Not too late to get local government reform back on track

Yesterday I appeared at the final hearing of the Legislative Council Inquiry into Local Government.

The Inquiry may be our last opportunity to get the process of worthwhile local government reform back on track, given the possibility the Government may abandon its "Fit for the Future" process and sack all councils before embarking on a series of forced amalgamations.

The NSW Government wants to create a mega-council.

The NSW Government wants to create a mega-council.

We need a 21st century system of local government and planning in New South Wales but the Government's obsession with amalgamations has overshadowed more significant and generally supported recommendations for reform.

The Sydney Metropolitan Mayors - an organisation of 24 inner and outer urban Sydney metropolitan councils representing more than two million residents - supports the majority of reforms in Revitalising Local Government, the final report of the Independent Local Government Review Panel.

The most important recommendations relate to the financial sustainability of local government and improving the relationship between local and state government. The report talked about a "legacy of distrust" and suggests there is a need to establish a mature relationship based on shared information, negotiation and collaborative planning.

Sydney Metropolitan Mayors proposed the Government establish four implementation working groups that would cover the key priority areas for local government reform: Financial Sustainability, Collaboration and Coordination, Governance and Continuous Improvement.

These working groups would have included State Government representatives, elected officials, experienced local professionals and technical experts. They would have been action oriented, enabling cooperative work to proceed with a focus on quick implementation where possible, while working to build consensus on other issues and developing alternative approaches where necessary.

This approach would have seen local government reform proceeding in a coherent, comprehensive and collaborative way.

The Fit for the Future process seems to be aimed at reducing the number of local councils in NSW - not at making them more efficient. We know this because the Government has not produced evidence amalgamations lead to greater efficiency or financial outcomes.

It is not too late to change course and tackle this much needed reform in a coherent, comprehensive and collaborative way. By working cooperatively we can progress toward worthwhile local government reform.

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