With the state government set to make decisions about the future of local government based on decisions reached by the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal, the Greens say IPART itself is not fit to make the call.
Last week local councils including Kyogle, Clarence Valley and Tweed were declared to have failed the government’s test, as applied by IPART, and told to come up with alternative plans within the month to stave off possible amalgamation.
But Greens local government spokesperson David Shoebridge says the body itself had been saddled with a task it lacked the capacity to perform.
‘IPART is really a financial accounting organisation. Its skillset is to work out the cost of electricity or… cold water. [It doesn’t] have any at all in assessing the fitness of democratic organisations like councils,’ he told ABC radio this morning.
And he has called on the body to show how it went about its assessment.
Mr Shoebridge earlier told media the government had ‘undertaken a bloody-minded political campaign against local democracy and local communities.’
‘IPART’s report found that almost every submission they received from communities and resident groups supported their local council and opposed amalgamations. This democratic feedback was ignored by IPART,’ he said in a media release
‘The entire IPART assessment process was designed as little more than a rubber stamp for the government’s ‘bigger is better’ ideological agenda to bully local councils into amalgamations.
‘IPART did not look at the democratic responsibility of councils and failed undertake any proper engagement with the residents of communities impacted by proposed amalgamations.
‘The fact that the government took less than two business days to ‘consider’ IPART’s report shows just how perfunctory the entire assessment process was.
‘IPART was put in a strait-jacket that forced them to fail almost every financially sustainable council because they refused to merge. They refused to merge because they listened to their residents.
‘Councils didn’t fail IPART’s ridiculous test because of financial reasons, they failed to meet government’s ill-defined and discretionary test of ‘scale and capacity.’
‘With more than 50 regional and rural councils facing the chopping block, there are many smaller towns and communities across the State who will be rightly concerned at the loss of essential and steady local council jobs.
‘In much of regional and rural NSW, keeping council jobs can mean all the difference between keeping teachers, banks and other essential services in local communities.
Mr Shoebridge said the government would have a difficult time getting its bill through the upper house.
The premier can abuse and bully councils all he likes but at the end of the day he doesn’t have the numbers to forced unpopular amalgamations through the NSW Parliament.
‘The Greens will continue to stand with local councils in their campaign to strengthen local democracy and keep local government genuinely local,’ Mr Shoebridge said.
*An earlier version of this story said Richmond Valley was not found Fit for the Future. That comment was incorrect and has been removed.