge’ program, I was told that would be the case and it’s up to residents if they want to take that risk.
It gets even more interesting if you’ve already changed things on the verge outside your home—say, putting in trees, raised garden beds, rocks, paths or benches—without the city of Vincent’s approval.
I was told if there were an accident on such a verge, then the onus would be on the residents as they installed the treatments without approval.
I think the city of Vincent should:
• Inform people exactly what their legally liability is under the ‘adopt a verge’ program (it’s not explained at all on the approval form); and
• Review the indemnity issue so that residents are not exposed to potentially huge payouts for accidents that occur on a verge they do not own and cannot get insurance for.
In a worst case scenario, it would be unfortunate if a homeowner had to sell their house to pay a big claim for an accident that happened on the verge outside their home—after having done the council a favour by agreeing to look after it and never being warned of the risks.
Locals can restore faith in democracy
EARLIER this year, the Museum of Australian Democracy and the Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis commissioned Ipsos to survey 1244 Australians on the relationship between trust in the political system and attitudes towards democracy.
The headline survey result was that faith in Australian democracy has halved over the past 10 years.
Most of us might easily appreciate the reasons for this dramatic loss in confidence.
Whether it’s the rapid and unruly succession of prime ministers, the routine revelations of public moneys being spent unaccountably, or the seemingly permanent intransigence of almost all our political class; we have good reasons to be sceptical about our democracy.
But clearly being sceptical isn’t enough.
We need a practical solution, and I believe that solution lies in local government.
Despite the more immediate impact local government decisions have on our day to day lives, voter participation in local government postal elections is in decline, now averaging only 25.9 per cent in the metropolitan area (WAEC, 2016).
This trend is likely to be associated with our broader disaffection with state and federal politics—we are after all, the same constituency—but not only do local council decisions tend to have greater practical consequences for us, we barely have to go out of our way to participate.
If most of us aren’t motivated enough to participate in local government because of our general distaste for politics, perhaps the reverse is true; perhaps restoring our faith in politics first requires us to be sufficiently motivated to participate in local government.
But how do we get motivated? In my view, properly understanding and addressing that question should be the number one goal of local councils everywhere.
If say, a council flipped the average voter participation rate over—that is, increased it from 25 to 75 per cent—it would necessarily have had to implement a range of initiatives that responded well to community demand.
Those demands may be competing, but the overall increase in participation would indicate that those who didn’t get who they wanted the first time around had sufficient faith in the system to ensure they would vote again…and again.
Increasing participation rates in local government elections will take time, but every journey begins with the first step.
One of those first steps could be for metropolitan local governments to enshrine increased voter participation rates as a key, long-term performance indicator in their strategic plans.
If people can see their local political process working, they’d be more likely to believe other levels of government can work as well.
This collective belief is how we can start to restore some faith in our democracy.
Albert street, North Perth
Congratulations, Tony Malkovic! You’ve won our letter of the week competition and a $50 lunch voucher from The Terrace Hotel Restaurant, 237 St Georges Terrace for your very thought-provoking look at Vincent’s popular verge program. If you would like to be in the running for letter of the week, make sure you email us your ripper at firstname.lastname@example.org.