The Western Australian Government’s “high-profile intervention” in the ongoing issues with the City of Perth is appropriate and necessary, says a local government expert.
The decision of WA Minister for Local Government David Templeman to suspend the City of Perth council and establish an inquiry to investigate its governance issues reflects an appropriate intervention by the state government under its legislative powers.
That’s according to Roberta Ryan, director of the Centre for Local Government at the University of Technology Sydney, who says that “in the end, the minister acts when there’s a feeling the community has lost confidence.”
“These are tough decisions and state governments don’t make them lightly,” Professor Ryan told Government News.
“State governments only intervene in these matters when they absolutely feel they have to and they’re reluctant to remove the democratic capacity of council, but they have to weigh that up against risks to staff and efficient operation of the council,” she said.
She pointed to the reported ongoing issues with Perth City Council that range from potential probity issues to governance and staffing concerns.
Interim commissioners, inquiry
Last Friday Mr Templeman announced the appointment of three commissioners to fulfil the role of the suspended council while the investigation was carried out.
The investigating panel, which will have the powers of a Royal Commission and the authority to recommend whether the council should be dismissed or reinstated, would take “a number of months,” he said.
The state minister said the action came as a result of “ongoing and serious concerns of failure by the elected council to ensure that the local government performs its functions properly.”
Professor Ryan said a key priority for the interim commissioners would be enabling council to meet the needs of its community, by continuing to deliver its services and ensuring effective decision-making.
“I suspect [they] will be focused on making sure they get some probity and clean governance and that they keep services going in the community.
“This is about community confidence in local government and it’s really important that problems are seen to be addressed as well as actually being addressed,” she said.
As far as the potential timeline for the investigating panel, the minister’s statement pointed out that previous inquiries have taken up to 18 months.
In terms of costs, he said that if the panel makes adverse findings to a local government or council member then the local government may be ordered to repay some or all of the costs. The City of Canning inquiry in 2012 cost more than $1.6 million, he noted.
The inquiry panel’s report will be made public “unless the panel determines that making it available might prejudice a matter that may come before the court,” the minister’s statement said.
Commissioners get to work
Yesterday the minister said the three interim commissioners appointed to run the City of Perth had started work and met with council staff.
The commissioners – Eric Lumsden, retiring chairperson of the Western Australian Planning Commission, Gaye McMath, former executive director of Perth Education City, and Andrew Hammond, retiring CEO of the City of Rockingham – said that restoring good governance and confidence in the City of Perth were the top priorities.