Largest coalition in Tasmanian history calls for Local Government reform

The Local Government Association of Tasmania has reacted angrily to claims by a large coalition of peak bodies calling for extensive Local Government reform.

Local Government Association of Tasmania President Barry Easther said the ongoing call for amalgamations is becoming tiresome and frustrating for those in Local Government.

"The constant criticism and ill informed commentary from those who would have the community believe that councils are not functioning efficiently is counterproductive and mischievous." he said.

The Tasmanians for Reform coalition, comprising 21 organisations, began a campaign for Local Government reform by plastering a number of wheelie bins with the 'reduce rates' message on Hobart's Parliament House lawns.

Spokeswoman for Tasmanians for Reform, Mary Massina said with a population of a little over 506,000 people it was ridiculous to have 29 councils and 281 Councillors costing the state millions of dollars each year.

"It therefore comes as no surprise so many different groups have joined the coalition," she said.

"Tasmanians for Reform is now the largest of its kind in Tasmanian history, with peak organisations representing chemists, car dealers, plumbers, hoteliers, real estate agents, small businesses, hair dressers and butchers, just to name a few.

"This is not some flash in the pan, but a genuine call for a mature debate on the issue of Local Government reform."

Tasmanian Hospitality Association head Steve Old said his members were fed up with complicated planning laws, spiralling rates charges and a decline in service from Local Government.

"When I put it to my membership that something needed to be done about Local Government, there was a resounding 'yes'." he said.

Master Builders Tasmania Executive Director Michael Kerschbaum said the call for Local Government reform from his members was a no brainer.

"Everyday my members have to deal with an increasingly complex system of unnecessary processes in Local Government that is different in 29 parts of Tasmania, just to get their jobs done," he said.

"Put simply, the sooner Local Government is reformed in Tasmania, the sooner my members can get on with their job."

Ms Massina said since releasing the Deloitte Access Economics Report pointing to efficiencies of up to 35 per cent from local government reform, support continued to grow rapidly.

Barry Easther said the reform group constantly referred to this independent report that projects a 35 per cent saving from an amalgamation scenario for southern Tasmanian councils.

"The assumptions made in relation to these predicted savings lack rigour and completeness," he said.

"The propositions around savings take a simplistic, high level approach to infrastructure and services, and has no regard for present service levels or the condition of those assets.

It's easy to add numbers from annual reports and then make some generic assumptions based on an uninformed view of council operations but it doesn't make it valid or right.

Highly regarded academic Brian Dollery is referenced consistently throughout the report but his research is inappropriately used to support the Property Council's desired outcomes.

Research undertaken by Professor Dollery into amalgamations is comprehensive but the selective nature of this report is misleading and not in keeping with Professor Dollery's Research intent," he said.

"Local Government is not afraid of reform and does not want to appear defensive in relation to calls for reform, but these debates need to be fully informed."

A survey by the Property Council released in May showed 65 per cent of those surveyed believed there were too many councils in Tasmania.

Mayor Easther said surveys of communities asking them if they support amalgamations are loaded – there is no explanation of the impacts on services, effects on rates, or providing infrastructure.

"There is a simple offer of cheaper rates based on spurious research." he said.

"References to red tape demonstrate the lack of understanding of councils operating under a State Government legislative framework.

Statutory obligations on councils require that there are processes, safeguards and equity built into the system.

Again, a lack of knowledge of Council operations and the legislation it must comply with brings about simplistic responses.

Local Government has offered to work with the groups associated with Tasmanians for Reform to resolve problems but the trial by media continues at a time when councils are constantly subjected to waves of planning reform, ongoing water and sewerage reform, and a multitude of legislative and policy propositions from the State Government impacting on council operations," he said.