Thursday, 25 April 2013

Mini Campbell Newmans coming to Sydney in local council mergers and your rates go up

In a move designed to create mini 'Campbell Newmans' in Sydney an Independent Local Government Review panel chaired by Prof Graham Sansom has recommended the creation of "super councils"  with populations of more than 800,000 people.

Campbell Newman was the powerful Brisbane Lord Mayor that was elected from outside the parliament to become Queensland Premier.

Offering financial incentives to councils to voluntarily merge  - by allowing uncapped increases in council rates - demonstrates to me the absolute naivety of having an academic like Prof Sansom involved in looking for practical solutions in restructuring councils in NSW.

If anyone thinks that councillors in NSW will be induced to voluntarily amalgamate for the right to jack up council rates then they are as naive as Prof Sansom.

The Minister for Local Government Don Page should hang his head in shame at spending more than $2 million to have an academic with no practical experience as an elected person in the field provide blueprints for communities for the future. The Local Government Review panel think that creating super councils will result in councils involving themselves in building light rail systems. If local government is not financially viable now, how is it going to fund light rail. The NSW government struggles to do that with its taxing power now.

Relying on financial assessments of councils by T Corp, which is an organ of the NSW Treasury is itself bizarre. Everybody will remember that it was only earlier this year that the NSW Treasury's inability to add up correctly was exposed when  the Auditor General found an extra $1 billion in the budget. This demonstrates the complete lack of confidence that local government should have of T Corp, the organisation making financial assessments of NSW councils.

Local Government in case nobody has worked it out yet is "local". It is the government of local communities. It is democratically elected. It is the third tier of government. It is our voluntary Councillors who understand their local community. If they fail to do so they are voted out.

Does there need to be change to in Local  Government? 

The answer is yes.  The first step should be to remove all the ridiculous provisions and restrictions that NSW governments have imposed upon local councils making their ability to discharge their elected responsibility almost impossible.

If anyone truly thinks that creating local government areas with larger population bases is the solution to making it more efficient and financially sustainable then perhaps there should be a merger of states.

We could make a case to merge South Australia and Victoria therefore giving it a bigger revenue base. Or perhaps merge Tasmania with Victoria. I know you think that that is nonsense but it is no different to merging democratically elected councils.

Councils have always been different. Population figures for each LGA area have always varied. That is because population densities have increased more in some area than in others. What is not understood is that councils adjust their policies over a period of time to cope. These adjustments occur incrementally, and the councils plan for those increased densities. Councils are successful at doing it because Councillors are local and personally experience the pressures. Their decisions are not academic. And they are democratically answerable for their decisions.

If Barry O'Farrell and the Liberals really want to restructure local government to better service the people then they need a review panel comprising of people who are actually  elected council representatives, or former elected representatives, and who can provide practical advice based on experience and a working knowledge of this level of government.

Only recently during a debate in Parliament on Local Government reform I commented that the Government had manyl former Councillors including the Member for Drummoyne and the Member for Kiama who could have been part of the review on Local Government. They are the people who could have provided real insight and practical advice.

If the NSW government wants to achieve a biased political solution at least use your own liberal MP's who have experience and won't dish up this nonsense.

There should be community consultation in respect of these merger proposals.  I strongly suggest all councils in Sydney should hold constitutional referendums and that way the people of Sydney can decide.That will give Prof Samson the opportunity of testing his views in a democratic environment.  And after the people overwhelmingly reject those views, Prof Sansom can then return back to academia knowing that in NSW democracy is alive and well and his views might be better received in nations were democracy does not exist. Cities like Beijing and Hanoi for example. 

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