Local government in WA is poised to undergo a major transformation, adding greater significance to this year’s elections.
WESTERN Australia is about to undergo a massive local government transformation with the state government considering a cull of the state's least sustainable city, shire and town councils.
About a third of WA's 139 councils, including Boddington, East Pilbara, Merredin, Ravensthorpe, Yilgarn, and Wiluna, have been listed by the Local Government Reform Steering Committee as the least sustainable municipalities in the state.
Sweeping reforms would mean that many of the candidates elected in this weekend's elections will not get to serve out their full terms on council.
Conversely, opportunities exist for larger municipalities that absorb smaller councils to work with larger portfolios, represent a wider cross-section of the community and deal with broader issues.
Local Government Minister John Castrilli has said there were 85 local councils in WA serving populations of fewer than 2,000 people.
Mr Castrilli also noted more than 50 councils had representation ratios of one councillor to fewer than 100 electors, with this ratio falling as low as 1:20 in some cases.
But while there are mixed views about amalgamations leading into this year's local council elections, one thing has become clear - the low return rate of votes (about 22 per cent), highlighted the apathy of ratepayers, even when big changes loom.
Lord Mayor Lisa Scaffidi is not up for re-election until 2011, but eight candidates have thrown their hats in the ring for the four places on the only council in the state not to be divided by wards.
Ms Scaffidi said she supported amalgamations and that voting should become compulsory.
“[Amalgamation] is a rational and evolutionary thing to do in light of how our greater city is evolving. It is a case of being able to work smarter, not harder, as the amalgamations would take in the changes that have occurred in our rapidly growing and maturing city," Ms Scaffidi said.
Former lord mayor Chas Hopkins has nominated for a position on Perth city council, the first time he has contested a place on the council since 1991 when he lost to Reg Withers, who was succeeded by Peter Nattrass.
Hotelier John Dimitrovski, former real estate agent Lyndon Rodgers, local resident Karl Williams, real estate agent James Limnios, corporate lawyer Peter Neil and current councillors Judy McEvoy and Eleni Evangel have also nominated.
The City of Fremantle has endured a low voter return rate this year, which has been attributed to a bungle with electoral forms being posted out.
Outgoing mayor Peter Tagliaferri, who has had an association with the council since 1984 including the past eight years as mayor, believes boundary reform is an important part of moving forward for local governments and that the new Fremantle mayor would need to be fully aware of that.
“Whoever is elected, they need to demonstrate that they understand the diversity of Fremantle," Mr Tagliaferri told WA Business News.
There are six candidates running for mayor in Fremantle, although Jon Strachan, Brad Pettitt, and Michael Martin are said to be frontrunners.
Interestingly, these nominees have declared support for the Greens but joined a raft of others to say there was no room for political parties on council, a notion Mr Tagliaferri agrees with.
With Greens MLA Adele Carles the new state MP, their declarations of allegiance with the Greens could be a political bonus in the Greens-friendly electorate.
Further boosting the chances of Mr Pettitt and Mr Strachan has been unofficial endorsement by the Fremantle Chamber of Commerce, which took the unusual step of launching a how to vote advertising campaign listing just Mr Pettitt and Mr Strachan as candidates for mayor.
While this could generate tension with the incoming mayor before they are even officially sworn in, chamber chief executive Peter Nolin said the campaign stopped short of endorsement.
But he conceded there could be some fallout with the new mayor if Mr Pettitt or Mr Strachan failed to win.
He said the how-to-vote campaign was designed to assist local businesses make an informed choice about candidates, based on a questionnaire sent to nominees asking them to reveal their stance on issues the chamber felt were important.
In Canning, Mayor Joe Delle Donne faces Margaret Hall and Steve Klomp in the mayoral race, in an election focused around the local resource recovery centre.
The council's decision to withdraw from the Southern Metropolitan Regional Council is viewed as the political platform for the mayoral contenders, who claim the decision will cost ratepayers $14 million in ongoing loan repayments.
However, Mr Delle Donne said the claims were untrue and that, under his leadership during the past 12 months, Canning had enjoyed debt-free status with low rates.
Ms Hall, who is president of the International Business Council and the Multicultural Association Perth, said she remained concerned about the ramification to ratepayers following the withdrawal from SMRC and the ensuing loan repayments, which she said must be made until 2023.
Mr Klomp said while the present administration had done well, he believed it was time for the council to move on.
The City of Swan has 18 candidates vying for eight ward vacancies. The council recently joined forces with Stirling to ask Mr Castrilli to rule as out of order a submission to the local government reform process by the City of Bayswater.
Bayswater council discretely lodged a submission asking for a reduction in the larger councils' electorates, proposing a merger with the Town of Bassendean as well as moving its eastern, western and northern boundaries to take in 14 of Stirling's and Swan's suburbs combined.
Two council stalwarts will be absent from the ballot on October 17 for the Stirling elections after councillors Kathryn Thomas and Ron Sebrechts decided against renominating for their respective positions.
One position in each of the city's seven wards is up for election with incumbents David Michael, Rod Willox, and Mayor David Boothman each having one opponent in their respective wards.
Fifteen new names will appear on the ballot, with five incumbents looking to secure another four years as councillors, and former mayor Terry Tyzack aiming to extend his 35-year association with the council when he comes up against three nominees for the Inglewood ward position.
Meanwhile, the cities of Wanneroo and Joondalup are hoping for a higher voter turnout after recording some of the lowest levels of voter participation in WA at the 2007 elections.
In 2007, six of Joondalup's councillors were returned to office unopposed.
Joondalup Mayor Troy Pickard will re-contest his position this year against president of Joondalup Business Association Russ Poliwka and entrepreneur Brian Corr.