Council Amalgamation Plan in Doubt Amid Funding Stoush

ABC News

The West Australian Government’s council merger plans are in danger of collapse, with Perth mayors threatening to walk away from the process unless more money is found.

Last week’s state budget set aside $60 million for amalgamations – but $45 million of that is in the form of loans which must be paid back, with interest.

Mayors from several Perth councils met with Local Government Minister Tony Simpson and say they feel betrayed.

The Government wants to halve the number of metropolitan councils from 30 to 15, but the plan has attracted criticism from councils, the Opposition and even government backbenchers.

Hundreds of people rallied outside Parliament House last month in opposition to the mergers, and an alliance of at least eight councils has been formed to fight the plans.

Bassendean Mayor John Gangell said the State Government has not been able to say how much amalgamations will cost.

“[We feel] completely betrayed,” he said.

“Our communities are now going to have to pay for the State Government’s own reform and we’re going to demand the State Government fully fund this process or we’re going to walk away.

“It is a State Government reform and we’ve told him [Mr Simpson] if they do not comply, then local government will look at having no further involvement in the process.”

Serpentine Jarrahdale shire president Keith Ellis says it is unfair.

“You know they said that they were going to fund the money, they’re not funding it, they want us to borrow money to pay for it, and we’re not gonna put up with it, the ratepayers don’t deserve it,” he said.

“And this government is financially broke; Serpentine Jarrahdale, little Serpentine Jarrahdale, we’re debt free! If we’re debt free why can’t they manage it?”

Nationals Downplay Disunity Claims

ABC News

Nationals downplay disunity claims

Nationals MP Shane Love earlier made a speech expressing fears over the plans and sought assurances from the Government that amalgamations would not be forced in the regions.

His remarks drew an angry response from Premier Colin Barnett who insisted there was a strong appetite for amalgamations in both Perth and the regions.

We’re very good partners, I think, with the Liberal Party in Government, but this is a fundamental point to us.
Nationals MP Shane Love
Mr Love said the Nationals had to take a stand, but has downplayed talk of disunity.

“We’re very good partners, I think, with the Liberal Party in Government, but this is a fundamental point to us,” he said.

“We had to take a stand to show our level of deep commitment to the local governments in our regions.

“We wanted to show our level of deep concern about the process going on in local government and the fact there has been noises made by our partners in Government about that process moving into the regions.

“We’re getting the very strong message from our regional areas that that’s unacceptable.”

Local Government Minister Tony Simpson has previously said the withdrawal of National Party support will not affect the handling of the process.

Mr Barnett told Parliament there was a clear need for amalgamations in both Perth and regional areas.

“Look at the area to the north of Kalgoorlie – Menzies, Leonora and so on, are they viable? No,” he said.

“Do they provide extensive services? No. They rely on the Commonwealth and state governments.

“We’re looking for a rational, logical structure for local government.”

No Nationals MPs crossed the floor on a Labor motion to condemn the sale of the TAB.

Nationals Cross the Floor Over Council Mergers

ABC News
By Jacob Kagi
Updated Thu at 11:00amThu 11 Sep 2014, 11:00am

Tensions between the two State Government partners have flared again, with the Nationals crossing the floor to vote with Labor against local government reform.

All six present Nationals MPs sided with the Opposition in the Lower House during debate on a Labor motion to oppose the “forced council amalgamations process in the metropolitan area”.

The Nationals had initially been supportive of the Liberals’ plan to reduce the number of Perth councils, but voted unanimously at their state conference at the weekend to oppose the plans due to fears the regions were next.

Labor MP David Templeman said on the back of the Nationals also voicing opposition to the prospect of privatising the state betting agency, the TAB, there was “chaos” within Government.

“The divisions are getting deeper and deeper,” he said.

“I think it demonstrates that there are some deep-seated problems now in the Government, and the leader of the Nationals and the Premier are now at loggerheads on another issue.

“The National Party siding with the Opposition is a sign of chaos within the Government … this sets up a lot of distrust.”

The Nationals hold seven seats in the Lower House and five in the Upper House. The Liberals hold a majority in the Lower House, without the support of the Nationals.

Rates to Rise Without Extra Merger Cash

ABC News

Angry WA mayors have issued a three-week ultimatum to Premier Colin Barnett to respond to demands for more funds for council amalgamations.

The fight between mayors and the State Government escalated after the recent state budget failed to set aside the significant funding that local governments had been promised to get on with the mergers.

Following a meeting today, local governments say the threat to walk away from the amalgamation process remains, but in the interim they will wage a campaign warning the community that without funding, rates will rise.

“The clock is ticking and we do need a clear decisive response to the State Government on what they plan to do,” West Australia Local Government Association (WALGA) president Troy Pickard said.

“We will be running a metropolitan-wide campaign raising concerns to the West Australian community about the significant cost of reform and that the concern from the sector that they may be exposed to pay for that through their rates.”

But Mr Barnett says that if local councils will not cooperate, the Government will run the amalgamation process without their involvement.

“Well, I hope local government doesn’t do that, but if they were to walk away from the process, the process will go on without them,” he said.

“The State Government will then run the process.”

The state budget allocated $5 million a year for the next three years in grants to assist the process, and on top of that the Government is offering $45 million in low-interest loans to local governments.

But Perth mayors say the funding is nowhere near enough.

WALGA wants $60 million in the coming financial year to fund the merger process.

Kwinana mayor Carol Adams said local MPs would be targeted in the campaign for more Government funding.

“We’re … going to go and speak to our local members to really get their view on it, and to make them understand how much this is going to be hurting their constituency,” she said.