Amalgamation and the Western Suburbs

The dangers from Council Amalgamation are complex and interrelated.   At the highest level there is the role of local governments and their constitutional status, at the lowest level is the myriad of ways we relate to them and our suburb.   As with any complex matter it’s valuable to consider the elements of the problem separately.

Constitution

The WA Constitution says that the legislature (Parliament; by passing law) has the power to constitute local governments.   However, despite the Liberal Party having a majority in both houses, Parliament has refused to consider changes to the law sought by the Barnett Government that would allow it to re-constitute metropolitan local governments.

The Government of the day answers to the people, as do local governments, it is very significant for a WA Government to attempt to circumvent the law.   Respect for the law and the ultimate sovereignty of the people is a fundamental, it should be beyond question.

 Political System

Local government is closest to the people and thus plays an important role in fostering engagement with the broader political system.   People entering politics frequently begin by serving in local government where they learn procedures and gain relevant skills.   This factor is particularly relevant now because both Liberals and Labor have experienced decades of falling memberships leaving them collectively with less than one half of one percent of Australians as members.   This is inadequate as a talent pool for policy formulation or candidate selection.   It is also about a tenth of the number needed to be credibly representative.

Justification

It is a responsibility of Cabinet to scrutinise the actions of government and this means doing the due diligence on planning. Not only has the Government failed to economically justify, it has refused to fund the proposed changes and has ignored expert assessment of similar ideologically driven amalgamations done in other states. Assessments have shown that amalgamations that are not sought by locals fail to meet objectives and increase rather than decrease costs.

Misrepresentation

Before the last election Mr Barnett promised there would be no forced amalgamations.   Minister Simpson promised the Government would fund almalgamations if they were sought.   Further, after the state elections councils were misled into believing that they could be legally forced to amalgamate.

Before the last election the Government commissioned a report from professors Robson and Tannock. This report was claimed by the Minister for Local Government to justify a reduction in councils but, in fact, the terms of reference dictated by the Government were couched only to show how a reduction could be achieved.  The financial viability of amalgamations of councils was not addressed in the Robson Report.

Sense of place and belonging

At the top of the list of considerations that need to be taken into account under the law in relation to proposals to change the borders of a local government is community of interest. The law is common sense because it is self evident that people feel a sense of belonging and perhaps pride about where they live.   To many, probably most, where they live is a major part of their identity. It is part of what people expect to be fostered by their government.

Small tightly knit local communities are a source of strength to a nation, just  like families and sporting teams. Even if an economic argument could be made for the amalgamations the Government wants, forcing them on people is a gross miscalculation on the place of a government to it’s master, the people.

 

 

 

 

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WSA Circular to members

Hello to all our members and supporters.

Although it is a while since we last contacted you, it is now time to consider the future activities of Western Suburbs Alliance (WSA). WSA was originally formed to “Represent the interests of, and provide information on planning and local government amalgamation issues to residents and ratepayers” of the Western Suburbs and to support various independent candidates, and what they stood for, at the 2013 State elections.

We now find ourselves with a different problem and WSA is in a strong position to promote our opposition to the Premier’s new political stance. As you are aware the Barnett government has gone back on its election promise of “no forced local government amalgamations” and is now proceeding to force council amalgamations on the Western Australian communities within the greater metropolitan area.

To justify this stance the Premier and the Minister for Local Government have decreed that what they are now planning is simply a matter of boundary changes and therefore cannot be seen as local government amalgamations. We see this as arrogant duplicity and a direct about face from what was, we believe, a very firm election commitment a little over 12 months ago not to force such amalgamations.

Whilst we do not believe we are able to oppose this high handed approach by Premier Barnett and Minister Simpson in the greater metropolitan area, we do believe that WSA is the ideal group to specifically oppose such a push by the Premier for amalgamation of Western Suburbs councils. This is because even the Premier cannot argue that an amalgamation of seven western suburbs councils cannot simply be seen as boundary changes but must be recognised as amalgamation of such into a Group of 7 (G7) or a Group of 5 (G5).

It is our intention to utilise WSA to embark on a fundraising drive to enable us to raise sufficient funds to enter into an advertising drive to educate the public about this dishonesty. We will endeavour to force the Premier to resolve the future local government status of the Western Suburbs by ensuring that the public are able to vote on the matter of local government amalgamations through a general poll of all western suburbs ratepayers.

Such a poll would be required to be conducted in accordance with the “Dadour provisions” of the Local Government Act. Those provisions require, in any Local Government area, that 50% of all electors must turnout at a Poll to vote on the future of their Local Government and that if 50% +1 of those required to vote oppose the suggested new regime for any particular Local Government within the Western Suburbs then the proposed amalgamation of the Western Suburbs Councils cannot proceed.

We believe that such a poll would easily defeat the forced amalgamation issue in the Western Suburbs and that our Local Government Councils will then be able to continue, as they are at present, to serve their ratepayers with the same level of service and efficiency as has been the case in the past. In this manner massive additional costs will be avoided and relevant building by-laws will continue to serve the public interest (not just property developers) as has been the case in the past.

As mentioned previously, such opposition by us will require both manpower and financial support. May we, therefore, sincerely request your help. If you are able to help with letterbox deliveries in your area please contact us by using our email address as shown below. More importantly, your monetary assistance by joining or renewing your membership of Western Suburbs Alliance would be of great assistance to us.

Finally we would also ask that you do not hesitate to contact us with suggestions.

With best wishes,

Ken Eastwood

Western Suburbs Alliance Inc.

Thursday 28th August 2014