Aussie council accused of overcharging residents $10m in waste fees

Several councils in Victoria have been found to have used millions of dollars collected for kerbside rubbish services for other unrelated expenses.

Red and yellow kerbside bins are seen with lids open.
Several councils in Victoria have been found to have used millions of dollars collected for kerbside rubbish services for other, unrelated costs. Source: Getty

A crackdown is underway in Australia's second most-populous state after multiple local councils were found to have been overcharging residents when it comes to waste levies, with one in particular accused of blowing out fees by $10 million.

Several councils in Victoria have been found to have used millions of dollars collected for kerbside rubbish services for other, unrelated costs, including street sweeping, graffiti, drainage and climate and sustainability expenses, an investigation by watchdog Council Watch concluded.

Freedom of Information documents (FOI) obtained by Council Watch and seen by Yahoo News Australia show Frankston City Council, in Melbourne's south, charged ratepayers an additional $10 million dollars in fees associated with waste collection. Among the excess was $3 million for street cleaning, $425,000 for graffiti management and $2.1 million for rubbish pick-up in public places, all outside the usual realm of waste collection.

Speaking to Yahoo News Australia, Council Watch CEO Dean Hurlston said "Victorians deserve better" and across the state, it's been estimated $100 million may have been overcharged.

The Frankston electorate in Melbourne in an aerial photo.
Frankston is some 41km southeast of Melbourne's Central Business District. Source: Frankston City Council

"We decided to mount an FOI campaign, because councils were refusing to actually release what they'd spent waste levies on," Hurlston told Yahoo.

He said that so far Council Watch had received 10 of the 79 FOIs back, which revealed that in addition to Frankston, many other councils — including Manningham and Stonnington — were also found to be slugging ratepayers with unwarranted fees.

"A couple of councils have been really transparent from day one, Frankston [the worst offender] came back pretty quickly," he said. "We identified that around [an excess of] $10 million was actually being charged out of the 35 million it's charging [in waste levy fees], which is very high.

Hurlston said most councils charge between $10 to $20 million in waste levies. He added that some councils fight the information requests and it can take a couple of months to get the requests returned.

He has called for the state's Local Government Minister Melissa Horne to immediately "put an end" to the practice. "Victorians don't deserve in a cost of living crisis to be gouged by councils that are being really dishonest," he urged.

Kerbside waste collection should charge for the "actual items of that service", Hurlston explained, pointing to a number of expenses on Frankton's breakdown that he said were "unacceptable".

Frankston City Council's waste charge breakdown in table form.
Frankston City Council's waste charge breakdown shows multiple expenses 'that shouldn't be there', Council Watch says. Source: Supplied

"If you look at the numbers, $4.1 million for kerbside recycling is fine, but with kerbside hard waste, it's arguable that the $1.6m should not be there. That's a cost of business," he said. "Hard waste is a separate service. Landfill rehabilitation: $1.2 million. That's council costs, not the cost of providing the service.

"Climate and sustainability: $520,000 — not relevant. Street cleaning: $2.98m — not relevant. Graffiti management: $400,000 — not relevant. Drainage and pit maintenance, what the hell's drainage got to do with collecting rubbish? That's $2.3 million — not relevant.

"Public litter bins, that's a cost for council — $1.2 million. Waste collection in public spaces, $2.1 million, and transfer station costs, $1.3 million. All of those costs, apart from the first, three should not be there."

Under current legislation, local councils do not have to provide a breakdown of waste charges to the public as part of their budget process, something Hurlstone's determined to change. "We want to see what's in these levies," he said. "Some councils are refusing, saying it's commercial in confidence, which it's not. The public has a right to know what they're paying for."

Local Government Minister Melissa Horne gave councils a year to clean up their act.

"This is clearly outside of the guidelines and it's clearly outside of the Local Government Act," Minister Horne told media. "Our expectation is that local government operates in a transparent and accountable way."

Speaking to Yahoo News Australia, Frankston City Council CEO Phil Cantillon said he "will continue to be transparent.

"Like most councils, Frankston City utilises a waste management charge, under the Local Government Act 1989, to fund critical services such as waste collection, disposal and recycling, landfill rehabilitation, street cleaning, dumped rubbish and graffiti management," Cantillon told Yahoo.

"These charges are reported to the Essential Services Commission by all local government organisations each year [and are] common across all councils and either charged via rates or waste-related charges.

He said new guidelines were introduced by the Victorian government in December, seeking to create consistency across all local government about what is included in these charges.

"Council supports these changes and will continue to be transparent about what is included in our charges going forward. We have worked through the impact of new guidelines, which will be reflected in the Annual Budget for the financial year 2025/26."

Frankston City Council’s waste management charge has decreased each year for the last two years and is expected to decrease again in the 2024-2025 year, Cantillon said.

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