Local Govt Reform: Weaker by the day….. until yesterday?

Sh*t (Photo credit: Frode Inge Helland , Wikipedia) CC Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 GNU Free Documentation Licence.

There was a lot of tough talk about local govt reform a year ago.

Professor Alan Robson’s final recommendations on Metro Local Govt Review caused councils to feel  change was near.

Reaction was strong.

Although Robson had recommended 30 councils be slashed to 12, Premier Barnett went on to say 15-20 was better.

Wouldn’t take a rocket scientist to pull off – combine Western Suburbs councils in to one, sticky tape East Fremantle to Fremantle, etc.

So that’s exactly what Perth’s metro councils began to do – work on alternative merger options themselves, having rejected doing so through the WA Local Govt Association.

It amounted to consensus in part – there was a “G17” of councils that got together, or “G20”, depending on the week.  Other councils weren’t invited to the party, or chose not to join.

Reducing the number of councils is hardly “reform”, although it’d look like we’d lost weight around eastern states governments with their trim council figures.

It’s hard to see how just this concession would address “extraordinary growth”, or spread population, rates, services and opportunities more evenly amongst local govts.

Then came the lead up to the election, and everything quieted.

Upon being returned to power, the Barnett Govt came out fast……  except on council mergers.

After appointing a man most of us have never heard of as Minister for Local Govt, Tony Simpson, the quest for local govt reform went back to reading submissions.

So….is a way forward slowly emerging?

Let’s try to figure it out by getting up-to-date views on council mergers from key players:-

Brad Pettitt, Mayor of Fremantle felt four days ago it was fair to say local govt reform is dead before it starts, and that the council can continue with its plans without “this very large distraction”.

This followed Tony Simpson, Minister for Local Govt declaring “We have no interest in forced amalgamations” on 7.30 WA

Yet on the same day the Mayor of Freo spoke out, Troy Pickard, President of WA Local Govt Association and Mayor of Joondalup, shot from the hip about what could  happen if councils don’t act strategically in amalgamating.

Interestingly, Mr Pickard made his comments after submissions to the Metro Local Govt review had closed.

Along the way the Shire of Kalamunda declared its intention to conduct a referendum before it agreed to any merger plan, as have other councils.

This so angered John Day, Minister for Planning and Member for Kalamunda, he declared that if Kalamunda wasted money like that, the state would consider cutting its funding.

Yet the state doesn’t want to force councils in to anything….

We went on to be surprised by news the state was merging the Depts of Local Govt and Communities – that’ll hit councils’ bottom lines.

In the meantime, the City of Perth made a bid for other councils’ lands and assets…. which not only threatens the Town of Victoria Park’s viability, and that of any council it merges with, Mayor Trevor Vaughan has always believed councils surrounding the CBD would end up little more than car parks that service it.

Other than that, officially, local govt reform seemed to have fallen flat – until yesterday.

The Minister for Local Govt made an unexpected statement, through a local paper: “[…..when he’s met with Perth’s councils to get personal feedback] on mergers and new roles for the sector…. [the councils] will need to flesh out how this can best work and make a recommendation to me through the WA Local Government Association. As soon as they are ready, we are ready”.

And so it begins again.