6PR: Former Councillor unloads on rate rises

The City of Canning is not a council major media shows any interest in normally – but things have changed and for all the wrong reasons.

Canning’s rate rises – those issued to cover its skyrocketing costs when democratically elected brakes were removed (Canning has been run by staff and Commissioners for years) – have us on lists everywhere:

CanningAccountability Channel 7 graphic on Canning rate rises

And Chairman Commissioner of Canning has warned there will most likely be another whacking rate rise next year….

But will there?

6PR’s conversation with former Councillor Graham Barry at bottom (….”[former Mayor Delle Donne] said he could run [Canning] for half that amount”

Canning is becoming known for dubious distinctions such as having 84 staff on salaries of over 100k, being only the second council in Perth to have staff costs that exceed its rates base and whacking great rate rises to cover all of this plus the multi-million dollar projects put forward for ratepayer funding by CEO Lyn Russell throughout the entire local govt reform process, when Canning’s future looked, well, dubious, from the start.

Whereas Minister for Local Govt, Tony Simpson, has been fairly moderate in his announcements about intentions to try to control rate rises, Premier Colin Barnett today was not:

Local government?  Yeah, they’re on notice.  Right now.  The rate increases householders faced, in my view, were excessive… many of these local govts are grossly overstaffed, they pay themselves too much…. we have CEOs in metropolitan Perth who get paid well above what the Premier gets paid…. there has been a culture of increasing rates with a lack of accountability… and [you, the councils] are going to be more accountable and your costs, your staffing, your rate increases are going to be public and people are going to be able to compare across councils….there needs to be efficiencies in local govt [and now] Big Brother is going to be looking over their shoulder

6PR, Gary Adshead’s morning show, Interview with Premier 6 August 2015 (available for one month)

Although the process of investigations in to councils can take years, Canning was never “broken” and it did not need intensive care.  It certainly didn’t need to increase staff numbers by so much we had to lease shops to hold them, as it will cost at least $1.5 million to build enough space to bring them back… and still the City continues to create new positions.

If, as the ABC leaked two days ago, an independent body – such as the Economic Regulation Authority – may be given the task of overseeing council rate rises, our new Council may find itself without additional sources of income because its reasons for more money than most probably won’t pass the “smell” test a second time around.

The Barnett Govt is not the only entity to have concerns about rates.  Canning may find itself standing out starkly again come October as the only local govt authority in Perth with a brand new, completely inexperienced council, at a time when experience of local govt machinations may be what’s needed most.  As angry ratepayers rang radio stations yesterday, stimulated by the new focus on ways to curb ever-increasing costs, former Canning Councillor Graham Barry spoke out for the first time about his concerns at what is happening at Canning, and why he intends to run for council again:

CanningAccountability Graham BarryADAM SHAND (AS), 6PR:
Let’s get back to the phones…. Graham Barry, he’s an ex Councillor of Canning
Yeah, mate!  Yeah, well, it seems Tony Simpson wants to take the power off councils to set the rates….
AS: Well he’s considering having the Economic Regulation Authority to have oversight of rates’ settings
GB: Yeah, well mate, that’d probably be the worse thing you could ever do…. I could go on for hours and hours about the City of Canning, but if the Auditor General went in to councils (and I asked for this in early 2013 for Canning), if they went in there, mate, I’d be clapping with my hands and my feet together at the same time  I mean, you’ve got local govt – one of your earlier callers called it bureaucracy and that’s just about what it is – I’ll give you a couple of ideas, I mean, the City of Canning has a wage base of about $53m and it raises about the same in rates, and the rest comes from their charges, etc….
AS:  I see, OK.
GB: Now, we had our former Mayor Delle Donne, three years ago, went to [former Local Govt Minister] Castrilli over inconsistencies in the administration and he wanted them to have a look at it… well, before you knew what was going on, the govt was turning around on him, and the councillors – there was a bunch of stories came from the department – and it finally ended up in an inquiry panel where no charges, not one charge, was laid against any councillors…
AS:  Is that right?
GB: Now you see the thing is for three years Commissioners have been in at the City of Canning and rates have gone up something like 30%, there used to be about a dozen people down there earning about $100,000, now there’s over 60….
AS:  Is that right?
GB:  We have roads to nowhere, where Vic Park is not going to have a continuation of a road [Canning] is building…..and at the other end Gosnells isn’t even in the same picture.  There’s just so much waste, absolute waste, and I mean, look, from my point of view, I’ll be running for the council again this year because I never got told by the people they didn’t want my services anymore…. if they tell me this time then fine, I’ll move along, but the fact of the matter is that you’ve got the City of Canning has got $70 odd million in investments.  Now, when I was there, from 2003 to 2012, we kept the rates down to what we consider to be inflation….sometimes one percent above – and one year it was one percent – but it was a Hell of a job to try and get that past the administration.  We ended up having to have forums after forums to ask them to explain “Why do you need to spend $4m on rubbish trucks?”… I used to ask the hard questions all the time “What is this cheque for?”, “Who are these people?” ….
AS:  Hmmm… was there a lot of waste there, Graham?  Did you see a lot of waste?
GB: Well, look, I think I’d be quoting the former Mayor when he would say he could have run the council for half of what they were spending.
AS:  Mmmm…. that tells you something….
GB:  In the end you have bureaucracies who manufacture surpluses and over-quoting on roads, etc, etc, and all of a sudden, when they need some money, they say “Well, take some from here, here, here and here”, and, “this project came in lower than we expected”, and all of a sudden you’ve got people saying “what fantastic people we are – look at the surplus!”
AS: Yeah, well, there you go.  Thanks and good luck with your next campaign!


Our thanks to 6PR’s Drive Show host Adam Shand and his fantastic producer Sophie Hawkins for the audio of this call to 6PR, Wed 5 August 2015.  http://www.6pr.com.au/

Rates Increases chart image courtesy of Channel 7 Perth, as broadcast 5 August 2015 and later screened through Yahoo: