Unity key to advancing our region - By MARTIN GILMOUR
Reproduction from The Examiner Sunday, 28 April 2013
COUNCIL amalgamations always arouse strong emotions.
When you have 29 councils for 500,000 people in Tasmania, there are plenty of paid councillors and aldermen prepared to defend their turf.
The state government's position is similar on council amalgamations to school closures - happy for it to happen but avoid the backlash at all costs.
It was interesting to read in the past week that the New South Wales government had taken a proactive and "generational" approach to local government reform. A report by the Independent Local Government Review Panel into NSW's 152 councils concluded that Sydney's 43 councils should be merged into 15 "super councils" - some with up to 800,000 residents.
The Sydney Morning Herald reported that the panel's chairman, Graham Sansom, said that resistance to the changes would mean "the quality and relevance of local government in NSW will inevitably decline".
On the flip side is the inevitable fear campaign about cuts to services and the community losing its voice.
One cannot help but look at Launceston and the Tamar Valley and see the opportunities.
Imagine one council region stretching from the airport to Bell Bay and encompassing the feeder communities that use Launceston as a regional hub.
At the moment four councils have claims to parts of this broader Tamar Valley region and all have varying views on how it should prosper and develop.
We have the ridiculous situation where some people live at Trevallyn with views of the CBD but are part of West Tamar and are governed by different rules.
Most surveys and anecdotal evidence support a rationalisation of councils. Most agree that we are overgoverned but perhaps we are overgoverned in the wrong areas.
In NSW they plan to use a significant "carrot and stick" incentive scheme to get the rationalisation moving from July 2014.
Perhaps the reason for Tasmania's unwillingness to pursue some sensible reform in this area can be found in the proposal by local government to be officially recognised in the Australian Constitution by way of a referendum question at the next federal election.
The move is designed to legitimise direct funding from the federal government to regional councils, bypassing state governments and bureaucrats.
No wonder Premier Lara Giddings has written to the Australian Local Government Association saying that her government would not support the move. This is where Northern Tasmania must recognise its opportunities.
With a new Tamar Valley Council or Greater Launceston Council, there would be enormous bargaining power with the feds. If Northern councils could combine into one team, we would be an irresistible force to advance this region, which is largely ignored by a Hobart-centric administration.
Southern Tasmanians support greater Hobart Council
An independent survey of southern Tasmanian ratepayers has found a clear majority support a proposal to create a Greater Hobart Council.
The news comes as a meeting by the Southern Tasmanian Councils Authority has been called to consider the findings of a $300,000 taxpayer and ratepayer funded report which recommended the merging of Hobart, Glenorchy, Brighton, Kingborough and parts of Clarence.
While most Councils involved have agreed they need to merge, none have come out in support of taking action on recommendations put in a $300,000 ratepayer and taxpayer funded report put forward by one of the nations most respected economists Saul Eslake, along with long term local government managers, Jude Munro and Stephen Hains.
When asked if they supported a Southern Tasmanian Councils Authority report that called for the creation of a Greater Hobart Council, some 65 per cent of respondents agreed, while only 22 per cent rejected the notion and a further 13 per cent said they were unsure.
Furthermore, some 69 per cent of people asked believed there would be savings provided by Council mergers, while 19 per cent said there would not be savings and some 11 per cent said they were unsure.
Tasmanians for Reform spokeswoman Mary Massina said Premier Giddings indicated she would be guided by local government on reform.
"Now with a majority of people and councils in the south supporting mergers, the time has come to show leadership and do something about it," Ms Massina said.
"Only recently the State Government has announced the merger of Transend with Aurora and before that it was the creation of a single water corporation and in both cases the millions of dollars of savings was sighted as the reason for this to occur.
"If the Premier was unwilling to act, she should explain to the Tasmanian community why their rates and charges continue to spiral upwards at over eight per cent each year despite council's own report which shows savings of 15 per cent in service delivery alone."
Welcome to Tasmanians for Reform
Better services, better infrastructure and cheaper rates
Did you know Tasmania currently has 29 councils and 281 councillors for a population of just 506,000? It is hard to believe in this day and age, with the internet connecting us globally in seconds and a road network that links every corner of the State, that we still have so many councils.
While there may have been a day when it was appropriate to have a mayor in every town, we think the days of local government boundaries being set on the basis of a day's horse ride from one community to another should be behind us.
This is why Tasmanians for Reform are calling for local government reform through council mergers.
We want the community to join us - so if you support our cause click here to like us on Facebook or follow us on twitter @tas4reform and join in the conversation on twitter using the hashtag #lgreform.
When the Property Council of Australia asked one of the nation's most respected economic commentators, Deloitte Access Economics, to provide us an idea of what council reform could mean for Tasmania, they responded by revealing up to 35 per cent in efficiencies could be saved from reform if implemented properly.
That would mean an annual saving of $110 million in the south of the state alone, resulting in more money for better services, more money for better infrastructure or siginificant savings on our rates bills.
To read the full report and learn the facts for yourself click here.
We also asked the Tasmanian community what they thought of the idea of council reform in two separate polls conducted in May and November last year. The results were compelling. According to the November survey of 1,000 people undertaken by Enterprise Marketing and Research (EMRS):
- 73 per cent of Tasmanains believed there was a need for council mergers;
- 79 per cent of Tasmanians believed 281 councillors was too many; and,
- 75 per cent of Tasmanians said if there were savings from mergers, they would support them.