No facts provided to support council amalgamations

BRIGHTON Mayor Tony Foster has called on the Property Council to come up with factual information and not just mouth cheap propaganda calling for local government amalgamations.

Cr Foster, who is Tasmania’s longest-serving Mayor, said the latest call from Property Council State Executive Director Brian Wightman for the State Government to impose amalgamations on councils was short on facts and hypocritical in the extreme.

Cr Foster said as a Minister in the former Labor-Green Government, Mr Wightman did nothing to boost efficiency in his own portfolios or in the wider public sector, yet he was now demanding action from the current State Government.

“As well, he selectively quotes information from New South Wales and conveniently ignores facts that undermine the Property Council’s mantra of council amalgamations.

“Instead of making baseless demands, the Property Council must come up with data that actually shows that ratepayers and not just the big city property barons, will be better off with larger amalgamated councils.

“Of course Mr Wightman and his colleagues know that the facts do not back up their claims, so their demands are conveniently short on the truth.

“I challenge him to provide one example in Australia where council amalgamation has resulted in reduced rates.

“He talks of the New South Wales Government giving councils just 30 days to act. This is misleading in the extreme as this ultimatum follows a four-year process in that State and is based on a heavily criticised government report.”

Cr Foster said the latest information from New South Wales actually demonstrated that amalgamations simply imposed additional costs on ratepayers with no actual improvements in services of efficiency.

“All that has been achieved is a loss of local democracy and growth in big council bureaucracies.

“A review of 24 amalgamated and non-amalgamated city and regional councils in New South Wales, conducted earlier this year, showed that only one of the top five operating councils had been amalgamated. The other four councils were ‘stand alone’ and not amalgamated.

“Importantly, there were no benefits or savings in employment or operating expenses resulting from amalgamations.

“In fact, across all key measurements non-amalgamated councils either performed as well or better than amalgamated entities.

“Of course the Property Council ignores these facts as it does not suit its quest to have rates reduced for the big city property owners at the expense of residential ratepayers.”

Cr Foster said a number of Tasmanian councils were already undertaking studies to see if there were any benefits to be achieved through amalgamation and many others were generating significant savings through shared service arrangements.

“Sharing common services is particularly benefiting all ratepayers and not just the big end of town and this is early days. Even greater savings will be generated as initiatives are further developed.

“It is a fallacy for the Property Council to suggest that council amalgamations will lead to lower rates. This has not happened elsewhere in Australia and, when the costs of amalgamation are considered, it’s more likely that rates will rise in amalgamated councils.

“Rather than continue its self-serving campaign, the Property Council should work with all local government to benefit all ratepayers and not just the wealthy few.

“If it is genuine in seeking efficiency, it should also look at all sectors of government. It would quickly learn that local government is the most efficient of the three tiers,” Cr Foster said.