By TONY FOSTER*
WITH the political goings on in Canberra and concern over the issues of hospitals, health services and the like in State Parliament, it seems that some of the focus has shifted from local government and the spotlight is now firmly on the other two tiers of government.
Of course, the concentration may soon come back on councils as our State and Federal politicians attempt to deflect attention from their in-fighting, poor policy decisions and failings, and they’ll no doubt be supported by the vested interest groups who want to see residential ratepayers bear a greater cost of the local rates burden.But with local government elections being conducted this month there will certainly be a focus on councils – on their effectiveness and efficiency, the services they provide for ratepayers and the community, and importantly, the level of rates and charges levied to provide these essential services.
This level of public scrutiny should 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.
Councils are the tier of government closest to the community and they provide essential services that the larger tiers of government just cannot deliver. Services like rubbish collection, local roads and footpaths, parks and recreation facilities, child health, planning and much more.
Undoubtedly, people desire 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.
Councils can make a difference in their communities. Good councillors have a range of backgrounds 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 the 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 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.
Brighton Council has been successful over the years because we endeavour to work as a team and everyone from the elected councillors, to management and all employees share a common goal and that is to enhance and improve our municipalities to benefit ratepayers and the community.
Of course, councillors don’t always agree, but it is important to respect the views of others and listen to what they have to say, to put self-interest aside and come together in the best interests of the municipality.
Good leaders and good councils strive to get the very best out of every elected member, management and employees and as a result, their communities are the beneficiaries. That is exactly what we attempt to do at Brighton.
*Tony Foster AM OAM JP is Mayor of Brighton