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The Forum > Article Comments > The 'visionary' council mergers leave many out in the cold > Comments

The 'visionary' council mergers leave many out in the cold : Comments

By Ben Rees, published 1/8/2007

Queensland's new council mergers are a statistical mess for a 'visionary' political system aiming to deliver equitable and just representation.

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Diminished representation is indeed a big issue, but that's just the tip of the iceberg of what is wrong with these reforms.
I've been examining the situation quite closely, and I've been getting steadily more alarmed.

For starters, the 'cost-saving' reasoning behind these mergers is seriously flawed and the State has been misleading on a number of key areas.
The PriceWaterHouse Coopers report that the State has been using to justify the statement "43 per cent figure of QLD councils are distressed (read the report, it actually states thier 100 council analysis found 10-30 per cent in their findings Australia wide, which is broadly near state-based 43 per cent reports... the point is, according to the report it could be as low as 10 per cent).

More importantly, this report doesn't mention amalgamation anywhere in its recommendations, only that other states have achieved some efficiency gains through it. In the recommendations, it does speak of economies of scale, but recommends sharing of services and state purchasing policies.

Here's a section the State's been quiet on:

"Amalgamating these small rural councils, while improving the general financial health of councils, will not be a panacea to the ongoing structural concerns facing these councils. Hence, any amalgamation must be accompanied by other reforms to increase efficiency and effectiveness."

What other reforms?

Anyone can quote reports - fair enough. But this is the report the State is using to justify this? Where is the report which says we should charge ahead with amalgamations if this is the one?

The situation gets worse... there aren't reports that say amalgamation is a good idea, though there is a report, commissioned by the Federal Government three years ago - the Hawker Report, which points out that local government's financial problems are caused by cost shifting from upper levels of government - mainly the state.

It states that councils have been getting less money every year for 20 years, but asked to do more. This is the problem, it points out.

I'm open to being persuaded, but all the evidence points to this being a catastrophically stupid idea.
Posted by TurnRightThenLeft, Wednesday, 1 August 2007 9:46:37 AM
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I have no idea of the most effective size for municipalities in Queensland, though the figures quoted for the Dalby Regional Council suggest tiny municipalities are being amalgamated to form a new one that is still very sparsely populated.

The argument about representation assumes that people should choose their representatives on the basis of where they live, when they may wish to choose them on the basis of what they stand for. If a council has a small number of members, say fewer than 12, it should be undivided and elected by proportional representation. If the voters in one area think that someone from their area is the best choice they can vote to elect that person. If they do not care where the candidate lives but want to support particular policies they can vote that way. If they do not want political parties on their councils, they can vote that way. If councils end up with political parties on them, it will be because the voters have so chosen. An undivided council electorate does not end local representation if the locals want to keep it.
Posted by Chris C, Wednesday, 1 August 2007 10:18:25 AM
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As a ratepayer in a relatively small 'undivided' shire in rural southern Queensland, I currently have firsthand experience of how representation can become geographically focused around the main population centre of the shire - to the detriment (or perceived detriment) of those residents who live in the geographical or demographic outskirts of the existing shire.

This situation will only be exacerbated if and when the administrative centre of the proposed local authority is shifted to the much larger town 100km away. As I understand it, there are no wards or divisions proposed, and this combined with the radical reduction in the number of representatives for the 'region' can only mean a severe diminution of effective democracy.

City-dwellers often have little appreciation of the ways that rural communities work, and this exercise by the Beattie government seems to me to be an example of the SE Queensland-centric nature of the Qld government. Combined with the absence of an effective political Opposition in Qld, it appears that these centralist, community-crushing reforms will be steamrollered through.

I understand that there's a protest march planned for Friday, starting from the Southbank. Unfortunately, I live 300km away so I can't attend.
Posted by CJ Morgan, Wednesday, 1 August 2007 10:55:37 AM
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I strongly urge the people of Queensland to resist the amalgamation process with as much might as you can muster. I've lived first hand through the Kennett years and his Howard like arrogance in amalgamation of Victorian Shires.
My little Shire which was well serviced and financially buoyant until dissolved into a greater shire under Kennett's amalgamation process. Now, smaller areas and townships, who were perfectly happy under the old shire, have to contend with major abuses of power. We have ever upward rate rises and commercial projects thrust on us and totally unwanted by residents of the smaller townships, but of great value to commercial developers.
We have little say in these processes since council meetings are held in out of the way places and at times when most people are struggling to make a living. The council is close to a major center which is attracting massive growth. Rates in the immediate area have skyrocketed, despite the council stating they have the lowest rates in Victoria. Those same rate rises have been passed onto properties in outlying areas to compensate for the massive spending the shire undertakes to attract even more people so it can open even greater areas to corrupt developers. Meanwhile, residents in outlying areas continue to put up with sub-standard roads and have to book a grader to quickly run over the maze of dirt tracks which service homes while the shire's main center enjoys the very best of everything at the expense of outlying areas.

Amalgamation in Victoria, well at least in my district, has been devastating. Our lovely little shire lost it's identity during this process as well as it's independence. Vote "NO" to amalgamation!
Posted by Aime, Wednesday, 1 August 2007 11:17:34 AM
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I suspect we're in a similar area CJ. And yes, there's a protest march from Southbank, I'm pretty sure it starts at 11am.

You're right about the process being pushed though.

Four things point to a pretty arrogant way of doing this...

1) Claim that opposition to this process is just the National Party and Councils, but refuse to release your own polling results or methodology.

2) Ban Councils from holding referenda because of the cost, and threaten to sack any mayors who do so.

3) Yet decide it's okay to spend $1.5 million on an ad campaign to plug the process.

4) Hold no consultation, aside from a seven member commission that only has about four months to wade through tens of thousands of submissions, then on the recommendations being released, give less than two months before ramming it through parliament.

It hardly inspires confidence that the process is taking into account other points of view...
Posted by TurnRightThenLeft, Wednesday, 1 August 2007 1:09:47 PM
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The states are past masters at beating up local government. Restucturing our broken 3-tier system of government is the real problem we need to fix in Australia.

The Convenor of Beyond Federation, Mark Drummond, wrote an excellent article to members about the Queensland mergers. He said: 'Local government amalgamations have occurred in Australia over recent years largely because local governments represent the level of least resistance in the government structure reform landscape. Local governments, the ACT and NT do not have the same constitutional protection as the States.

The States can see change is needed, but won't support much at their level, so it all falls to local government to come up with the financial efficiencies and improvements generally through amalgamations.

State governments have used this local government reform approach to distract attention away from vastly more meritorious reforms at the Commonwealth and State levels. So it's been a sort of delaying tactic.

The States know they're endangered species in their current form. The problem with this local government reform emphasis - generally centred on amalgamations - is that local governments in Australia account for less than 7% of total government expenditure.

The vast majority of efficiency gaining potential and improvement potential generally is at the Commonwealth and State levels accounting for the other 93% of total government expenditure,
and the interface between Commonwealth and State levels.

The amalgamations that I'd like to see are those between the Commonwealth, State and Territory governments that would produce a single national government.

I'm not a supporter of most of these QLD amalgamations, nor of forced amalgamations generally, and DO support the idea of allowing people in their own local areas to hold referendums on these types of issues.'

An Australian Local Government Act repealing State Acts, is what's needed for Australia. Under this arrangement, funding for roads, flood mitigation, and local infrastructure would go directly to local government.

The 'Roads to Recovery' program does this brilliantly and should be extended to enhance community pride and well-being. Spare us from the highly disruptive premier stunts that deflect attention from the real reform agenda.
Posted by Quick response, Thursday, 2 August 2007 3:14:35 PM
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