Councils in Western Australia are putting strong pressure on the state government to change existing legislation so communities hit by proposed boundary changes will have an opportunity to vote on the matter.
The Western Australian Local Government Association (WALGA) says it wants the state government to amend the Local Government Act 1995 to allow for a community vote on boundary adjustments in an effort to prevent unwanted changes being forced upon residents.
Councils attending the WALGA State Council collectively backed a change to the legislation that would allow communities in one or more local governments set to be abolished or significantly affected by boundary changes to demand a poll on the proposal.
Under the change, the ‘significantly affected’ term would be defined as causing a 50 per cent variation in population or rateable properties or revenue.
This is presently prohibited under the existing legislation, but it does allow for the community to demand voting or poll provisions for council amalgamations.
The demand from WALGA is the latest development in the ongoing stoush between WA councils and the Colin Barnett government over the Premier’s controversial plan to redraw boundaries in the Perth metropolitan area.
It follows a string of quarrels between councils and the state government since the 2014-15 State Budget was released in May 2014.
The WA state Budget angered many councils who claim it simply failed provide sufficient funding for the proposed boundary changes and amalgamations, a shortfall that has provoked a collective threat from local governments to dump their support for the reform.
Without the adequate funding to conduct the expensive changes, councils are now looking at ways to prevent happening at all to avoid wearing high administrative costs.
The state government’s plan means boundary adjustments that will merge 20 metropolitan councils into just 10 new entities, with three existing councils to remain unchanged and seven others set to amalgamate into a new council in the western suburbs.
WALGA President Troy Pickard said many councils have expressed concern that under the existing legislation, a boundary adjustment could be used to merge two councils without the opportunity for the community to have a say.
“While there were a number of variations on the specific solution, many in the sector are strongly of the view that to use a boundary adjustment to absorb an entire Council without an ability for the community to trigger a poll, hinders their ability to voice concern,” Mr Pickard said.
He said the belief is that boundary adjustments were intended to be used for minor adjustments to councils to align changing operational circumstances such as waste collection routes but not to make wholesale changes.
Mr Pickard said that such an amendment would be “unlikely” to be implemented prior to the Local Government Advisory Board’s recommendation of the structure of metropolitan councils to the Local Government Minister later in July.
But he maintained hope that the state government will give “serious consideration” to amending the legislation so that communities can have a “a say in their future”.
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