Strong support delivers Parliamentary Inquiry into council amalgamations

The Greens today strongly supported the establishment of a Parliamentary Inquiry into the Baird Government’s Fit for the Future and forced amalgamations agenda.

The inquiry has a comprehensive terms of reference and responsible timeline to ensure that it can effectively report on council amalgamations and prioritise the needs of local councils and communities.

Members of Parliament from every political party other than the Coalition committed to a policy of no forced amalgamations prior to the March 2015 election.

The committee, established on a motion by Mr Paul Green,  is due to report by Monday 17 August 2015.

Greens MP and Spokesperson for Local Government David Shoebridge said:

“This is a win for local councils and local communities in their campaign to strengthen local democracy and keep local government genuinely local.

“Fit for the Future is not about “fitness” at all but rather a push to force amalgamations by stealth and to take the democracy out of the most grassroots level of government.

“This Parliamentary Inquiry will allow the government’s case for amalgamations to be thoroughly tested and local voices to be properly heard.

“To date the Baird government has been unable to produce a shred of credible evidence to show how bigger bureaucracies and less local democracy will assist local communities.

“The fact is NSW local councils are already large when compared with our global competitors in the OECD.

“Forced amalgamations, bigger bureaucracies and less democracy is not the answer for NSW local government. Local government must be kept local.” Mr Shoebridge said.

Terms of Reference for the Parliamentary Inquiry into Local government in NSW:

1. That General Purpose Standing Committee No. 6 inquire into and report on local government in New South Wales and in particular:

a) the New South Wales Government’s ‘Fit for the Future’ reform agenda,

b) the financial sustainability of the local government sector in New South Wales, including the measures used to benchmark local government as against the measures used to benchmark State and Federal Government in Australia,

c) the performance criteria and associated benchmark values used to assess local authorities in New South Wales,

d) the scale of local councils in New South Wales,

e) the IPART role in reviewing the future of local government in New South Wales, assisted by a South Australian commercial consultant,

f) the appropriateness of the deadline for ‘Fit for the Future’ proposals,

g) costs and benefits of amalgamations for local residents and businesses,

h) evidence of the impact of forced mergers on council rates drawing from the recent Queensland experience and other forced amalgamation episodes,

i) evidence of the impact of forced mergers on local infrastructure investment and maintenance,

j) evidence of the impact of forced mergers on municipal employment, including aggregate redundancy costs,

k) the known and or likely costs and benefits of amalgamations for local communities,

l) the role of co-operative models for local government including the ‘Fit for the Futures’ own Joint Organisations, Strategic Alliances, Regional Organisations of Councils, and other shared service models, such as the Common Service Model,

m) how forced amalgamation will affect the specific needs of regional and rural councils and communities, especially in terms of its impact on local economies,

n) protecting and delivering democratic structures for local government that ensure it remains close to the people it serves,

o) the impact of the ‘Fit for the Future’ benchmarks and the subsequent Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal performance criteria on councils’ current and future rate increases or levels, and

p) any other related matter.