Minister Toole Fit for the Future? Fail.

As the Coalition persists with an undemocratic forced amalgamation agenda, our office has undertaken an independent, fair and impartial assessment of how Paul Toole stacks up as Local Government Minister.150930 Determination Assessment Is Toole Fit for the Future

In undertaking our assessment we consulted with the community to develop our methodology and criteria and accepted submissions from a broad range of stakeholders regarding Minister Toole’s ‘fitness.’ Our determination also relied on previous interactions with the Minister, such as his appearances at Budget Estimates and the Parliamentary Inquiry into Local Government.

The Minister was invited to participate in the assessment but unfortunately did not provide a response or submit a Minister Improvement Proposal. His inability to engage in the process, despite the tight timeframes, does not speak highly of his ‘fitness.’

Our assessment ultimately found that Minister Toole is not ‘Fit for the Future’. In fact, the conclusion was broader than that and the ultimate finding is that Minister Toole is not fit for the present either.

Summary of findings

Scale and capacity? No.

Scope to undertake new functions and major projects? No.

Skills in strategic planning and policy development?

Effective advocacy? No.

Political and managerial leadership? No.

Resources to cope with complex and unexpected change? No.

Recommendations

Recommendation 1

That Premier Baird immediately intervene to install a Local Government Minister that has the scale and capacity, efficiency, and sustainability to perform the job effectively – this means engaging in proper consultation with local communities and councils on a competent replacement of Minister Toole.

Recommendation 2

That the NSW Government abandon its undemocratic forced amalgamation ‘reform’ agenda and make a commitment to support local communities having the right to decide the size and future of their local councils through municipal-wide referendums.

The full findings of our assessment are as follows:

Does the Minister have sufficient scale and capacity to undertake the job of Local Government Minister?

No. 90% of survey respondents indicated support for this finding. The information from respondents was analysed in light of Minister Toole’s broader performance in his role.

One survey respondent noted that:

The Minister demonstrates significant scale ie the ability to offend most of local government, most of the time. If capacity is his ability to respond to the influences and pressures affecting the community’s future, set key directions and develop strategies that the community wants, he again fails. Most Sydney Council’s residents and ratepayers are over 70% against amalgamation. Most strategists would claim this is the majority, but not Minister Toole. He can’t count below populations of 500,000.

Despite being minister for 18 months and pushing for ever larger councils the minister clearly had no idea whether the largest council in the state was financially solid or not. His evidence at the Local Government Inquiry hearing in Wagga Wagga was:

Mr DAVID SHOEBRIDGE: Minister, you said, “Bigger is better.” By number of residents, what is the biggest council in New South Wales?

Mr PAUL TOOLE: Well, we have got Blacktown—

 Mr DAVID SHOEBRIDGE: A simple question.

Mr PAUL TOOLE: Blacktown.

 Mr DAVID SHOEBRIDGE: So if bigger is better, you will no doubt tell me that Blacktown is operating on a surplus. Is that your evidence?

Mr PAUL TOOLE: What I will say is: I applaud the work that the councillors of Blacktown do on behalf of their community.

 Mr DAVID SHOEBRIDGE: Is it operating on a surplus or a deficit?

Mr PAUL TOOLE: And I hear from that community that they are pleased with what their council is doing, and they are pleased with the services they are being provided with. But we will not rest upon those laurels and ensure that councils are not going to be continually supported.

Mr DAVID SHOEBRIDGE: Is it operating on a surplus or a deficit?

Mr PAUL TOOLE: I will say to you, you are talking about scale and capacity now for councils— Mr

DAVID SHOEBRIDGE: No, I am asking about the operating surplus or deficit of the biggest council. You said, “Bigger is better.” Blacktown is the biggest. Is it in deficit or surplus?

Mr PAUL TOOLE: Look, I am going to point out—

Mr DAVID SHOEBRIDGE: Do you not know?

 Mr PAUL TOOLE: There are 152 councils in New South Wales.

Mr DAVID SHOEBRIDGE: I am asking you about the biggest.

Mr PAUL TOOLE: I will ask you about each of them.

Mr DAVID SHOEBRIDGE: I am asking you about the biggest. You do not know.

CHAIR:  … Minister, if you do not know the answer, you can take it on notice, but if you do know the answer it might be wise to give it.

Mr PAUL TOOLE: Mr Shoebridge, there is no one size fits all. … As I say to you, it is not about population size; it is not about budget … it is not about geographical area. The panel looked at the unique characteristics of each of the areas that are being proposed.

Mr DAVID SHOEBRIDGE: I will let you know, Minister, that it is in deficit. It is in deficit.

Mr PAUL TOOLE: It is about …

And he just went on, and on and on.

As a Minister understaking basic financial and statistical concepts is important. In assessing Minister Toole’s scale and capacity our office also considered his evidence a Budget Estimates hearings that indicated he does not display an understanding of what an ‘average’ figure is:

Mr DAVID SHOEBRIDGE: Minister, do you know the average number of residents in a Sydney council area?

Mr PAUL TOOLE: It ranges.

Mr DAVID SHOEBRIDGE: The average does not range.

Mr PAUL TOOLE: I will take it on notice. The number ranges from 17,000 to just over 300,000.

Not knowing basic facts about his portfolio, and failing to grasp simple concepts such as what an average is, demonstrated a Minister who does not have adequate scale or capacity to undertake his job.

Does the Minister have scope to undertake new functions and major projects?

