Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Let the Transition games begin

The transition phase of local government reform will now commence, as the Local Government Reform Implementation Bill 2007 was passed in Parliament and assented.

Funding is available to assist councils impacted by this reform. $27.1m will assist councils through the transition process. The funding includes allocations for a Staff Support Package, and Local Transition Committees.

$12m has been allocated to the three-year Staff Support Package which guarantees employment for 37,000+ council employees. This takes effect from the assent of the legislation through until March 2011. The package includes a local government workforce Code of Practice to protect and support job security.

Funds may also support legal and statutory costs associated with the transition; Upgrade or replacement of financial systems to support new councils; Establishment and ongoing costs of the LTCs; Subsidy to appoint Interim CEO's commencing September 2007 to assist affected Councils with the transition.

There will be a Local Transition Committee workshop in Cairns on 4th September.
Further info, as well as registration for the free workshops, visit http://www.strongercouncils.qld.gov.au/

As Cairns and Douglas are to merge, we will be subject to transition caretaker requirements.
The Reform Act requires the affected councils not to make a “major policy decision”. Basically, anything over $1.2m can't be agreed on, until the new merged Council sits in March 2008.

Timeline

27 July 2007
Local Government Reform Commission announced recommendations to the Minister for Local Government, Planning and Sport on the name, class, boundary and electoral arrangements for each new local government

August 2007
Parliament resolves new local government areas

September 2007 to February 2008
Local Transition Committees established to guide reforms, interim CEOs appointed to manage change process

15 March 2008
Queenslanders vote at next local government elections

1 comment:

Charlie Stevenson said...

I can't help comparing the situation here in Queensland with that in Victoria a little over 10 years ago.

Jeff Kennett's Liberal government "reformed" local government in the mid-1990s. 210 councils became 78. The Local Government Minister (Roger Hallam) said at the time that their bill was "intended to preclude the Supreme Court from hearing any proceedings brought against the board (ie., the Local Government Board, appointed by the Kennett government to do its bidding), . . . or the Minister in respect of any review . . . ."

This seems to me a bit more draconian than removing the right to hold a pointless referendum . . . .

But Kennett's government went further than that to preempt any opposition - they simply replaced all the state's elected councillors with appointed commissioners (mostly failed Liberal and National party politicians and a few government party hacks on the lookout for some easy money).

These "transition arrangements" (the point about your blog item that caught my eye) were to provide (in Minister Hallam's words) "an opportunity to ensure the new councils were well set up." In fact, the Liberal government used the commissioners to impose an economic rationalist programme on the councils: the council employees who provided local services were sacked (so the services could be put out to competitive tender).

The financial figures are so badly fudged and manipulated that it is impossible to tell from them whether or not this process has actually benefitted ratepayers. But, looking at the effect on services at the local level, one normally sees reductions.

For example, I lived in Melbourne at the time, in Waverley Council which was amalgamated with Oakleigh to form the new City of Monash. After the unelected commissioners took office, the council-owned easement behind my back fence wasn't mowed for 18 months (it had been regularly mowed by council workers every 6 weeks or so during the growing season). As a result, the whole neighbourhood experienced an invasion of rats (never seen in the area before then). A year of constant telephoning and complaining by dozens of neighbours finally got the easement mowed. But, of course, the bottom line for the council improved . . . .

This puts the Beattie government's commitment to fund council employees in an interesting perspective, to say the least.

In line with the government's managerialist agenda, the number of councillors in any one shire was reduced: from a minimum of 9 to a minimum of 5, and from a maximum of 15 to a maximum of 12 - and this after the total number of councils had been drastically reduced (by almost 2/3).

The Local Government Board recognised that councillors had a representative role - but regarded it as a secondary function: the "primary role of councillors", in the words of the Board is "determining policy, setting objectives and establishing the strategic direction of council". In other words, community representatives had become a sort of board of directors for a business.

It remains to be seen how the new arrangements will play out in Queensland. Lets hope there's still some sense of the local council as a body representing the community's wishes and looking after their best interests. That idea was largely thrown out the window in Victoria 10 years or so ago, but it need not be so here in 2007/8.

We can certainly start here in FNQ by ensuring that we elect a council that listens to the ratepayers before the developers and puts environmental and social concerns at the same level of importance as economic concerns.

In other words, we need to vote for Val Schier and the Cairns 1st team next March.