Destination 2036 demands Local Government reform over the next four years

Start with a policy of no forced amalgamations and entice 152 general managers and mayors, some representatives of the Local Government and Shires Associations (more councillors from the councillors lobby group) and the Local Government Managers Association (more bean counters from the managers lobby group) to Dubbo for a couple of days and what do you get?

Well, it's a bit hard get the full picture to the yet but one thing you'll get is a review of that policy which may result in forced amalgamations, a broader and more dramatic commitment to resource sharing and potentially significant changes across the State. And, you might get some changes to the Local Government Act as well.

The Division of Local Government didn't invite the three local government unions to participate in the Dubbo talkfest. Historically they aren't very good at involving the unions in things that are clearly industrial in nature - such as the development of the Model Code of Conduct, or the Standard Contract for Senior Officers etc - so no one was surprised that all we got was notice that the talkfest was on and the DLG assuring us that if anything resulted of an industrial nature, they would let us know.

The USU complained vigorously, we raised this directly in discussions with the Minister's office and the three unions were then invited. The USU attended but we decided, as much as we appreciated the invitation, there would really be a limited opportunity for the unions to put a view and didn't attend. The USU confirms this was the case.

depa has always been sceptical about voluntary amalgamations. Small councils don't provide (and realistically can't financially provide) proper training of staff, competitive salaries for those professions where there is a shortage (like the professions from where we draw our members), good conditions of employment with proper flexibility for family and other personal reasons etc etc. Many small councils, if they were companies operating under the Corporations Act, would be effectively trading insolvent and the company directors could be fined, jailed or banned for acting as company directors in the future. The 30 or so councils on what the old Department of Local Government used to call "finance watch" do just that.

So it should come as no surprise that when you shake up the Dubbo participants, out drop things that can have a dramatic effect. Not quite people lining up for the Kool-Aid at Jonestown, but getting close.

We are yet to be advised formally by the DLG or the Government of what is proposed beyond their commitment to establish a Local Government Implementation Steering Committee which would manage reform in the industry of the next four years. There will be a document available shortly summarising the Dubbo experience. We will be keeping an eye out for it.

It is important that you know that life as we know it may well change dramatically in this process.

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