By Angela Dorizas
The West Australian Government has announced its plan to amalgamate councils and decrease the number of elected local government representatives.
Local Government Minister John Castrilli has asked the state’s 139 councils to voluntarily amalgamate and to reduce the total number of elected members of each council to between six and nine.
Councils have a period of six months to advise the Minister of their intentions to merge with other councils and downsize elected representation. If councils fail do so the Government will introduce legislation that would force them to amalgamate.
Mr Castrilli said local government in its current form was “simply not sustainable,” adding that 85 local councils in WA served populations of less than 2000 people.
“The benefits from amalgamations across the state, including metropolitan Perth, will be very significant,” Mr Castrilli said.
“These include achieving greater economies of scale, elected members clearly focusing on governance and long-term strategic planning.”
Mr Castrilli has asked councils to form regional organisations so that they can deliver services more efficiently and be eligible to receive proposed grants under the recently announced Country Local Government Fund.
The announcement has shocked and angered Western Australian Local Government Association (WALGA) president Bill Mitchell, who has accused the State Government of breaking an election promise on no forced amalgamations.
“There is nothing voluntary when you are given a six month deadline and told what the outcome has to be and that if you don’t volunteer it will be forced,” Cr Mitchell said.
He said councils were already working towards a process of regional cooperation which could lead to voluntary amalgamations further down the track, but that plan had been undermined by the State Government’s decision to impose a six month deadline.
“What this announcement has done is damage all work towards regional cooperation by local governments who will now be forced only on ensuring their own survival in an amalgamation process.”
Cr Mitchell said there was no guarantee that merged councils would be more sustainable.
“In all our research there was no evidence that the simplistic option of making larger councils was more efficient, rather that two small problems merged into one big problem,” he said.
“For any sustainability improvements to be implemented and maintained in the longer term there has to be local community support which requires a voluntary process.”
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