This month the Focus front page article looks at councillor conduct. While the behaviour of some members of local government has been spectacularly bad and has been notoriously played out in the public arena, most transgressions are minor with minimal disruption of council’s business and most councillors are doing a good job for those who elected them to office.
State governments have been quick to use the worst of the bad publicity to gain mileage for their own agendas at the expense of the local government sector.
One controversial topic used by the States to leverage brownie points at the expense of councils is rate pegging or rate capping.
In South Australian the Liberal opposition has turned to rate capping for vote getting in the current election, as did Victoria’s Labor Party in their last election. Local Government Association of South Australia cites a report from University of New England Professor Brian Dollery, showing how four decades of rate pegging in New South Wales (NSW) has not made councils more efficient. The Parliament of Victoria’s first six monthly Inquiry into Rate Capping Policy found that the policy posed real risks to critical services and council provided infrastructure.
Local government in NSW has been lobbying both the main political parties to abolish rate pegging for years but as it is a vote getter at state level, the pleas to stop the pegging go begging.
Ratepayer groups cheer rate capping on but the reality is felt everywhere but small councils in particular, with small rate pools, have had to rationalise maintenance on infrastructure and sacrifice services that were once considered essentials.
When libraries, swimming pools, community halls, art galleries, as well as roads and bridges do not receive appropriate care the council comes under fire from the very same ratepayer groups for not doing their job. Because the state government said rate capping was a good idea, councils again become the political football and are accused of wasting or mismanaging their money.
A win for the state politicians on this subject is in fact a loss to the residents.