By Paul Hemsley
New South Wales Premier Barry O’Farrell has signed the state government up for a new deal under which councils will gain more say over plans and initiatives that affect both jurisdictions.
The new deal comes in the form of the Intergovernmental Agreement to Guide NSW State-Local Government Relations on Strategic Partnerships which was inked by Minister for Local Government Don Page and the joint presidents of Local Government New South Wales (LGNSW), Keith Rhoades and Ray Donald on this week.
A key outcome of the agreement to work together and consult more over issues impacting both tiers of government is the scheduling of twice-yearly meetings between the Premier, the Minister for Local Government and LGNSW.
Importantly, the agreement also contains a provision to address cost-shifting, an irritant in relations between state and local governments all over Australia.
“Where local government is asked or required by the state government to provide a service or function to the people of NSW, and consequential financial impact is to be considered within the context of the capacity of local government,” the agreement states.
The codification of consideration is an important concession to local governments because it will give the sector a say over what activity they can or cannot absorb before it is put upon them.
The move by the NSW Premier to improve dialogue with councils directly follows the release of a discussion paper from the Local Government Acts Taskforce, a body set up to consult local governments over how best to rewrite the at time arcane and cumbersome NSW Local Government Act 1993 in to simpler language.
Local Government New South Wales has so far been a keen supporter of the taskforce’s plan to reduce so-called “over-regulations” that have “inhibited” councils in the delivery of services to ratepayers.
The progress also follows Mr Page’s recent pledge that the state government will stick to its 2011 election campaign promise that there will be no amalgamations forced upon councils.
Mr Donald has also similarly asserted to Government News that there will be no forced amalgamations on councils by the NSW government as it is now both the state government’s policy and the policy of Local Government NSW.
“As far as forcing councils to do this like Bob Carr did back in 2004, we're assured that will not be happening by this government or as a recommendation by this Independent Panel," Mr Donald said.
Mr O’Farrell said the agreement ushered in a new era of cooperation between state and local government, which he claims was a relationship that had “been allowed to wane” during 16 years of the previous Labor government.
“The recent merger of the local government and shires associations creates a stronger voice for local government in NSW, and an organisation that is better able to meet the needs of councils and work in partnership with the state government,” Mr O’Farrell said.
Mr Page said the agreement will serve to formalise the government’s “already positive” relationship with LGNSW.
"In signing this Agreement, we commit to work together as drivers of change and improvement,” Mr Page said.
“Our consultation and communication will be open and based on mutual trust and respect.”
Mr Rhoades said the agreement has an emphasis on consultation “early and often” with the local government sector.
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