Local Government Reform

The long awaited report from the Metropolitan Local Government Review Panel on Local Government reform will be tabled in State Parliament today.  Councils and WALGA feel frustrated at the delays in the report being made public, it has been with Minister Castrilli since 12th July.  The sector had hope the Minister would make an announcement in his speech to the WALGA AGM on 1st August, but this opportunity came and went.

Yesterday Metropolitan Mayors and CEOs were invited to a briefing session with the Premiere, Minister and Panel chair Professor Alan Robson.  The tenor of the report comes as no surprise, significantly reducing the number of metropolitan councils and elected member has always been a key aspect of Liberals reform agenda.  The existing 30 Councils will be reduced to just 12 and these will be based around the Perth CBD and the 9 Strategic Activity Centres outlined in Directions 2031.

Other aspects include mandating Mayors be popularly elected and are limited to 2 terms of office, while elected members are limited to 3 terms.  Voting at Local Government Elections will become mandatory.  Regional Councils should be abolished, with refuse being managed by a State/LG partnership.

The big question for Fremantle is, how will the new greater Fremantle look?  Two options are offered.  One recommends the amalgamation of the three councils of Fremantle, East Fremantle and Melville.  This would be appealing to the Minister as it would be easier to administer.  Alternatively Fremantle and East Fremantle would merge with the northern part of Cockburn and western part of Melville, though I’m not sure where those lines on the map would be.  Interestingly this option also sees North Fremantle become part of the newly formed Greater Western Suburbs Council.  Both options see Rottnest incorporated into the new Fremantle.

There is a lot of work ahead for Fremantle Council to ensure the seat of governance for the Greater Fremantle remains in the Strategic Activity Centre of Fremantle and does not drift away to a shopping centre in the east.  All the revitalising work being done by Fremantle will be undermined if this is not the case.  Council has already been working on ensuring strategic visions are in place so these visions are not lost in amalgamation, similarly Fremantle’s strong financial standing is being locked into forward budgets to ensure Fremantle rate payers money is spent in Fremantle.

The Minister still maintains he does not support forced amalgamations, but it is imposable to see how 30 Councils will be reduced to 12 Councils in an orderly way without some form of mandatory process.  I do not believe fiscal processes will give him his desired outcomes.  However it is achieved one thing is certain, the face of Local Government in Perth is about to change forever.  We will have to wait to see what those changes are, but my expectations are that in a large greater Fremantle the cost of getting elected will escalate forcing community candidates out of the race.  I also thing that across the board Councils will become dominated by business or political party sponsored candidates, and for me that will be a retrograde step.

Local Government reform promises to become a major issue in the upcoming State election.  Unfortunately, when it comes to this issue, I currently have little faith in the Labor Party’s chances of being elected  or influencing to outcome of the reform process.

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