Councils to decide if de-amalgamation is too costly

By Paul Hemsley

The Queensland state government has moved to roll-back controversial mega-councils formed through forced mergers and asked local governments to put forward their case on whether they want previous jurisdictional boundaries restored.

The potential break-up of the mega councils is part of wider push to decentralise administration and local governments by recently elected Queensland Premier Campbell Newman, with the deadline for submissions falling today.

In 2008, Queensland’s then Labor government moved to force amalgamations on local councils, a move intended to save costs and cut bureaucracy.

The issue of public consultation between local and state government was a key element of the LNP Can do Action: Empowering Queensland Local Government policy that was take to voters during the state election.

However the blanket approach was rejected by the subsequently elected Liberal National Party (LNP) which now wants input on council borders and whether defunct councils want to be restored.

But re-establishing previously abolished councils could may a costly and disruptive endeavour, so the state government has given councils to the option of whether or not to go back to their pre-amalgamation days.

The state government is also keen to ensure that both councils and rate payers are aware of the costs in restoring councils the way they were.

A big issue that is being pushed is the need for ratepayers to understand that they would ultimately bear the brunt of increased costs in any de-amalgamation of local governments.

Queensland Local Government Minister, David Crisafulli said the former government “declared war” on local governments.

Mr Crisafulli said the forced amalgamations wiped out 83 councils and “[tore] the heart out of communities across the state”.

While Mr Crisafulli acknowledged that lodging submission was not easy and criticism that the process is too onerous, he said this was a “serious business” and that communities needed to know the costs.

“It would be irresponsible of us as a government to allow communities to de-amalgamate on a whim only to have people revolt months later at the prospect of higher rates to pay for it,” Mr Crisafulli said.

To get a de-amalgamation up, submissions needed to provide “strong, evidence-based, community-backed submission based on the pre-amalgamation local government boundaries,” the state government said.

This included a detailed estimate of the potential financial costs and a petition signed by at least 20 per cent of the voting population that understood all the cost implications.

Mr Crisafulli said the de-amalgamation will go to a vote if more than 50 per cent of the population says yes, resulting in a return to their former shire.

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