18/09/2007 - 22:00

Pushing for reform

18/09/2007 - 22:00


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Hats off to the Local Government Managers’ Association for pushing the debate on local government reform in a positive and constructive manner.

Hats off to the Local Government Managers’ Association for pushing the debate on local government reform in a positive and constructive manner.

The association set an example that could be followed by many other organisations seeking to win state government support for policy reform.

It commissioned four retired chief executives to outline their vision of what local government might look like in 2027.

The report outlined a radical vision that would reduce 142 local councils to 30, but with arrangements to protect small communities in rural Western Australia.

Local Government Managers Australia WA division president, Eric Lumsden, who will shortly be taking over as head of the state’s Department of Planning and Infrastructure, said the report was commissioned to stimulate discussion.

It was borne out of frustration that WA, alone among all of the states, has failed to implement major change to local government, despite multiple reports over 40 years calling for just that.

The number of local councils in WA today is nearly the same as the state had 100 years ago, yet over that time there has been dramatic change.

The state government accepts the desirability of reforming the sector, and offers modest financial incentives to encourage change through mergers or the establishment of regional groupings.

But  with just a handful of exceptions, local authorities have preferred to fight for their preservation rather than taking a visionary approach to make things better.


Waiting for change

The local government dilemma is a microcosm of the reform problem in WA.

The Gallop and Carpenter governments have implemented some reform in just about all policy areas, but there are few areas where they have enthusiastically pursued profound change.

Tax reform is a prime example. The government has cut tax rates and simplified the state tax system, and is pursuing further reform, but has resisted efforts for far-reaching change.

The same could be said about most policy areas – mining project approvals, residential land releases, energy, hospitals, environmental approvals, and apprentice training.

In all of these areas, the government can point to reforms it has implemented and progress it has achieved.

What reforms have captured the public’s imagination?

Similarly, the government has taken tentative steps toward fostering new industries in areas such as biotechnology and information and communications technology, but with a limited budget, progress has been modest.

The government has also talked about fostering WA’s cultural industries, enhancing Perth’s architectural heritage and shaking off the ‘dullsville’ tag with visionary city-building projects. Once again, there has been some progress but little to get excited about.

The Swan River foreshore near the CBD hasn’t moved beyond concept plans, the Old Treasury Building on St Georges Terrace is still undeveloped, and planning for a major new sporting stadium is progressing slowly, to name just a few notable examples.


Premier vision

Many people cite Jeff Kennett as an example of the kind of can-do premier they would like in WA.

But, given Alan Carpenter’s personality and politics, Mr Kennett isn’t a very useful role model.

Business executive and arts champion Dario Amara provided an alternative example when he delivered a thought-provoking address to the Italian Chamber of Commerce & Industry last week.

Like many people in Perth, Mr Amara is frustrated by the lack of visionary planning and cultural development of Perth.

Take public art as an example. He wants more than a few brass kangaroos on St Georges Terrace.

Mr Amara suggested WA needs a premier like Don Dunstan, the man who turned sleepy Adelaide into one of Australia’s premier cultural cities during the 1970s.

Mr Dunstan didn’t have a resources boom and unprecedented wealth to help him along the way. Instead, he had a single-minded determination to create something special, and the legacy has lasted to the present day.

It’s a clichéd question, but still worth asking – what will be the legacy of Alan Carpenter’s time in the top job?


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