By Jane Garcia
John Bowler has been returned responsibility for the local government portfolio in Western Australia – a move welcomed by the Western Australian Local Government Association (WALGA) following tension with the State Government over proposed changes to local government election processes last year.
Mr Bowler was first appointed Minister for Local Government in February 2005 and served in the portfolio until a cabinet reshuffle in February 2006.
He told www.governmentnews.com.au that he had been disappointed at the loss of the portfolio as he felt he had built up a good rapport with WALGA and individual councils. Mr Bowler plans to once again embark on an ambitious effort to visit most of the state’s 142 councils, a task he managed to complete in his previous 12-month appointment.
“Smaller towns really appreciate you taking the time off to visit them,” he says.
“They can take you to see the local issues and get a better appreciation of what is happening.”
Mr Bowler concedes that the State Government’s Local Government Amendment Bill 2006 had led to “a breakdown in communication and a misunderstanding” with WA councils, and he would work to enhance the relationship between the two spheres of government.
WALGA president Bill Mitchell said in a statement that the Association was “extremely enthusiastic” about working again with Mr Bowler and he had taken a genuine interest in working with the sector to build communities in the past.
One of the Local Government Minister’s key goals for this year are to assist councils that voluntarily decide an amalgamation would strengthen their sustainability; and, in cases where a strong case for a merger does not exist or lacks support, to facilitate greater resource sharing and the integration of back-end functions between councils and groups of councils.
On January 9, he announced the State Government will commit $750,000 to assist the Shire and Town of Northam in an amalgamation. The two local governments have already received a grant of $25,000 and were given $100,000 to explore operation aspects required for a smooth transition for a potential amalgamation.
If the proposed amalgamation goes ahead next year, they will receive $600,000 to implement the merger.
It is the sixth time in six years there has been a change in local government minister, according to WALGA.
Former Local Government Minister, Jon Ford, remains as Minister for Fisheries; Regional Development; and Kimberley, Pilbara and Gascoyne.
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