Thursday, 20 August 2015
Fit for the Future
That the Senate—
(a) notes that:
(i) the Federal Government will give over $2.6 billion in grants to local governments in 2015 16, and this amount is frozen until at least 2017 18, cutting $287 million from local councils' budgets,
(ii) the New South Wales State Government is proposing to dramatically reduce the number of councils through amalgamations in its 'Fit for the Future' process,
(iii) the New South Wales Office of Local Government has not produced any evidence to support the notion that amalgamations produce lower council rates, and
(iv) local councils are closest to the community and are in the best position to identify and respond to the needs of the community, and in each jurisdiction where forced amalgamations have been imposed on communities, residents have faced significant rate increases and diminished local representation; and
(b) calls on the Federal Government to write to the New South Wales State Government demanding it abandon the 'Fit for the Future' process and support the right of communities to determine the future of their own local councils through municipal wide referendums.
Labor opposes this motion. We were not consulted on the wording. The wording is factually incorrect. There are elements in the motion we support. There are parts of the Independent Local Government Review Panel report that New South Wales Labor supports, and we are surprised that the New South Wales Greens seem to want to abandon it. New South Wales Labor opposes forced council amalgamations and has had a long and consistent position with respect to this. Labor is very concerned about the Abbott government's almost $1 billion cut to financial assistance grants, and we have been clearly on the record regarding this broken promise to local communities. Labor is the only party that local government can depend on to stand up for it.
The government supports sustainable, viable and strong local government as an important part of the Australian government's regional economic development agenda. Consideration and implementation of local government reforms, including amalgamations, is a matter for states and territories. In the past decade all jurisdictions have initiated reviews of aspects of local government with the intention of improving organisational and financial effectiveness and efficiency and enhancing service delivery. Considerations of amalgamations have formed part of those reviews.
In New South Wales a comprehensive review of local government commenced in 2012, including extensive research into council finances, service delivery, local government boundaries and local decision-making models. In September 2014 the New South Wales government announced a $1 billion Fit for the Future reform initiative package—a blueprint for the future of councils—that includes financial incentives for merging councils and undertaking reform activities. The government provides $2.3 billion annually in untied funding for local governments under the financial assistance grants program.