Legislation for bigger City of Perth set to be sunk as Liberals line up to cross floor on proposal

JOE SPAGNOLO POLITICAL EDITOR PERTHNOW JANUARY 24, 2015 6:00PM

PREMIER Colin Barnett’s plan to legislate a supersized City of Perth is set for the scrap heap, with members of his own party vowing to vote against it.

Mr Barnett’s former police minister, Rob Johnson, declared he would oppose the proposal when it was debated in State Parliament.

Mr Johnson said other Liberals were lining up to cross the floor, with Upper House MP Simon O’Brien speaking out against it.

In the Lower House, 21 Labor MPs, seven Nationals MPs and now Mr Johnson are set to join forces to try to defeat the Bill in the 59-member Legislative Assembly.

If just one more Liberal MP crosses the floor on this issue in the Assembly, the Bill will be defeated.

Mr Johnson said the City of Perth Act, which involved ­expanding boundaries to incl­ude major institutions such as the University of WA in a new Perth locality, robbed people of a vote on the issue.

He said he would not support “forced amalgamations”.

“It’s a question of arrogance.” Mr Johnson said. “(Mr Barnett) knows there are people within the Liberal Party who are opposed to the City of Perth Act and forced amalgamations.”

Mr O’Brien also vented his anger at the proposal, saying: “Apart from Colin (Barnett), I don’t know of anyone else on the planet who is for what is being proposed in local government.”

Mr Johnson’s plan to cross the floor is a major blow for Mr Barnett, who would not comment yesterday. He is already struggling to get enough numbers to pass his planned Act.

In the Upper House, the Liberals’ partner in government, the Nationals – who hold the balance of power – have already indicated they will not support it.

Opposition Leader Mark McGowan said: “WA Labor will not support any laws that remove the right for a local ­referendum or have vote weighting”.

Lord Mayor Lisa Scaffidi said: “It would be a travesty if our members in State Government did not support this. It is incumbent on each of them to understand the merit of a stronger capital city and the tangible benefits it will deliver.”

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Mayors United on Funding Threat

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Victoria Park Mayor Trevor Vaughan says mayors will not support the process without more money.

“We are really gutted because we’ve been supportive of it … and now we get told, ‘Oh, we’re not going to fund the process’,” he said.

“If they want this process to happen, they’ve actually got to fund it.”

He said mayors were “very, very angry”.

“I’ve never seen mayors so united,” he said.

WA Local Government Association president Troy Pickard said the Government needed to commit to funding the full $60 million.

“I would think that the State Government would need to respond within four weeks with a full commitment to fund this process, otherwise it’s off the rail and the structural reform for the metropolitan area hits a roadblock,” he said.

The Local Government Advisory Board is considering submissions from both councils and the public for the proposed boundary changes and is expected to make a recommendation to the Government in June.

Mr Simpson said money was tight and there was little room to move.

“I’m always happy to go into the process of government, into Cabinet to see if I can get more money, but I did forewarn them that I need some hard figures on this reform process,” Mr Simpson said.

He said the full cost of the amalgamations would not be known until the advisory board’s report was released.

“Many people have bandied around figures for how much mergers will cost,” Mr Simpson said.

“Remember that savings will also be made and this process will result in better services for residents across the metropolitan area.”

The proposed amalgamations have proved a headache for the Government, sparking a backlash from Liberal MPs and forcing Premier Colin Barnett into a series of backdowns.

A plan to give the Government greater control over the advisory board was scrapped after opposition from the National Party, while internal Liberal dissent forced Mr Barnett to abandon a provision allowing residents to veto a merger of their councils.

Senior Liberals including South Perth MP John McGrath and South Metropolitan MPs Simon O’Brien and Nick Goiran have been openly critical of the amalgamations.

Mr McGrath accused the Government of using “trickery” and deliberately “misleading” constituents, while Mr O’Brien accused the Government of “peddling lies” over the amalgamations.

WA Council Amalgamations

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Another senior West Australian Liberal MP has broken ranks to openly attack the State Government on council amalgamations, accusing it of using “trickery” and deliberately “misleading” constituents.

The member for South Perth, John McGrath, who is also a parliamentary secretary to Premier Colin Barnett, says the process the Government is using to combine the South Perth and Victoria Park councils robs residents of their democratic rights.

Last night he addressed a community rally of 400 residents in his electorate, where concerns were raised about the Government’s plan.

Mr McGrath says the two councils were supposed to merge, but the Government changed the goal posts at the 11th hour, meaning the City of South Perth would now be abolished and swallowed up by the Town of Victoria Park.

“I urged the meeting to come out very strongly and oppose what the Government is doing in this amalgamation process, because I think the people of South Perth have been led up the garden path,” he said.

“It is trickery. The City of South Perth has been led up the garden path.

“They were urged all the way through the process by the minister to ‘keep going, you’re going in the right direction, you’re doing a good job, it’s going to be a good outcome’, and then suddenly in January this year they were told, ‘sorry, the goal posts have changed’.”

Two other Liberal MPs criticised the amalgamation plan last month.

Former Liberal minister Simon O’Brien accused the Government of “peddling lies” over the amalgamations, saying any suggestion they are not being forced is “tripe”.

The member for the South Metropolitan region told Parliament he did not support the Government’s proposal for the Burswood Peninsula to become part of the City of Perth.

Liberal MP Nick Goiran has also raised concerns about the plan being considered by the Local Government Advisory Board.