Local Government Reform

It’s difficult to justify an argument which suggests that Tasmanians would receive inferior quality representation if council amalgamations eventuate.

By any measure 263 elected officials for a population of just over 500,000 people is ridiculous.  When you add to that number the support services and infrastructure required to run 29 separate local government municipalities it becomes a question of not whether the Government should act, but when?

The Property Council has been very clear in its advocacy for local government reform for a number of years.  At times the Tasmanian Division has been accused of self-interest, however if the self-interest of which some refer is a better and more efficient Tasmania where scarce resources can be directly spent on the things that matter, then we make no apologies.

The Tasmanian Division wants a better deal for all Tasmanians.  We want rate payers to feel represented; listened to when they have an issue and able to quickly locate an official or elected representative when things need to get done.   We also want services provided consistently and fairly across the state in a transparent, efficient and cost effective manner.   And of course we want to make it easier to develop and invest as that will create jobs, jobs which provide residents with a reason to stay and our children with a future.

Local Government reform is a most interesting political challenge.  It is widely supported by the Tasmanian community with the most recent polling suggesting three out of every four voters support action. However, historically governments have found it difficult to make the required decisions because of the fear of repercussions at the ballot box.  Therefore, if local government reform is to happen for the betterment of our state we must allow our leaders the latitude to get it done. 

Resisting the campaign which will follow suggesting people will be worse off with regard to representation and service delivery must be challenged with eyes firmly fixed upon the obvious advantages that a larger rate-base provides. Those on the other side of the argument will say that the job losses caused by amalgamations will impact heavily on already struggling communities.  The Independent Panel Review of Local Government Structures in Southern Tasmania 2011 which included luminaries such as Saul Eslake, chief economist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch denounced this stating:  “While it is to be expected that suggestions for local government reform will prompt concern about the possible consequences of job losses, the Panel believes that these are likely to be both small and, more importantly, transitory and manageable.”

Often the saying “bigger is not always better” is presented as a local government reform scare tactic.  That too must be challenged with bigger municipalities of 100,000 ratepayers not large by any measure, rather just a sensible solution to what will continue to be a handbrake on the economy of our beautiful, proud and parochial state.