By Anita McInnes
JUST days after waving a white flag to local governments involved in the State Government’s amalgamation reform process the Premier Colin Barnett says the process is delayed not abandoned.
On Tuesday, February 17 Mr Barnett said the government had put its local government reform agenda on hold, with Governor’s orders for boundary adjustments not supported by the councils involved to be revoked.
Mr Barnett said boundary adjustments for 15 metropolitan councils would only proceed if affected councils provided a council resolution in support of it.
“The onus of achieving the many benefits of a modern, streamlined and efficient system of local government now rests with the councils themselves,” he said.
“We will work with those councils that wish to continue on the reform path, or who have proposals for alternative mergers they wish to consider.
“Any financial contribution to this process will only be considered in the case of a merger.”
The next day the Western Australian Local Government Association said it was still vital for a clear vision for the future of local government despite the government’s announcement it would step away from many aspects of its reform process.
President Troy Pickard said while many councils would welcome rescinding requirements for boundary adjustments, sector reform would continue and a combined vision with state support was still needed to achieve that.
“Revoking the Governor’s orders is a good first step but much more work will still need to be done,” he said.
“Moving focus away from the boundaries and mergers provides us with an opportunity for state and local government to work in a true partnership towards an outcome we can be confident will be beneficial to the metropolitan community.”
Mayor Pickard said many councils had incurred significant costs in preparing to implement the Governor’s orders and it was fair to expect some of those costs to be reimbursed.
“The majority of councils’ costs incurred were in preparing to implement the Governor’s orders with additional staff or equipment sourced to meet expanded or differing responsibilities.
“We consider that expenditure in pursuit of the state’s reform implementation strategies was appropriate and will support councils in seeking recompense for those costs.”
Local Government Minister Tony Simpson said the government started down the path of reform at the request of the local government sector after successive reports questioned the financial sustainability of many small councils.
“They asked us to show leadership on this issue; we’ve done that but accept that some councils refuse to move forward,’’ he said.
“The ball is now in their court.’’
Opposition Leader Mark McGowan said based on State Budget papers and other information more than $40 million had been wasted on the amalgamation process.
“Budget papers show the failed plan has cost WA taxpayers at least $21.3m over five years,’’ he said.
“This is in addition to the spending of existing funds within the Department of Local Government for council mergers.
“Recent media reports put the cost to council ratepayers at around $20m plus the cost of tens of thousands of hours in council staff time.’’