Queanbeyan-Palerang Community Voice

The Voice

… of the Queanbeyan-Palerang community

Local Government Reform

Posted by Pete on August 6, 2017
Filed under: Miscellaneous Ramblings

If you heard the news of the NSW Government’s abandonment of outstanding council amalgamations and wondered where that left their local government reform agenda, I’m sure you would not have been alone. It’s a bit disconcerting that while amalgamations were apparently a critical element of that agenda, 15 of those 35 originally proposed have now been abandoned. Mind you, amalgamations were not a centrepiece of the report presented by the Independent Local Government Review Panel back in 2013, so maybe there was some other, perhaps more political motivation for council amalgamations in the first place.

But let’s not dwell on that, let’s keep our glass half full. In fact, it could be said that, financially at least, the QPRC glass is fairly overflowing at the moment. It would be difficult for the average resident not to notice the many projects that have benefitted from the State’s $10 million grant, through the Stronger Communities Fund, that was gifted to each of the amalgamating councils. Then, in the latest budget, QPRC has received a further $70 million over the next two years for critical road infrastructure funding. Don’t bother asking whether or not that might have been a further reward for compliance with the State’s amalgamation agenda. Successive Palerang Councils have been lobbying for that [road infrastructure] funding for years and if it continues to come as a result of our new structure it would wipe any financial argument against the amalgamation clean off the table.

Regardless, creating new councils was just one of three key ‘directions’ in the reform agenda. The second was improving council performance, a central tenet of which must surely embrace the issue of organisational culture. Unfortunately, this doesn’t appear to have received a great deal of attention amidst the quest to build “scale and capacity” into our bigger and better new councils. Service organisations in particular face enormous challenges as they grow, not least of which is maintaining focus on their customers rather than the organisation itself.

And the final ‘direction’ was the strengthening of the system of local government. The Local Government Act has indeed been updated, and there have been improvements to the model of regional cooperation. Perhaps of greater concern in this context might be the issue of community representation in a large, diverse council area such as ours. The Office of Local Government was at pains to point out that this would never be a problem because elected representatives were obliged to consider the broader community when making decisions. If we ignore the history of human behaviour for just a moment, the more practical problem in our case might simply be the disproportionate amount of time and travel demanded of our newly elected representatives (most of whom will invariably be based in Queanbeyan) in order to keep in touch with the minority, rural population.

Which brings us back to the subject of political motivation. We probably don’t need to venture too far past the tele in the living room (cf. Yes [Prime] Minister, The Hollowmen, or, heaven forbid, Utopia) to realise that there’s very little to gain by trying to apply any level of logic to the reform agenda as it appears to have panned out. Much better to just sit back, relax and enjoy the contents of that [at least] half full glass…

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