The report into local government in NSW, released yesterday, has flagged that it supports amalgamations of local councils, even though the state government has ruled out forcing the issue.
The Independent Local Government Review Panel’s final report identifies Byron, Richmond Valley, Clarence Valley and Kyogle shire councils as future amalgamation targets, with critics saying a Kyogle merger could happen as early as next year.
The panel’s 65 recommendations are available for councils to respond to until just March 7.
Local Government NSW (LGNSW) has slammed the state government for imposing such a limiting consultation deadline, saying it gives them little or no time to respond given many councils don’t meet until mid-February.
LGNSW president Cr Keith Rhoades said ‘the minister’s had the Review Panel’s report for nearly three months; we’ve had it for three minutes’.
‘There is no document more important for local government in NSW than this one. The premier and minister Page must provide a consultation timeframe that is suitable for councils and the communities they represent – not an arbitrary date picked by cabinet.
‘The report is extremely detailed and complex and there are significant changes in the Review Panel’s recommendations since the last discussion paper. We at Local Government NSW need time to consider the changes and the impact on the sector.
‘Councils also need time to study it and consult with their communities on the numerous changes that have been suggested,’ he said.
Cr Rhoades said he was particularly concerned about the report’s calls for wholesale amalgamations of councils across the state.
‘Obviously, local government’s main concern is council amalgamations. While the report does not support forcibly amalgamating councils, it does provide a very detailed “merger” blueprint for a future state government without the current “no forced amalgamations” policy,’ he said
‘The other key issue we believe our member councils will want to discuss are the new structures proposed for local government, particularly in rural and regional areas.
‘These new structures, coupled with suggested amalgamations, provide complicated solutions to the problems faced in rural NSW, and will need to be examined in great detail.’
The report also calls for a review of rate pegging, although local government minister Don Page has said the state government would stick with the system for the time being.
‘It is true to say that in other states where they don’t have rate pegging there hasn’t been a huge blowout in rates but the government’s policy at the moment is to stick with rate pegging,’ he told ABC radio this morning.
‘But we take seriously the recommendations of the report,’ he added.
The report flags early on its three major concerns.
‘Sooner or later amalgamations will have to be part of the package; the number of councils in NSW has halved during the past century and that trend will surely continue,’ it reads.
‘Rate pegging should be reviewed in the context of a wider effort to address infrastructure backlogs and ensure financial sustainability,’ it continues.
‘Cost-shifting has been overstated relative to other factors, but local government does have legitimate concerns about rating exemptions and concessions, and the way some fees and charges are fixed below cost.’
The panel concludes that ‘all concerned need to face the reality that there are no “pots of gold” in Canberra or Macquarie Street; councils must make better use of their own revenue base, and limited grant funding must be distributed according to needs, not simply numbers of people’.
Concentrating decision making into fewer hands does not sound like a good idea to me.
While the State Government has a ‘policy’ of no forced amalgamations, it is clearly intent on doing exactly that.
This review has provided the government and Don Page as the Minister for Local Government the blueprint for forced amalgamations.
Unless there is a huge community campaign to change there position we can expect forced mergers within the 1st year of there second term, assuming the Lib/Nat coalition win the next election.
As a local government Councillor this is of great concern.
Cr Jeff Johnson
Ballina Shire Council
Let’s do the research and learn from the experience of other Councils. I understand that Noosa Shire Council recently successfully de-amalgamated from the mega Sunshine Coast Regional Council that was created through amalgamating Caloundra, Maroochydore and Noosa Shire Councils some years ago. Their reasons for de-amalgamation must have been compelling.
What a load of BS….. The panel concludes that ‘all concerned need to face the reality that there are no “pots of gold” in Canberra or Macquarie Street; councils must make better use of their own revenue base, and limited grant funding must be distributed according to needs, not simply numbers of people’.
If this state government put its money into the needs of this area that has over 1.5 million visitors per year and on the increase due to the Lib/Nats allowing mega DAs to be passed that don’t give back to community…. thus local government is placed in an untenable situation. This shire has put forward many ideas to government on how to raise revenue but NO ……. yet we get the largest influx of people, remembering that our rate base is approx 14,000 and our population is approx 35,000 and yet we survive with infrastructure that is inadequate and over utilized. So to Minister Page stand up for your area and start to show your constituents that you care
The Victorian experience has shown that residents have benefited from larger councils due to the increase in the rate base. You only have to look at Byron to see what happens with a small rate base on such things as roads, sewerage,footpaths, cycle lanes, rubish clean up etc.
Lets move forward now to benefit the whole community
Re: your story today Council amalgamations inevitable: report, in which you state: “The Independent Local Government Review Panel’s final Report identifies Byron, Richmond Valley, Clarence Valley and Kyogle shire councils as future amalgamation targets.’’
I’d like to clarify for North Coast readers what the Panel was actually proposing.
While the Panel did recommend the merging of Kyogle with either Richmond Valley or Lismore, we made no such recommendations for Byron or Clarence Valley.
The Panel proposed that those two councils, together with all other councils in the region work as part of two Joint Organisations – Northern Rivers and North Coast.
JOs would be embedded within the system of local government. Local councils would remain the core of the system: they would ‘own’ and resource the JOs.
Selected regional functions would be referred to the JOs which would then work alongside their member councils in performing those tasks.
The State Government’s policy remains no forced amalgamations.
Minister for Local Government
Come to think of it, amalgamations of state governments is a better idea. Too much duplication between Federal and State, with the concomitant issues around legal, education, welfare support, …, as well as the costs of duplication.
Surely the NSW Govt would agree to this given its argument re council mergers?
Bring it on for Byron!!!
Oppose this move with every ounce of energy you have. We went through this in Queensland a few years ago and it is a disaster. A few areas in Queensland have since been allowed to de-amalgamate, the rest of us have been left in the mess. Rates have gone up, services have gone down, the reality is the opposite of what we were told would happen. The smaller council areas were robbed to benefit the new centre.
The only reason I can see for us not being allowed to de-amalgamate is that the new system benefits the CSG miners. Our council, Western Downs Regional Council is pro mining and pro CSG. The amalgamation has made opposing the industry harder, it is impossible for your average ratepayer to campaign against the incumbent councillors, the costs of campaigning have sky rocketed, you need big money now to campaign here, it is the death of democracy at this level of government.
We now have a council that covers an area larger than many countries, that is no longer accountable to any small communities in its region. Fight this people, you won’t believe how many bad things amalgamation will bring you.
Graeme Henderson, Tara, QLD.
Peter Crick has the right idea !!! BC