Opinion: Council reform ‘nonsense’

Councillor ROBERT CASSIDY shares his personal view of local government reform:

IT is not yet the 11th hour in the latest local government reform process. We can still fight for our communities and our councils. Although I am a councillor in my third term, I am speaking as a ratepayer and resident and someone who is passionate about the place I have called home since 2009. I travelled the world as an airline pilot and have lived in many countries, yet I chose the Central Highlands to spend the rest of my life and it has been the longest I have lived anywhere.

In a letter dated 23 April 2021 to Local Government of Tasmania CEO Dion Lester, the former premier Peter Gutwein wrote: “I am firmly of the view that there will be no forced amalgamations.” Given the recent change of direction, I question the Liberal Government’s credibility and veracity.

At a meeting in the Bothwell Town Hall on May 31, I learned that peer-reviewed academic research showed the true impacts of the 2016 forced amalgamations on NSW councils, including reduced efficiency, opposite of the desired outcome for Tasmania; increase costs for councils by more than 11%; significantly increased property rates (Cootamundra-Gundagai increased rates by 53.5%); and caused councils to fail financially. NSW Central Coast Council is under administration.

At that public meeting, residents were genuinely worried about their futures; worried they will lose their unique identity afforded by the Central Highlands; worried they will lose their local representation; worried for young families and families who may be council employees; and worried their issues and concerns will be overlooked or the lowest priority in a super-sized council.

Residents clearly do not want Central Highlands Council to be amalgamated. Our council is well run, well managed and has millions in the bank that our ratepayers contributed to. How would dividing up our council or making a super-sized council improve upon the services our council has diligently provided? Community members reflected upon previous amalgamations in Tasmania when their rates and fees increased and they voted the Liberals out of government. Maybe it is time for a change of government, again.

Currently, all 29 councils drive different vehicles, use different tyres on those vehicles, use different trucks and road graders, different lawn mowing equipment, some use leaf blowers, others don’t, they use different computer software, different computers, different accounting systems, different telephone systems, et cetera, right down to the most insignificant aspect, a different brand of toilet paper.

If the Liberal Government was thinking logically and scrutinising “the big picture,” then the Liberal Government’s architects of council amalgamations should assure the entire infrastructure of their grand design should be in place and functioning before they pull the plug on councils around the state. Local Government minister Nic Street cannot merely wave a magic wand and make it happen overnight. Who will pay for putting in place the required infrastructure so all of the former 29 councils’ offices and depots will be singing from the same sheet of music? You!

In the Information Pack provided, offering four amalgamation choices for the Central Highlands municipality, it states, “While a single council would facilitate greater sharing of road maintenance teams and equipment, there would still be a need to maintain several regional depots across the council area given the council would be responsible for managing 3500km of roads – the most in Tasmania.

A larger regulatory services team would likewise provide greater capacity to manage workloads, allow for business continuity during periods of leave, and help to attract and retain specialist staff. If you must maintain regional depots, then where is the efficiency gained by amalgamation?

Minister Nic Street said in an ABC Radio interview with Leon Compton, “The one thing you will not hear me promise, Leon, is that amalgamations will reduce rates for ratepayers … this has never been about cost-cutting for ratepayers.” If the Liberal Government’s amalgamation thought bubble to gain efficiencies across the Local Government sector does not result in reduced rates and fees, then what is the point of all this upheaval?

The option papers and amalgamation scenarios are expensive, verbose nonsense, backed up by skewed statistical analysis to reinforce their predetermined outcome. Because it has failed to plan the “big picture,” this process is doomed to failure and it will be a very expensive failure, at that. How much will it cost ratepayers in the end? Who will pay for it? Why should your dog registration fee, rubbish collection or council rates be increased to well above what you are paying now?

In the Future of Local Government Review process, the Liberal Government and its minions have boiled down human lives to data sets and statistical analysis, even though human beings, their pets, livestock, shopping and commuting habits, their planned upgrades for their homes and the dusty patch of unsealed road across the front of their property cannot be translated to data sets or statistics.

If you are satisfied with your council and the personal relationships with your council employees and elected representatives, then it is not too late to push back against this nonsense.

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  1. A very good over view for the present situation. The reform process can also become a huge thing happening in the shadow of the ‘let us get togehter’ story. Once focusing on one particular issue, heaps of other reforms can slip into the process under the radar.

    Just saying, check out the logic & ideas behind “A Tasmanian Local Government Charter.” A charter designed to fully describe and support the ‘role’ of local government into the future. So a charter for the future could be about a document granting certain specified rights, powers, privileges or functions to Local Government. It does not mean that councils will have sovereign power because councils are dependent on other governments & the people (population),

    The key words to take note of are “certain specified rights, powers, privileges”. On the surface a conceptual framework that promotes the fair treatment and full participation of all people. A document that could become very DEI, the umbrella term for the programs, policies, strategies and practices that could be implemented as part of a council’s strategic plan. DEI stands for diversity, equity and inclusion.

  2. 29 councils is not a sustainable figure. You forced the Liberals hand by councils not addressing this issue themselves.

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