Australia's National Local Government Newspaper Online
|Editions > 1998 > February > Green||- Melbourne Time:|
Tas reform charts a rocky course
The Tasmanian Local Government Board's Final Report, released on 16 January, has recommended that the State's 29 Councils be reduced to eleven. This includes nine mainland Councils plus two island Councils, Flinders and King. The Government is expected to respond to the Report in February.
Just four years since the last restructure, when Councils were reduced from 46 to the current 29, President of the Local Government Association of Tasmania (LGAT), Mayor Sue Smith, believes that Local Government in Tasmania has moved to 'regional' government, and as far away from the individual as it can.
"My main concern is the recommendation that the new Councils have no electoral districts," she said. "In cases where five Councils are merging into one, people in small communities are unlikely to get fair representation."
The Board has also recommended that Transition Committees be formed to oversee the change process, with elections for the new Councils to take place by the end of April. It suggests the composition of these Committees be left to the Councils involved.
"Local Government has taken a mature approach throughout the process ensuring that it would not be shut down by the State Government, as has happened elsewhere with the appointment of Commissioners," Sue Smith said. However, she has grave concerns about growing evidence of political involvement of the, supposedly non political, Local Government Board and the lack of substantiation that Tasmania can gain economically from further amalgamations.
LGAT has raised concerns throughout the current reform process that a reduction in Council numbers will impact adversely on Tasmania's already high unemployment rate in comparison to other States.
"What started in an orderly fashion has became very pushed at the end," Sue Smith said. "The Local Government Board was given a two month extension but Local Government was not afforded the same courtesy."
With the Board's Exposure Draft released late last year and the Final Report following in mid January, Sue Smith believes this was all too quick. She said that the Board's ability to adequately consider some 187 written submissions received in response to the Draft must be questioned.
Furthermore, because the process has not always kept to the timeline, to meet the Government's deadline of polls closing on 3 February, Councils wishing to put the question of amalgamation to their communities via referenda were forced to pose their questions before the Final Report was actually released. The Government is not bound by these plebiscites, however Sue Smith believes there will be some nervous politicians about if notice is not taken of the results.
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