Current and prospective councillors encouraged to take up course covering disinformation

Councils including Yarra Ranges are being encouraged to take a course on disinformation ahead of the upcoming elections. Picture: ON FILE

By Callum Ludwig

The Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV) has teamed up with the University of Melbourne to help prepare local councillors to combat disinformation in local government.

Set to be held over four weeks with a 42-hour commitment, the course will aim to help current or prospective councillors to deal with the threats posed by disinformation, misinformation, and malign influence (DDMI).

MAV CEO Kelly Grigsby said while there has been an increasing recognition about disinformation and its impacts on politics, the reason the MAV has partnered with The University of Melbourne is to provide a local government context.

“We’re encouraging councillors, potential councillors and local government professionals to consider the challenges so we can better respond to issues which arise around and after the upcoming elections,” she said.

“Disinformation is a growing problem for all levels of government across the globe. As the level of government closest and most open to the community they represent, this is particularly the case for local government,”

“It’s critical for councillors and council staff to have the skills to both recognise and manage disinformation in an effective way.”

The $1490 course is also recommended for intelligence analysts and cybersecurity specialists on the University of Melbourne website.

The targeted effort to educate and inform current and prospective councillors comes after a wave of disrupted council meetings around the state, including Yarra Ranges Council which suspended the gallery after ‘disruptive’ attendees became agitated by responses from councillors to conspiracy theories on 15-minute cities and 5G towers among others.

Yarra Ranges Council’s Director of Corporate Services Andrew Hilson said any time there’s an opportunity for formal training, professional development or capacity building for either a current or prospective Councillor, we encourage them to take it up.

“Councillors and prospective candidates should consider the skills and knowledge they think will be important to assist them in fulfilling their role as a councillor, from a wide range of topics,” he said.

“Events or courses such as these are a great way to educate those in attendance on the many different aspects of being a Councillor, and how best to meet the demands of the role.”

O’Shannassy Ward Councillor Jim Child, who was mayor at the time of the disruptions to Yarra Ranges Council meetings, also told The Age that the course should be ‘mandatory’ for current or prospective councillors.

Ms Grigsby said they are encouraging councillors, potential councillors and local government professionals to consider the challenges.

“It’s a highly practical course, which will examine the main players, their key tactics and techniques and, the cultural and psychological aspects of disinformation,” she said.

“It will also provide tips on building resilience and maligning the influence of disinformation and those spreading it.”