Perth’s council merger triggers conservative revolt

By Julian Bajkowski and Paul Hemsley

Attempts in Western Australia to push through reforms that would allow the government to halve the number of metropolitan councils have come conspicuously unstuck after local government reform proposals triggered a fiery backlash inside Premier Colin Barnetts’ own party room.

The WA Premier this week ducked putting the issue up for a vote in his party room after government several members publicly indicated the matter would be given short shrift as resident anger over the amalgamations continues to forment.

A big headache for the Liberal Barnett government in trying to push the mergers is that much of the grass roots revolt is coming from Perth’s most prosperous and powerful residents that have traditionally backed conservative state governments.

Mr Barnett’s troubles are likely to be viewed with trepidation by members of New South Wales’ Coalition government led by Premier Barry O’Farrell who is negotiating a similarly delicate situation on the east coast where another report has found many existing stand-alone councils will soon be economically unviable.

The president of the WA Local Government Association (WALGA), Troy Pickard, this week rounded on the Premier, saying that Mr Barnett has no mandate to force the issue of council amalgamations because he “intentionally took the issue off the table” months before the election campaign for last election.

A key point WALGA is pushing is that the state government’s plans for structural reform in local government were removed from the re-election agenda because the Barnett government announced four months prior to the March 2013 state poll that it would not put its position on local government reform forward until well after the poll.

That delay is being interpreted by many as a commitment not to force through mergers in the current term and have changes, which are unlikely to be popular, put up at the next election.

Many of the issues driving the merger push have come out of a Metropolitan Local Government Review Panel which submitted the Robson Report for the government’s consideration. The report recommended a major overhaul of council boundaries and amalgamations in Perth.

Mr Pickard says that discussions about the findings should have been had prior to the election on local government reform in order for the government to claim a mandate.

“The community didn’t get a say on the state government’s position at the Election because it was not presented so it is democratic that the community should be able to be heard on the newly proposed changes,” Mr Pickard said.

Mr Pickard has also hit out at the state government for removing community consultation on council amalgamations by suspending poll provisions, which he called an “effective removal of the democratic process”.

This suspension by the state government has led to Mr Pickard underlining that divisions had emerged among Liberal Party Members of Parliament over the government’s plan to lock out the community from voting on changes to their councils.

In response to the government’s elimination of poll provisions, the members present at the WALGA annual general meeting voted to condemn the removal while the most recent State Council meeting aimed to set a compromise framework to ensure the community has some “prospect of a say on amalgamations”.

“The position of WALGA and Local Government is that the community should have the opportunity to have their position heard on changes to the structure of their Local Government,” Mr Pickard said.

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One thought on “Perth’s council merger triggers conservative revolt

  1. Satisfaction of taxpayers is not a consideration in Barnett plan
    Having studied the report of the Metropolitan Local Government review panel one can only conclude that the panel was “unofficially” briefed by then Minister for local Government John Castrilli to come up with a report to support the view that local council amalgamation is necessary. Indeed the report does contain some valuable observations of current council operations and highlights important areas that need to be addressed to ensue that the metropolitan area is able to cope with the expected increased population. Recommendations such as better co-ordination between neighbouring councils and between councils and the state government to better deliver on a common vision for Perth and WA are welcome. The 191 page report is full of interesting statistics and commentary but it fails to prosecute a compelling case for amalgamation and in fact the expert panel clearly state that no real economic benefit will be realised by amalgamating councils.
    Let’s face it the first thing the combined councils will need is a bigger building, all the signage around the town(s) will have to replaced, new electoral boundaries and elections will have to be arranged and how much will it cost to re-establish local laws, processes, documentation etc. The panel have said “that a restructuring of local government in metropolitan Perth would not affect the job security of most local government employees” and further “The experience in Queensland was that the number of local government employee actually increased.” There is no economic case for change.
    The academic panel also proposed that any changes should not be considered until after the functions of the various levels of government were determined which is the opposite to what the State government is attempting by bulldozing the rights of local residents by their shoot first ask questions later attitude.
    The only strong argument in the whole report is that it will be easier for the state government to deal with a smaller number of councils. So all this upheaval and disenfranchising of the residents is all about making a few politicians and bureaucrats jobs easier.
    The real kicker in this report is the line “The satisfaction of individuals is not a reason to maintain the current arrangements.” In other words, it’s not what the people want, it’s what the Government or to put it bluntly what Colin Barnett wants. Colin Barnett will go down in history as Julia Gillards’ twin brother by saying one thing before an election and the opposite immediately after. If forced amalgamation is to be put back on the table then let’s put it to a referendum. We did not give the Liberals a mandate to take away the rights of citizens and any attempt to move in that direction is a violation of our trust.
    Vince Maxwell
    Berwick Street Victoria Park
    Candidate for Town of Victoria Park council

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