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.

Peppermint Grove joins legal action without a challenge

Julie Matheson

The additional legal action initiated by the Shire of Peppermint Grove was due to have a Directions Hearing this morning.

The Hearing was seeking to join Peppermint Grove’s legal challenge with the legal challenge of Mr Ian Ker, Subiaco, South Perth and Serpentine Jarrahdale to the State Government’s forced #amalgamation process

Good news.  The State Government offered no challenge to the Directions Hearing, so it was cancelled.

So now the Legal Challenge on the State Government’s forced #amalgamation process will be held on 25 November 2014 with Peppermint Grove joining in.

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