OPIN­ION:

Geelong Advertiser - - FRONT PAGE - Bruce HAR­WOOD Bruce Har­wood is the City of Greater Gee­long mayor.

THIS might seem like a strange topic for a mayor to open up about, but I of­ten think we are over-gov­erned.

This is not a crack at any politi­cian as such; more of a ques­tion about the roles of three lev­els of gov­ern­ment.

In Aus­tralia, with our pop­u­la­tion ap­proach­ing 25 mil­lion, is three lev­els of gov­ern­ment (Fed­eral, State and Lo­cal) and a myr­iad of statu­tory au­thor­i­ties (such as VicRoads, Bar­won Wa­ter, EPA, etc) re­ally needed?

Other coun­tries with far greater pop­u­la­tions make do with less.

One sim­ple thought is that we could be just as well-served with the Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment over­see­ing the na­tional in­ter­est, and a com­bi­na­tion of state gov­ern­ment and lo­cal coun­cil gov­ern­ing the more ba­sic lo­cal re­quire­ments.

With­out know­ing the ex­act cost of run­ning the coun­try, it’s fair to say this model could save a few shekels.

Think of the po­ten­tial drop in re­quired in­fras­truc­ture and re­sources with a greater clar­ity around ex­actly who is re­spon­si­ble for what com­mu­nity ser­vices.

Ex­am­ples in­clude the present con­fu­sion as to which roads the lo­cal coun­cil are re­spon­si­ble for and which be­long to VicRoads (and who fixes which pot­hole), or who has con­trol of our bays and rivers.

Too of­ten our com­mu­nity doesn’t know who is re­spon­si­ble for many of the ser­vices, or for in­fras­truc­ture re­newal and main­te­nance.

Sim­pli­fy­ing it all may make our gov­er­nance model ac­tu­ally ser­vice us bet­ter.

Of course, the daily squab­ble over what funds are avail­able via the tax and GST sys­tem may never go away.

The cur­rent dis­tri­bu­tion of this wealth is about 3 per cent to lo­cal coun­cils, 9 per cent to the states, and the rest — about 88 per cent — to our fed­eral col­leagues.

Yes, the feds do dis­trib­ute fur­ther funds to state and lo­cal gov­ern­ments, but it’s way short of the to­tal col­lected each year.

Politi­cians of all per­sua­sions some­times seem to for­get where that money ac­tu­ally came from in the first place.

Fund­ing an­nounce­ments, from multi-bil­lion dol­lar clean en­ergy funds/trans­port, etc … to the lo­cal play­ground up­grade, are pro­moted as ‘im­por­tant com­mu­nity events’.

But too of­ten we see politi­cians jostling to be front and cen­tre be­fore the me­dia cam­eras.

Fund­ing needs to be bet­ter stream­lined and more equitable.

So the ba­sic ques­tion is, are we get­ting good value for our dol­lar from our elected per­son­nel and the as­so­ci­ated statu­tory au­thor­i­ties across our three lev­els of gov­ern­ment?

And is an elec­tion process the only time and the best mech­a­nism we get to ex­press our an­swer?

Just imag­ine for a mo­ment: a bi­par­ti­san fed­eral gov­ern­ment gen­uinely mak­ing your hard earned tax and GST money work, build­ing na­tional in­fras­truc­ture on a needs ba­sis; and a state/lo­cal gov­ern­ment body work­ing to en­sure the grass­roots of our com­mu­ni­ties are be­ing well served and fi­nanced. Too much blue sky think­ing? We’ve seen the amal­ga­ma­tion and ever- re­strict­ing ca­pac­i­ties of lo­cal coun­cils over the years.

Rate cap­ping and the con­vo­luted pro­cesses to get ex­tra fund­ing are a de­bil­i­tat­ing drain on all.

So let’s cut to the chase and con­sider what might hap­pen if the Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment an­nounced a ref­er­en­dum on blend­ing the two lower lev­els of gov­ern­ment, with a gov­er­nance and fi­nan­cial model that’s fit for pur­pose.

What would be the likely out­come?

Per­haps one day it will hap­pen.

Or, per­haps Dar­ryl Ker­ri­gan, pic­tured, of 3 Highview Cres­cent, Coola­roo, was right when he said, “Tell ’em they’re dream­ing.”

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