EXISTING COUNCIL AMALGAMATIONS YIELDED MIXED RESULTS IN VICTORIA AND QUEENSLAND
NSW’S peak local government body has warned the Baird Government of a voter backlash over forced council mergers, but similar reforms in Victoria and Queensland provide contrasting lessons.
The government’s proposals would roughly halve the number of councillors across greater Sydney to about 220 with supporters pointing to neighbouring states to bolster their case.
For example, greater Brisbane is a city of 2.2 million people with just four councils and 62 councillors while Sydney has 41 councils, 4.8 million people and more than 400 councillors.
Keith Rhoades of Local Government NSW, a fierce opponent of forced mergers, claims Queensland’s recent experience with forced amalgamations “simply didn’t work”.
“In Queensland rates have increased by 27.4 per cent on average since they pushed through amalgamations in 2008-09,” Mr Rhoades said.
“There is no evidence whatsoever that bigger is better.”
Queensland forcibly merged 156 councils into 77 ations with new systems and technology, you don’t need as many people there.”
Mr Kennett, who slashed councils in Victoria from 210 to 78 and from 53 councils in Melbourne to 26, urged NSW to adopt his model.
“When we did it in Victoria, we sacked councils over- night, put in commissioners for two years having already worked out the boundaries, and the commissioners worked out the synergy gains,” he said. “The trouble with voluntary mergers is they’re often for self-interest, not for what is necessary for the best governance interests of the state.”
Mr Rhoades predicts halving the number of councils in Sydney via forced mergers threatens grassroots democracy.
“The community is passionate about local identity. So I think a lot of MPs will be very nervous if Baird goes through with this. It won’t be forgotten come March, 2019 [the next state election].”
Mr Rhoades dismissed Kennett’s views as self-serving and predictable.
“I always say to him, ‘How many terms did you serve Jeff?’”
Kennett slashed councils in Victoria in 1994 and, despite widespread protests, was returned for a second term in 1996.
Mr Kennett believes the vast majority of the NSW public will quietly support mergers.
“The notion that this destroys local democracy is absolute BS,” he said.