Push for council amalgamations ignores reality

BRIGHTON Mayor Tony Foster says the push for compulsory council amalgamations ignores reality and takes no account of the experience elsewhere in Australia or overseas.

Cr Foster said the pressure for amalgamations was being applied by the vested interest of the Property Council and some mayors of larger councils who wanted grander status or to hide the high cost of their respective administrations.

He said experience elsewhere clearly showed larger councils were not necessarily more efficient and generally had higher cost structures than Tasmania’s regional Councils.

“The Tasmanian Government, under pressure from the Property Council, claims that it is pursuing its amalgamation push to achieve savings for ratepayers.

“But the fact is, it could achieve considerably more savings for taxpayers in other areas as forced council amalgamations in Western Australia and Queensland have actually been at significant additional cost to ratepayers.

“Council mergers in Western Australia were estimated to cost between $65 million and $100 million and a similar situation applied in Queensland where costs of $8 million or more per council were incurred. Communities are now moving to unwind those amalgamations and revert back to previous structures.”

Cr Foster said leading Australian authority on local government reform, University of New England Professor Brian Dollery says international and national experience in relation to mergers is being ignored in the push for compulsory amalgamations.

“Professor Dollery says the results of amalgamations in Australia have not met expectations. Structural changes through compulsory council consolidation have not been effective in achieving their intended aims of meaningful cost savings and increased operational efficiency”

“Professor Dollery’s view is reinforced by a report by the University of Western Australia on forced amalgamations in that State that concludes that all available evidence does not generally support the view that amalgamations provide substantial cost savings.

“In addition, Professor Percy Allen of the Centre for Economic Development of Australia has advised that research has found larger councils do not exhibit lower unit costs of servicing than smaller ones.

“The fact is that the average population of Tasmanian municipalities is large by international standards – Tasmania 17,700, United States 8000, Europe 5700.

“Further, council amalgamations would see political power and decision-making concentrated in the city centres and a loss of regional employment and ready access to local councillors.

“Yet the Tasmanian Government appears to be ignoring these facts in its attempt to placate the Property Council and a few other vested interests.”

Cr Foster said the State Government needed to closely examine this national and international experience and listen to all community views, and not just to the loudest voices.

“The push for council amalgamations is based on flawed economic arguments and is designed to benefit big city developers.

“But people live in a community and are not simply economic statistics,” Cr Foster said.