13/02/2015 - 04:56

Flawed policy comes unstuck

13/02/2015 - 04:56


Save articles for future reference.

Colin Barnett’s decision to run up the white flag after his six-year campaign to rationalise the number of metropolitan local councils is effectively an admission that his strategy was flawed. It is also a triumph for self-interest.

Colin Barnett’s decision to run up the white flag after his six-year campaign to rationalise the number of metropolitan local councils is effectively an admission that his strategy was flawed. It is also a triumph for self-interest.

The failure of the government’s strategy is in stark contrast to the dismantling of the original City of Perth boundaries into four entities in 1994, which led to the creation of the Vincent, Victoria Park and Cambridge councils.

Whatever the logic back then of converting a single, long-term, giant entity into four smaller councils – which also achieved a new body effectively responsible for the inner city – it was totally at odds with the premier’s goal of halving the number of local government bodies.

In conceding that his strategy was in tatters, after residents in three councils voted earlier this month against amalgamation, Mr Barnett continued to outline his case for change (one that tended to be missing in action as local government representatives mounted campaigns to defend their patch). Political considerations, and future careers, have also played a part.

The premier told ABC Radio that having almost 140 local councils around the state, “some less than five square kilometres and less than 400 people (sic)”, was not functional in the 21st century.

“Local government is not a separate tier of government. Local government is a subset of the state government, and it is the state that confers all powers to raise rates and so on. That’s the reality.

I am disappointed by the results … though I accept them without qualification,” he said. Referring to the referendum failures, he added: “ … the state government will therefore have to manage the big issues of planning, approvals of projects, transport, environmental management, more through government departments and more on a regional basis, because these issues cannot be ignored.”

So it seems that the metropolitan area will continue to be carved up into 30 municipalities controlled by expensive bureaucracies that simply duplicate each other’s work. Many operate from extremely well appointed administrative offices, overseen by elected representatives.

Now that Mr Barnett has acknowledged the strategy to improve efficiencies and reduce waste has failed, don’t expect another attempt to streamline the third tier of government any time soon. Plenty of councillors resisting change have their eyes on parliamentary careers, with great ideas on spending but none on trimming costs – a proven vote loser.

Mr Barnett says he’ll now concentrate on legislation to bring the University of WA and Kings Park into the City of Perth. But without support from the National and Labor parties, don’t hold your breath.
Power behind the throne

WHAT is it about senior women political staff members in Canberra that attracts trouble for prime ministers and senior ministers? Tony Abbott’s principal private secretary, Peta Credlin, is just the latest staffer to hit a rough patch.

The rumblings have been coming from Liberal MPs rubbed up the wrong way by Mr Abbott’s office (read Ms Credlin). Whether it be access to the PM or the employment of staff, they believe she has too much influence.

Ms Credlin seems to be following in the footsteps of several influential women in Australian politics. One of the first to gain prominence was Ainsley Gotto, who was principal private secretary to John Gorton, Liberal prime minister from 1968 until 1971.

She was just 22 when appointed to the senior post, raising a number of eyebrows. She made headlines after the minister for air, Dudley Erwin, was dumped in a reshuffle. When asked to explain his sacking, Mr Erwin said simply: “It wiggles, it’s shapely and its name is Ainsley Gotto.”

In the Whitlam years, Junie Morosi attracted much interest, especially when the then deputy prime minister and treasurer, Jim Cairns, appointed her his principal private secretary – effectively his gatekeeper. Before long the tongues were wagging about their relationship.

And when the now defunct Sydney Sun newspaper published a page one story headed ‘My Love for Junie’, following an interview with Dr Cairns, it was the beginning of the end for both of them.

While there’s no suggestion Mr Abbott’s relationship with his chief of staff is anything but purely professional, Ms Credlin has come under heavy fire due to the level of power and influence Mr Abbott has ceded to her. Another black mark has been her high profile, traditionally considered inappropriate for holders of that job. A further issue is that her husband, Brian Loughnane, is the Liberal Party’s national director.

Ms Credlin has taken a back seat in recent weeks.

Despite newspaper publisher Rupert Murdoch tweeting that she should be replaced, Ms Credlin is likely to stay in the background for the time being.


Subscription Options