Our assessment ultimately found that Minister Toole does not have the scope to undertake new functions and major projects, with 88% of survey respondents indicating support for this finding. The information from respondents was analysed in light of Minister Toole’s broader performance in his role.

One survey respondent noted that:

It is doubtful. Forced amalgamations are not new ideas, they are recycled ideas.

During the Local Government Budget Estimates Hearing, the Minister was asked to outline the process that his most major reform – Fit for the Future – will be following. When asked what the process would be for local councils after the government received IPART’s recommendations the Minister repeatedly replied “I will not pre-empt the process”.

The Minister unfortunately seemed confused by the difference between an outcome and a process:

Mr PAUL TOOLE: As Minister, I will continue to be open to different proposals. I will not pre-empt any process. I will continue to talk to councils.

Mr DAVID SHOEBRIDGE: Do you understand the simple difference between pre-empting the outcome of a process and telling people about what the process will be? Do you understand that distinction, Minister?

Mr PAUL TOOLE: If you are telling me, that is fine.  

We have not received any evidence to support the notion that the Minister has the scope to undertake, or even understand, his current function and major project let alone anything new. He does not meet this benchmark.

Does the Minister have advanced skills in strategic planning and policy development?

Our assessment found Minister Toole not holdingadvanced skills in strategic planning and policy development, with 90% of survey respondents indicating support for this finding. The information from respondents was analysed in light of Minister Toole’s broader performance in his role.

One survey respondent noted that:

No – he is supposed to be developing a partnership with local government which somewhat loses its credibility when you seem to have just one policy -to force councils to amalgamate.

Our assessment also considered the Minister’s past performance in pursuing local government reform, such as the $12 million gerrymander to entrench corporate voting in the City of Sydney. In 2014 Minister Toole supported legislation to water down the vote of residents in the City of Sydney by doubling the vote of every corporation at local government elections. This deeply undemocratic electoral rule is expected to cost City of Sydney ratepayers a whopping $12 million just to put in place for the 2016 elections.

Forcing ratepayers to spend $12 million to deliver an undemocratic corporate gerrymander is suggestive of a below-par strategic thinker.

Does the Minister have credibility for effective advocacy?

Our assessment ultimately found that Minister Toole does not have credibility for effective advocacy, with 90% of survey respondents indicating support for this finding. The information from respondents was analysed in light of Minister Toole’s broader performance in his role.

One survey respondent noted:

No, he has no advocacy skills. When he was “confronted ” by 5 Mosman ratepayers with Save our Council placards he did not have the guts to stop and take that opportunity to advocate for his entrenched position of “forced amalgamations.” Surely there must be a reason for amalgamations. Just tell us what it is. It is as simple as that.

Our assessment also considered evidence the Minister provided to the Parliamentary Inquiry into Local Government where he insulted local councils and communities across the state by describing the growing campaign against forced amalgamations as driven by “self-interest”.

This ‘evidence’ was produced instead of putting forward any credible evidence to support the government’s forced amalgamation agenda or providing insight as to whether or not legislation would be introduced to force amalgamations.

A Local Government Minister must respect the right of local communities to support their local councils, not insult them for doing so. Minister Toole fails this criteria.

Does the Minister display political and managerial leadership?

Our assessment ultimately found that Minister Toole does not have display political and managerial leadership, with 89% of survey respondents indicating support for this finding. The information from respondents was analysed in light of Minister Toole’s broader performance in his role.

One survey respondent noted that:

No – sorry leadership of what? Hardly a leader of the local government sector when he is doing his best to destroy it

We were unable to find any data to suggest political or managerial leadership by the Minister.

151002 no leadership

Does the Minister have the resources to cope with complex and unexpected change?

Our assessment ultimately found that Minister Toole does not have the resources to cope with complex and unexpected change, with 89% of survey respondents indicating support for this this finding. The information from respondents was analysed in light of Minister Toole’s broader performance in his role.

One survey respondent noted:

No – he is clearly uncomfortable with facts that don’t fit his slogans and lacks courage to speak out in support of the sector he is meant to represent in parliament.

We also note the Minister’s performance at Budget Estimates where he was unable to respond to financial queries due to a failure to manage the most basic of resources – his budget papers.

The Hon. PETER PRIMROSE: I refer to page 8-36 of Budget Paper No. 3 and specifically the revised figure for investment revenue for the last financial year of $387,000. The amount listed for this year is represented by three dots. Can you please explain what this item is and why there is no revenue expected this financial year?

Mr PAUL TOOLE: I will ask the chief executive if that information is there in front of her.

Ms DOHENY: The information is not in front of me but I will take that on notice.

Mr DAVID SHOEBRIDGE: So did you come to budget estimates without the budget papers?

The Hon. PETER PRIMROSE: I am happy to provide them, Minister.

Mr DAVID SHOEBRIDGE: Did you come to budget estimates without the budget papers?

Mr PAUL TOOLE: We said we would take it on notice and we will provide that information.

Mr DAVID SHOEBRIDGE: You came to budget estimates without the budget papers.

Conclusion

Having undertaken a rigorous 7 day public consultation and assessment process of the Minister, modelled on the IPART consultation and assessment process of local councils, our conclusion is clear. Whatever it means for a Minister to be ‘Fit for the Future’, it doesn’t apply to Minister Toole. Whether scale and capacity means one, two or three things, the Minister does not possess it. Whatever new functions may be required of him, he is unlikely to be able to undertake it. His leadership style swings from absent to offensive and neither commands respect in the local government sector.

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