By Ian Neubauer
Councils were urged to take control of their futures by sharing resources at a Sydney conference chaired by NSW Minister for Local Government, Paul Lynch.
“Right around Australia governments are grapping with important questions about the sustainability of local government,” the minister told council representatives at the recent Strategic Alliance Network conference.
“The NSW Government is keen to address these issues through improved collaboration between councils, improved strategic planning, improved asset management and improved local governance.”
The minister discounted recent media reports suggesting the proposal was a prelude for forced amalgamation of councils. Forced amalgamations sparked public anger in Queensland in August when the Queensland Parliament passed laws cutting the number of councils from 156 to 72.
“I have said previously, and I repeat today, the government has no plans for the forced amalgamation of local councils,” Mr Lynch said.
One delegate who attended the conference, North Sydney Council general manger, Penny Holloway, said she was cautiously optimistic that forced amalgamations are not forthcoming in NSW.
“If that’s what they are saying we believe them,” she said.
Ms Holloway said North Sydney Council has participated in resource-sharing programs for 20 years and the arrangements had proven beneficial to all parties involved.
“We share library information resources with five councils and conduct an Aboriginal heritage program with seven councils,” she said.
“We certainly wouldn’t be able to allocate resources to have our own Aboriginal heritage program,” she said, adding that North Sydney council is willing to consider new resource sharing initiatives.
However, not all attempts at resource sharing have proved successful in the past.
Queensland’s Rockhampton City Council committed to a resource-sharing program involving four neighbouring councils between 1998 and 2001 without significant success.
“Soft options, including resource sharing, integrated service delivery and reciprocal service arrangements have been researched, analysed and initiated in the past with no tangible result,” said Rockhampton mayor, Margaret Strelow, in a statement posted on the council’s website.
“The idea of sharing a grader would seem to make sense, but the proof is in the pudding in this region, it simply did not work.”
Collaboration between councils was essential to the sustainability of local government in NSW, Mr Lynch said.
“Of course, it is not the only thing we need to do, but it enables the sector to chart its own course,” he said.
A guidance paper, <I>Collaboration and Partnerships Between Councils<I, was distributed to conference delegates and was released to the public earlier this month.
For more information see www.dlg.nsw.gov.au
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