Has the Government got what it takes to save local government?

The Government has already decided to extend the deadline for comment on the Final Report of the Independent Review Panel - notwithstanding that the report remains unchanged from that originally available months ago. And, let’s face it, if people with a vested interest in making sure nothing happens want to contest the laudable and largely incontestable recommendations of the Independent Panel, surely they are capable of getting their fingers out and doing so. 
 
Just as we felt sorry for Kevin Sproat’s efforts in 2001 when his thoughtful, incisive and scholarly report into potential amalgamations in the Sydney metropolitan area was received by the Government and then promptly filed, we already feel sorry for the members of the Independent Panel. Graham Sansom, Jude Munro and Glenn Inglis laboured mightily and produced a document capable of being rejected only by those who want nothing to change. Ever.
 
We are sick of financial basket case councils; those that are effectively trading insolvent; those claiming they can’t afford to pay market rates; those which would rather leave positions vacant and have other professionals pick up the slack;, where there is anxiety about whether they could pay staff entitlements if they all left tomorrow; which quibble about sending staff to training; contest flexible working arrangements as unaffordable and contrary to operational needs artificially established due to an inability to attract staff, and which can’t properly resource critical functions and needs, and we can’t wait for someone to do something.
We’ve had decades of Governments encouraging voluntary amalgamations and delivering bugger all. Enough is enough.
 
But when the Final Report was released and, for example, the proposed amalgamation of Strathfield was made public (surely, along with Hunters Hill one of the smallest local government areas in the world) the reaction from councillors was met with a response from the Premier that they needn’t worry. What Barry, you don’t want to read it first?
 
There are 65 recommendations in the Final Report and the depa Committee of Management has worked its way through them one by one. We support, or don’t oppose all of them, except some parts of recommendations 26 and 28. 
 
We have also suggested that while we might support recommendation 1 on the establishment of an integrated Fiscal Responsibility Program and recommendation 61 to establish a Ministerial Advisory Group, we think it critical that there be representation on those bodies of the workforce: not just councillors.
 
We oppose recommendation 26 where it provides for full-time mayors and in some cases deputy mayors because we think these people are sufficiently self-important and pompous now that any perception of additional power or expansion of their role would make them even more self-important and pompous. And what would they do apart from ponce around the place, get in the way of the GM who really is running the business, and preen?
 
And, if it’s all about the money for these undervalued representatives, you’d think they’d be satisfied enough going along to meetings of LGNSW and picking up that ludicrous sitting fee. More meetings achieving very little? Yes please.
 
We especially support that part of recommendation 28 proposing mandatory training for councillors who should not be able to sit, or be paid, until they have completed the training successfully and that part proposing to properly define the roles of councillors and the GM to make it clear that the 1993 changes are reinforced, not diluted.
 
And we oppose that part of recommendation 28 to amend the standard contract provisions for general managers  because we want to see the end of the standard contract and general managers permanently appointed to stop the run of sackings of good general managers by not so good councils.
 
Finally, and overriding everything else, the Government needs to give an undertaking immediately that whatever happens to the number of councils employing people, it will all be happen under the provisions of the Local Government (State) Award and the New South Wales Industrial Relations Act. None of these shared-staffing arrangements fantasised about in Dubbo where the risk would be that employees of these new bodies would be employed under the Fair Work Act - or worse, WorkChoices Part 2, which may be coming to a workplace near you. 
 
A commitment by the Government now that employment will continue under the State Award would remove all of the anxieties about continued employment and entitlements. And make the remainder of this process so much more comfortable. 
You can see our full submission here.
 
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