NSW councils issue election demands

NSW Councils will be hoping that whoever is elected will make their dreams come true.

As the NSW Election gets closer, the state’s 152 councils are assessing what impact a Labor or Liberal victory might have on their daily operations and the way they are organised in the future.

President of Local Government NSW (LGNSW) Keith Rhoades told Government News that his organisation had issued its main state election priorities and was waiting for the political parties duking it out in the March 28 election to respond.

Mr Rhoades said had been careful to avoid replicating the embarrasing faux pas made by his Queensland counterpart Margaret de Wit in the run up to the January Queensland election, when she issued a gung ho statement supporting sitting Liberal Premier Campbell Newman on behalf of  the Local Government Association of Queensland (LGAQ).

The President’s rather reckless statement said:

“Based on the stated policies and messages of the two major parties during the election campaign, I am more confident local government could work to
implement the infrastructure commitments of a returned LNP government,” Ms de Wit said in January.

Alas for Ms de Wit, Mr Newman was comprehensively swept aside by Labor’s Annastacia Palaszczuk in a 45-seat victory which must have led to a few red
faces at the LGAQ offices on Monday morning.

Mr Newman was elected in a landslide in 2012, partly on his promise to reverse some deeply unpopular council amalgamations instituted under former Labor Premier
Anna Bligh. However, he also presided over swingeing public sector job cuts of 14,000 in Queensland.

Unwilling to be drawn on whether he is more of a Baird-backer or a Foley-fan, Mr Rhoades says he will happily work the victor.

“We don’t pick sides and we never have. We’re not going to do a Queensland,” Mr Rhoades said, laughing.

Despite his equanimity, Mr Rhoades has a long wish list of what he would like from the new NSW premier – whoever it may be.

Chief amongst these concerns is that there be no forced council amalgamations under the current Baird government’s Fit for the Future program, council submissions to which are due by

So far, the Liberal NSW government has steadfastly refused to rule out forced council mergers for those councils judged not to be ‘fit for the future’, one of the requirements being to illustrate they have the scale necessary to perform in years to come.

NSW Labor has publicly ruled out forced amalgamations should it come to power but Mr Rhoades said that Labor had not said whether the Fit For the Future program would be axed
entirely or scaled down.

LGNSW also lists as some of its primary concerns: abolishing rate-pegging, reviewing rate exemptions, securing more funding for public libraries, retaining water and sewerage in the hands of regional NSW councils, better road funding, more community involvement in planning, allocating a proportion of mining royalties to local councils and reinstating the  Local Infrastructure Renewal Scheme.

Shadow Minister for Local Government Sophie Cotsis said Labor opposed forced council mergers but she would not say exactly whether the Fit for the Future reforms would be killed off.

“We will work in partnership with councils to assess the work that they’ve already done,” Ms Cotsis said.

Ms Cotsis said Labor would encourage councils to work with their neighbours and share some services.

“If the government pushes ahead without community support it takes ten years for any benefits to come through. The meetings I’ve been at, often with 200 people or more, the public asks many questions. The problem is the government isn’t telling them what the benefits are. I’m calling on the government to get a cost-benefit analysis on the mergers and to go out and sell their proposition.”

She added that local liberal candidates were telling public forums that they did not support forced council mergers, even though their party did.

Asked if Labour would abolish rate pegging Ms Cotsis said it would not because she said it protected rate paypayers.

Ms Cotsis said Labor supported the existing system of rate exemptions, which was criticised in a 2013 Deloitte report for allowing some organisations and commercial interests to wriggle out of paying rates even though they had the capacity to pay up, and had no plans to review it.

Labor has pledged to leave water and sewerage in the hands of the 102 regional councils that currently have responsibility for both.

LGNSW is still waiting for the major parties’ full responses to its Election Priorities document, which will then go up on the organisation’s website.

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