NSW local government minister Paul Toole must unequivocally rule out council sackings and forced amalgamations under Fit for the Future reforms when he appears before a parliamentary inquiry taking place in Wagga this afternoon, Local Government NSW (LGNSW) said today.
LGNSW President Keith Rhoades was speaking ahead of the first regional sittings of an upper house inquiry into local government reform, which will today hold hearings in western NSW and the Riverina.
Minister Toole was yesterday forced to deny that he has a plan to sack all local governments ahead of next year’s planned council elections and forcibly amalgamate many of them before new elections are called.
The supposed plan, which echoes former Victorian premier Jeff Kennett’s notorious sacking of all of Victoria’s 210 councils in 1994, reducing them to just 78, was headline news in yesterday’s Sunday Telegraph.
The newspaper claimed, ‘Mr Toole has been instructed to prepare a formal cabinet submission on the proposal for consideration.’
Some of the council areas would have a land area the size of Tasmania, the article claimed.
‘If cabinet agrees to the plan, the government will face the daunting task of winning support in the NSW parliament for the legislative changes needed for the mergers amid a likely revolt by councils across the state,’ the newspaper claimed.
Mr Rhoades, says he has since been told by minister Toole that there is no truth to the Murdoch press rumour but he has called on the minister to ‘come clean’ today.
“He’s dodged the question for months now, but this is a real opportunity for the Minister to finally come completely clean,” Cr Rhoades said.
‘He needs to reassure communities across this State that the Baird Government will not move to crush grassroots democracy by sacking Councils and appointing administrators, as reported in yesterday’s media – either before or after IPART completes its review.”
Nervousness at the prospect was exacerbated by the launch on the weekend of a state government TV advertising campaign supporting amalgamations.
While Mr Rhoades admitted he hadn’t seen the commercial, he told ABC radio this morning, ‘I’ll look forward to see what the content is, to see how much spin is in there because one of the things that has come out of government over recent times is some commentary that bigger councils and forced amalgamations will drive down rates.’
Mr Rhoades added that where forced amalgamations had take place in other states, ‘there is simply no proof whatsoever that rates were driven down.’
Bigger councils cost more
Yesterday Mr Rhoades said in a media statement that ‘after the 2008 Queensland amalgamations, total council rate revenue in that state grew by 27.4 per cent, compared to NSW growth of 13.4 per cent over the same period.
‘The commonwealth’s most recent Local Government National Report shows Victorian council rates average $692 per capita compared to $499 in NSW – a difference of nearly 40 per cent.’
He added that the proposal would ‘ignore statistically valid polling that showed less than one in five Sydney residents supported the merger of their council.
‘The polling, carried out over the past four months by respected market researchers Micromex, found 85 per cent supported their Council standing alone, and more than 60 per cent actually selected the stand alone option as their first preference.
‘Less than one in five – just 18 per cent – supported the Government’s proposal to create Mega Councils.’
Cr Rhoades said the polling used a sample size some five times greater than used in regular political polling, and showed the government was wrong to claim a mandate to force mergers