Sweeping reforms for Local Government in NSW

The New South Wales Government is set to undertake sweeping reforms to what it claims is a struggling Local Government sector.

NSW Local Government Minister Don Page told the Local Government and Shires Association state conference that a review of the intergovernmental agreement between the state and local tiers of government was one of the key reforms being considered.

Declaring that he is "the NSW Minister for Local Government and not a Minister against Local Government," Don Page told the conference that change in the sector is necessary and he wants to work with them to achieve it.

He argued that half of NSW councils were struggling financially, with infrastructure backlog identified as one of the key pressure points.

"We recognise that Local Government in NSW is struggling and that if we don't change things, we'll end up with a two speed Local Government situation, which we can't have," he said.

"In the past we've seen lots of cost shifting away from State Government and onto Local Government," he said.

"We'll be revisiting the intergovernmental agreement that dictates who does what, to see what can be done."

Don Page opened the conference in Nowra by praising the Local Government sector for understanding that modernisation, reform and innovation were required in councils to help them meet future challenges and ensure they can continue to deliver efficient, essential services to communities.

Minister Page then outlined the key actions the NSW Government has made in its first six months to help the local government sector achieve that reform.

"Communities and their elected leaders have a greater say on the outcomes of development projects, we are assessing the infrastructure backlog of local councils and have set up a scheme to help cover councils' costs on borrowings for infrastructure projects, democracy has been restored in the Illawarra, we are supporting resource sharing and collaborative arrangements between councils, and we have given councils the option of running their own elections," he said.

"And, I think very importantly, we have recognised the important role of Local Government in our new State Plan, which was released with the recent State Budget. In the former government's State Plan, there was no mention of Local Government."

Don Page said the support of the local government sector for the key messages of the Destination 2036 conference in Dubbo in August showed that councils are ready to embrace ideas and improvements that will lead to greater sustainability in the sector moving forward.

"After a busy first six months, we now look to the future – and I would like to think that next year will be the year of action for local government," Don Page said.

"Destination 2036 is the key to that. Attended by representatives of every NSW council and other stakeholders, it was our opportunity to begin to shape the future direction of local government in NSW together.

"As Minister, I want to see a strong Local Government sector in terms of its financial sustainability, its capacity, and in its decision making role.

"A draft action plan to that end, using ideas heard at Destination 2036, is being developed and should be released for public comment next month, so I look forward to input from you and the general public on that draft action plan."

Don Page announced that the NSW Government's promised review into the Model Code of Conduct for NSW Councils was closer to completion and a draft of it is on public display.