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.

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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Local Government Reform Decision

22 October 2014
The State Government today announced its decision on reform for Perth’s metropolitan local governments.

It has foreshadowed a City of Perth Act to recognise the State capital and its intention to cut the number of local governments from 30 to 16.

Premier Colin Barnett and Local Government Minister Tony Simpson briefed metropolitan local government Mayors, Presidents and Chief Executive Officers this morning before releasing the full report prepared by the Local Government Advisory Board.

Details are available on the Metropolitan Reform website.

The State Government has announced that the following local governments will be joined by boundary adjustments:

City of Swan and Shire of Mundaring to form City of Swan
City of Bayswater and Town of Bassendean to form City of Bayswater
City of Belmont and Shire of Kalamunda to form City of Belmont
City of Subiaco and Town of Cambridge to form City of Subiaco
City of Armadale and the north of the Shire of Serpentine Jarrahdale to form City of Armadale
Shire of Murray and the south of the Shire of Serpentine Jarrahdale to form Shire of Murray
City of Gosnells and City of Canning to form City of Gosnells
A modified City of Stirling
A modified City of Melville
The report recommends six local governments be amalgamated into three:

City of South Perth and Town of Victoria Park to form City of South Park
City of Fremantle and Town of East Fremantle to form City of Fremantle
City of Kwinana and City of Cockburn to form City of Jervoise Bay
The City of Perth and the City of Vincent will come under a City of Perth Act, which will include Kings Park, the University of WA and the QEII medical centre. Once these boundaries are formalised, the State Government will take steps to create a City of Riversea based around the western suburbs councils of Claremont, Nedlands, Cottesloe, Mosman Park and Peppermint Grove.

There is little or no change to the cities of Joondalup, Rockingham and Wanneroo.