Time To Scrap WALGA And Start Again

Originally posted by Ian Ker on his Vincent Blogspot – 11 November 2014

Time and time again, during this chaotic and drawn-out so-called reform process, WALGA has embarrassed itself and the local government sector by not adequately reflecting the views of local Councils. We shall probably never know the extent to which this is the result of Troy Pickard’s imposing himself on the organisation, but it is clear that any supposedly representative organisation that doesn’t reflect the diversity of views held by its members is not serving their interests.

WALGA has consistently supported the amalgamation thrust without acknowledging that many of its members oppose it.

Of late, WALGA pronouncements appear to align more with the state government and keeping its process on track than on making sure the outcome is sensible and supported. It almost seems as though the apparent chastisement of the state government for providing inadequate funding for the process is a smoke-screen to draw attention away from WALGA’s sycophancy.

The WALGA model, with zones and State Council, is yet another example of systematic concentration of power at the expense of diversity and democracy.

Each Council is part of a WALGA Zone. Each zone considers an issue and ‘instructs’ its delegates to State Council, where WALGA policy is determined.

It is easy to see how this model can lead to perverse or undemocratic outcomes. In the case of local government so-called reform, the western suburbs councils and Vincent are all but one of the members of the Central Zone (the other being the City of Perth). The Central Zone, therefore, might be expected to have a large majority view against amalgamations.

Other metropolitan zones are likely to be more evenly split between potential ‘winners’ and ‘losers’.

So we can easily have a majority of zones, but a minority of councils, in favour of amalgamations.

Perhaps scrapping WALGA would be a step too far, although the City of Nedlands seems to be faring quite well without it, but it clearly needs to change and become more representative of the diversity of views held by its members.

In the case of local government reform, I wonder how long it will take for the representatives of non-metropolitan councils to catch up with the admirable and realistic position adopted by the National Party.

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Perth council mergers: Principal argument rejected by court as protesters rally

ABC News Updated 1 minute ago Tue 25 Nov 2014, 3:56pm

Perth councils have been forced to abandon one of their principal grounds for a Supreme Court challenge to the Western Australian Government’s mergers plan.

Several councils including Subiaco, South Perth and Serpentine-Jarrahdale, claim the Government’s plan to cut Perth councils from 30 to 16 is invalid because it does not comply with the Local Government Act.

The lawyer representing the councils, Chris Shanahan, said the action was about the process and the way Local Government Minister Tony Simpson sought permission to go through with the mergers.

He argued in court that Mr Simpson had initially made the “artificial” decision to split the plan into 12 pieces to avoid giving electors the right to vote on the changes.

But after legal argument with Chief Justice Wayne Martin, Mr Shanahan conceded this did not apply to his clients because the Local Government Advisory Board had not accepted most of Mr Simpson’s proposals, and he abandoned the argument.

Mr Shanahan also claimed there was proof of extensive bias by the board’s chair, Mel Congerton, and other members in favour of the merger plans.

He revealed an email by Mr Congerton sent in July 2013.

“Let the minister know that he’s doing a great job in the trenches,” Mr Congerton purportedly wrote.

“In the words of Churchill – we will prevail.”

Justice Martin questioned whether this was relevant given it was not until later that year that the Minister announced his proposals for council mergers.

Mr Shanahan also outlined an email to Premier Colin Barnett’s by Mr Congerton where he expressed an interest in becoming a local government commissioner, as previously revealed by the ABC.

“That might give rise to a reasonable apprehension of bias,” Mr Shanahan said.

He also said meetings by board members with Mr Simpson and the involvement by Local Government Department members in the board’s deliberations pointed to bias.

That argument was rejected by the lawyer representing the State Government, Craig Bydder.

He said if the board had been doing the Government’s bidding it would have gone along with its wish for a greater City of Perth, including the University of Western Australia, QEII hospital and Kings Park.

Mr Bydder agreed with Justice Martin that the most which could be said was Mr Congerton was generally supportive of the council merger plan.

Mr Shanahan also suggested local governments and electors should have been allowed to make their own proposals for boundary changes before the Local Government Advisory Board made its recommendations to Government.

Protesters carry ‘Coffin of Democracy’

ABC News 25 November 2014

Prior to the hearing protesters carried what they called the “coffin of democracy” from the Concert Hall along St Georges Terrace to the front steps of the court.

Save Kalamunda Shire Action Group convenor Alan Malcolm was among the 30 protesters who accompanied the fake coffin in a mock funeral procession.

Alan Malcolm Save Kalamunda Action Group
PHOTO: Alan Malcolm from the Save Kalamunda Shire Action Group, dressed as an undertaker for today’s protest against the process of merging councils. (ABC News: Natasha Harradine)
He said the forced amalgamations were undemocratic.

“We believe the Government has sought throughout this entire process to deny people their democratic right to vote on forced amalgamations, first of all by seeking to remove the Dadour provision from the Local Government Act and then by making these forced mergers,” he said.

Mr Malcolm also criticised Mr Barnett’s move to force the mergers.

“We believe he’s burying the democratic process and this is a symbolic attempt to highlight that they are, in fact, burying democracy,” he said.

“Democracy is not something political, it’s the bedrock, the foundation of the entire political system.

“It’s about asking or demanding our democratic right to vote on something we believe we should be entitled to have a democratic vote on, that is the forced amalgamations or mergers of most of, or nearly all the cities, shires and councils within the Perth metropolitan area.”

The State Government last month rejected the Local Government Advisory Board’s recommendation for merging the five western suburbs councils of Peppermint Grove, Claremont, Nedlands, Mosman Park and Cottesloe into one.

The Premier made it clear the Government still planned to move on the western suburbs merger at some point, but refused to explain how it would achieve that.

There are provisions in the Local Government Act for ratepayers to have a vote over planned mergers through what is called as a Dadour poll.

But because some mergers were being done through a boundary adjustment rather than an amalgamation, not all residents will have a say, which sparked claims that the process is undemocratic.

Mayors predicted rates would have to increase to pay for the Government’s plans after it only allocated $60 million for the merger process.

Of that sum, $45 million was in the form of loans.