Local government reform in news again

By Tony Foster OAM

THE issue of local government reform and amalgamations has again come to prominence, with the State Government proposing legislation to allow for compulsory voting at local government elections and fixed four-year terms for Councils.

This announcement, likely as much to do with a Government under regular criticism wanting to be seen to be doing something as seeking to achieve real reform, has prompted the vested big property interests to again call for council amalgamations that they believe will reduce the rates on their central city buildings.

In previous issues of Brighton Community News, I have pointed out that history in Australia demonstrates that council amalgamations rarely, if ever, achieve rate reductions for average householders. Certainly, the most recent amalgamations in Queensland resulted in significant rate increases for many ratepayers, to the point where a number of councils are now seeking to de-amalgamate!

The push in Tasmania, from the Property Council (comprised of the big property owners) and its associates, is for the establishment of a greater Hobart Council comprising the municipal areas of Hobart, Clarence, Glenorchy. Kingborough and Brighton.

While on the surface this may seem worth consideration, the reality is that it would represent an extremely bad deal for Brighton and probably for residents in most of the other municipalities. Yes, there could be some efficiency gains in terms of fewer elected officials, some reduction in council employees and council equipment, but would this compensate for the reduced representation, increased bureaucracy and for many, the substantial cost increases as a result of the equalisation of rates between the five municipalities?

In Brighton we have established the most cost effective and efficient local government administration in Tasmania. We have the lowest cost base, lowest staff ratio, lowest rates per capita and highest council operating surplus in the state, your Council is debt free, we provide the full range of services to ratepayers and we are continuing to enhance public facilities and amenities for our community.

Importantly, we have Brighton’s fair rating model that guarantees that rates will increase by no more than the annual inflation rate. This has resulted in us keeping rate increases down to CPI for the past 16 years and this financial year we were able to also absorb the impact of the Carbon Tax on Council. It is worth noting that on the question of rate equalisation alone, based on current charges, rates for Brighton residents could increase by up to 40 per cent in any amalgamated greater Hobart Council.

While Brighton has absolutely no problem in sharing resources with other councils to achieve efficiencies and to keep down costs and indeed we are a leader in resource sharing and providing services to other councils, we will not jeopardise our low cost advantages and the benefits that Brighton’s ratepayers enjoy.

The Brighton community can be confident that Council will not support any proposal that disadvantages Brighton ratepayers and residents, or that ignores Brighton’s low rates regime supported by our fair rating model and the significant financial and social achievements of Brighton over the past decade.