By TONY FOSTER
THERE is certainly a focus on local government at the moment – on its effectiveness and efficiency, the services it provides for ratepayers and the community, and importantly the level of rates and charges it levies to provide those essential services.
This level of public scrutiny should certainly not be a problem for councils. Indeed, all levels of government, be they state, federal or local, must be answerable to the community, to the taxpayers and ratepayers who provide the revenue to pay for the services and sustain the bureaucracies that manage them.So while local government in Tasmania may be under the microscope at the moment, so too should be our State Government as well as the Commonwealth administration.
While the cynic could claim that this current emphasis on the effectiveness of local government, its financial efficiency, proposed amalgamations and efforts at cost savings, pushed particularly by the State Government is little more than an attempt to divert scrutiny of their own performance, it is none the less important to ensure that our councils are working well, that they are serving their communities and they are getting the very best value for their ratepayers’ dollars.
Councils are the tier of government closest to the community and they provide essential services that the larger tiers of government just could not deliver. Services like rubbish collection, local roads and footpaths, parks and recreation facilities, child health, planning and much more.
Regardless of the push for amalgamation from some quarters, people still want local representation. They want to know their local councillors and be able to contact them about local issues, concerns and needs. This is what local government is good at and it is something that State and Federal Governments simply cannot do.
But councils need to demonstrate that they are viable and have sustainable financial plans, not just for today or this year, but for the next 10 years and beyond. And it’s not just Brighton Council, or Glenorchy, or Hobart, or Clarence. The entire local government sector in Tasmania must demonstrate that it is sustainable now and into the future.
Councils can make a difference in their communities. Good councillors have a range of background and expertise, particularly business or professional skills and involvement in their local communities. But they also must have a vision of where they want to take the community – a vision that is different from that of State and Federal Governments. They must look to the future, but in doing so, not ignore the past and must concentrate on providing the basic services that the community requires.
Importantly, councils must work as a team to get the very best outcomes for their ratepayers and communities.
That is not to say that there should not be differences of opinion, approaches and attitudes, because debate is healthy, as is consideration of alternative ideas and viewpoints.
But a good leader, and in local government that is the Mayor, must understand that everyone elected to council has strengths and every councillor or alderman is entitled to put forward his or her views. A good leader will recognise this, will be inclusive and work to keep people in team rather than ignoring or isolating them.
There is little to be gained by infighting on council. All councillors and aldermen are democratically elected and all views and opinions should be heard and respected. Publicly criticising or simply ignoring one or two on a council not only insults and disenfranchises them but it also does the same to the constituents who have elected them.
While councils may not agree on every issue, elected representatives have a responsibility to work through the issues and disagreements, and reach an outcome that best benefits the community.
I believe that Brighton Council has been successful over the years because we do work as a team and everyone from the elected councillors, to our management and all our employees share a common goal and that is to enhance and improve our municipality to benefit our ratepayers and the community.
Of course we don’t always agree, but we do respect the views of others and we listen to what they have to say. We put self-interest aside and come together in the best interests of Brighton.
That is very much how Brighton has functioned during my 28 years on Council and it is why we are recognised as one of the most progressive, efficient and effective local government administrations in the State.