Local government has good story to tell

LOCAL Government has a good story to tell and Tasmania’s longest serving Mayor has urged council leaders to take up the fight.

Brighton Mayor Tony Foster, who has served his community as Mayor for more than 22 years, has called on the new president of the Local Government Association of Tasmania (LGAT), Clarence Mayor Doug Chipman, to make a priority of promoting the positive performance of councils in Tasmania.

Cr Foster said the community could be excused for thinking that local government was in trouble with all the talk of council amalgamations, inquiries and questions being asked by the Local Government Office.

“While there may be difficulties at a small number of councils, these are essentially differences between elected members rather than administrators or officers, and on the whole, local government in Tasmania is working extremely well,” he said.

“I think it is fair to say that, overwhelmingly, councils are serving ratepayers and their communities very well, providing essential services and a broad range of facilities and amenities.

“Nevertheless, however isolated, the recent public criticism and infighting at some councils has only served to generally trash the brand of local government.

“This is unfortunate and I would argue, unfair to the vast majority of aldermen, councillors and local government employees around Tasmania who are working hard to do the best job they possibly can.

“I know that at Brighton Council, we don’t always agree on every issue, but we operate very effectively.

“I am confident that every councillor and all employees of Brighton Council are genuinely working as hard as possible and continually developing initiatives to benefit our community. And I am sure this is the case at all Tasmanian councils.”

Cr Foster said as well as urging the new LGAT president to take the lead, he also encouraged other Mayors to actively promote the positive work of their councils.

“The Minister for Local Government Peter Gutwein is asking councils to consider amalgamations in order to improve efficiency and service to ratepayers. I have no argument with his desire to enhance efficiency and service and frankly, that should apply to all levels of government and not just councils.

“But local government is already doing a lot and I know that Brighton continues to strive to be more efficient in everything we do and to improve services and facilities for our community. This is recognised by the State Auditor-General who has consistently rated Brighton among the best performing council in Tasmania.

“The Tasmanian Common Services Joint Venture is just one example of local government introducing initiatives to best serve ratepayers. This sees councils sharing common services, such as planning, asset management and financial services as part of a joint venture arrangement, and it will alone collectively save the participating councils’ ratepayers more than $1 million this financial year.

“But the benefits go far beyond simply saving money. By sharing expertise, technology, equipment and facilities, the councils are providing improved services for their communities, attracting and retaining skilled employees and bringing a new level of efficiency to local government.

“Of course, these sorts of positive initiatives don’t receive the same level of publicity as a petty squabble between aldermen or councillors, but they are stories that should be told and that is what we should be doing.

“It is important that this information is promoted and understood in the current debate on local government reform,” Cr Foster said.

• See Mayor’s column