11/02/2021 - 11:00

Mannkal weighs in on council reform

11/02/2021 - 11:00

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Inexperienced councillors and an overreliance on bureaucratic expertise are among major drivers of local government inefficiency, according to new research from Mannkal Economic Education Foundation.

Mannkal weighs in on council reform
David Templeman earlier this month said the state government was committed to transforming the local government sector. Photo: Gabriel Oliveira

Inexperienced councillors, unrepresentative voting systems and an overreliance on bureaucratic expertise are among major drivers of local government inefficiency, according to new research from Mannkal Economic Education Foundation.

That paper comes as public scrutiny of the state’s local government sector has grown in recent years, most notably in the aftermath of the City of Perth’s council being dismissed in 2018.

The two-year inquiry that followed ended up costing the city $8 million.

While that scandal heightened interest in the sector, the foundations’ research manager, Josh Adamson, said there was a general apathy among ratepayers when it came to local governments.

“Most people would not be able to name their local shire president, let alone a councillor,” he said.

“The only time we see significant attention paid to the subject is when there is a scandal or when people realise their rates have gone up.

“[T]his needs to change.”

Mr Adamson’s comments come after the state government announced a series of new regulations under several local government acts earlier this month.

They include changes to the recruitment and termination of a local government’s chief executive and mandatory codes of conduct for councillors, candidates and employees.

While that legislation was developed following consultation with the sector over the past two years, a local government review panel led by David Michael produced a report in August that outlined 65 reforms to WA’s local government structure.

Among those suggestions were fixed, four-year terms for all councillors, the establishment of a rating and revenue strategy to increase transparency in setting rates and the establishment of a commission to promote and facilitate structural reforms across the sector.

Local Government Minister David Templeman said at the time that the state government was committed to transforming the sector.

"These legislative changes are another step on the road to enabling local governments to modernise and deliver good governance for their communities, now and into the future," he said.

"We will continue to work with the sector to make changes that enable local governments to operate more efficiently, and in tune with what WA's communities expect from them."

While the report notes the state government’s own review of the local government sector, Mr Adamson notes weaknesses in the review's terms of reference, including the presence of non-ratepaying groups.

Among alternatives to the local government structure in WA the foundation suggested include a “contract city” model, in which service provision is farmed out to the private sector.

That would mirror similar reforms throughout the US, including in California, Colorado and Georgia.

Other recommendations include reforms to voting systems, the institution of cost-reflective pricing and tighter regulation on lobbying groups.

“Significant issues within local government remain and these must be placed at the forefront of political debates,” Mr Adamson said.

“Ratepayers deserve better, and all Western Australians – both current and future – deserve a robust and representative federation.”

 

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