POLL DAY 7th February 2015 – IS IT GOING TO BE VIC PARK OR SOUTH PARK?

From “The Maxwell Fish & Chip Wrapper” January 2015 Written by Victoria Park Councillor Vince Maxwell

This is a rare and unusual event and it was only through the hard work by a few residents of the Town that has made it possible for you to have a say. The outcome of this poll is binding on the State Government under the Local Government Act. Many people who live in the Town have migrated from countries where democracy either doesn’t exist or is abused by those in power. Democracy is a fragile thing and needs to be protected. This has been demonstrated in the past where our predecessors were prepared to fight and some gave their lives to ensure we have the freedom we enjoy today – We cannot take it for granted – let our governments at all levels know that we want to maintain our democratic rights by participating in this poll. Politics is the science of living together – although some let the power and responsibility go to their heads, it is no reason for us to sit idly by. We must ensure that our democracy remains strong and not allow any one person on a power trip take it away from us. The ballot package that you have received from the Australian Electoral Commission contains an information sheet that lists the for and against arguments for an amalgamation. This information was provided by the Local Government Advisory Board (LGAB). Unfortunately the arguments put forward are very simplistic opinions that are not supported by evidence.

One argument is that the Town will be more sustainable – however the WA treasuries modelling that was used by the LGAB demonstrates the opposite. The Treasuries own figures show that the Towns current rating of 70, which incidentally is the Ministers preferred minimum level, will drop to 68 upon amalgamation with South Perth. In the future a modest improvement is shown but, like forecasting the weather, the further into the future you look the less accurate the prediction. Conclusion: this claim is unsubstantiated.

Another argument is that a larger local government can employ more expensive staff but is that what we need? The CEO of Victoria Park already earns in excess of $240,000 and senior staff receive over $170,000. Larger Councils automatically pay these staff at a higher rate as this is determined by the State salaries and remuneration tribunal – it is not a free market. The pay scales are set and there is minimal range within each band to pay someone more or less to match their capability. The range is determined by the size of the Local Government. For example larger Councils like Canning and Wanneroo have almost twice as many senior staff and the total Senior staff wages bill is almost double indicating that little will be saved by forming a larger Council. No cost benefit analysis has been done by the State Government or the Town. We are sailing into unknown territory.

Professor of economics and Director of the UNE Centre for Local Government, Brian Dollery, in correspondence with me stated that he agreed with my calculation of the likely costs and concluded by writing “It seems to me that many Perth councils are sleepwalking towards big financial problems stemming from amalgamation.” Former secretary to the NSW Treasury, Professor Percy Allan (AM), in a presentation in October to the Committee for economic development of Australia (CEDA) reported that Local Governments in Australia were quite large by world standards averaging more than 40,000 residents compared to USA 7,981 and the European Union 5,693. Post amalgamation a number of Perth Councils will be over 100,000 residents! 12.5 times the average in USA & 17.6 times the EU! His report continues ….Yet, researchers both here and abroad have found that larger councils do not exhibit lower unit costs of servicing than smaller ones. It has been found that some council functions are done best on a large scale while other tasks are performed better on a small scale. “Smaller units are the most democratic and participative, and also the most efficient.”

Amalgamations in every other jurisdiction in Australia have resulted in higher rates, reduced services, and less representation. If for some reason it was to be different in Perth then the Government has failed to show how. The State government has not provided any financial modelling.

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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.

Ratepayers head to WA Parliament to demand say on council mergers

By Jessica Strutt
Posted yesterday at 6:23pmTue 18 Nov 2014, 6:23pm

Ratepayers converge on WA Parliament Ratepayers have taken their petitions opposing the council merger process to Parliament. (ABC News: Jessica Strutt)

Ratepayers have converged on Western Australia’s Parliament to present petitions demanding a say on planned council mergers.

The Government is slashing the number of councils in metropolitan Perth from 30 to 16, but only residents in six council areas will be able to vote on the mergers.

A combination of amalgamations and boundary adjustments is being used to cut the number of councils.

Only councils being amalgamated get to vote on the process, but the Government has refused to explain on what basis it was decided which councils will be merged using boundary adjustments, and which will be joined using amalgamations.

Residents in a number of disaffected local governments have organised petitions with thousands of signatures demanding the right to hold a Dadour poll.

Save Serpentine Jarrahdale group’s Jackie Dines said her group had attracted 500 signatures from local residents in one week.

“In the community nobody wants to see their local government area be renamed,” she said.

“At the very least give us our democratic right to have a vote on what happens, [but] they’re not doing that.”

Opposition Leader Mark McGowan accepted the petitions outside Parliament after Local Government Minister Tony Simpson refused to do so.

Mr McGowan said the Government’s process was “a dog’s breakfast” and was disempowering ratepayers.

“The Government has ignored community views and wishes,” he said.

“This is the Premier and the Liberal Party running roughshod over local communities.

“We live in a democratic state and the Premier and the Liberal Party are ignoring basic democratic principles and that’s pretty shameful.”

Quizzed about whether he would grant ratepayers in all local governments access to a poll, Premier Colin Barnett indicated he would not.

“That’s not the law, and what we have said is we have accepted the recommendation as to the structure of local government,” he said.

“We will proceed progressively one by one and I think in time, most local governments will agree.

“This is some sort of rearguard action to stop a modern, functional system of local government for younger generations and generations to follow.”

Residents in the City of Kwinana, which the Government plans to merge with the City of Cockburn, are entitled to vote because their local government is being amalgamated.

At a special meeting today, Kwinana Council voted unanimously to support its community to hold a poll on the proposed amalgamation.

Kwinana Mayor Carol Adams said the decision was made after about 500 signatures were collected in favour of residents having access to a poll.

She estimated the cost to ratepayers of the poll would be $50,000.

“We resolved it’s not in the best overall interest of the Kwinana community that we amalgamate because of the high transition costs, no additional funding on offer from the Government and no ward representation,” she said.