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Government walks away from forced council mergers

PREMIER Jeremy Rockliff has this morning (July 16) said that forced council amalgamations will no longer be part of the State Government’s local government reform process.

“There will be no forced amalgamations,” Mr Rockliff said in a statement. “We have listened to the concerns of Tasmanians and councils, and I want to end their fear and uncertainty today. The Local Government Review Board is continuing [its] important work, but I want to make it clear, this will not result in forced amalgamations. Communities and councils will decide their own future,” he said.

Local Government Minister Nic Street said different communities had different needs, and the government’s process would ensure they have the final say. “Today, I want to provide some comfort to Tasmanians by outlining the pathway that we will follow when the Board hands down its final report on October 31,” Mr Street said.

“Each council will be invited to review the final report and make a submission to government, about what they want. Any plans agreed by councils will be taken to the community for a vote, to ensure it has community support to go ahead. There will be no changes unless both the council and community want them,” he said.

“I am confident that some councils will be eager to participate in this process, while others will not. But, importantly, it is for councils and communities to determine and they will have the final say, but with the benefit of the extensive work that has been undertaken by the board.”

Mr Street said the government had started its review of local government in good faith and for all the right reasons. “I do not want to see rates rises of 10 per cent or more become the new normal because councils can’t cover their costs,” he said. “Labor and the unions have tried their best to derail this process with fear mongering, and I won’t have that. This should be about what is best for local communities, which is what is informing our approach.”

State Opposition local government spokesperson Luke Edmunds said the decision to abandon the key element of the government’s proposed reform of local government was a “see-through attempt” by Mr Rockliff to “save his own political skin as community discontent with his shambolic government grows by the day.”

“It was clear from Labor’s wide engagement with councils that people, especially in regional areas, had genuine fears about losing their local voice. If the premier and local government minister had really been listening to the community, their grand plans for forced amalgamations would have been scrapped a long time ago. Instead, they’ve dragged this process to a point that is has cost the taxpayer more than $3 million, which now might as well have been thrown down the drain,” Mr Edmunds said.

“Ever since Local Government Minister Nic Street infamously [said] that his desire for amalgamations wasn’t about reducing rates for ratepayers, it’s been clear this reform was being driven by the wrong priorities. Instead of tackling the real issues facing local government, Street and Rockliff turned the whole discussion into one about lines on a map. If it wasn’t obvious the premier was planning an election before, this clearing of the decks makes his intentions abundantly clear,” Mr Edmunds said.

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