When one considers the range of services and regulatory functions performed by local government, it is not surprising that issues concerned with this third tier of government are never far from the political agenda. These include concerns about governance and accountability, the delivery of infrastructure, revenue and funding arrangements and, at the top end of the debate there is the question of the constitutional recognition of local government at the Commonwealth level. The reforms to the planning system foreshadowed in the recent Green Paper will also impact heavily on local government.
Financial and structural issues are currently on the political agenda in NSW. Back in August 2011, it was reported that the Government would encourage but not force council amalgamations, as well as more collaborative approaches to the delivery of services. Subsequently the O'Farrell Government established an Independent Local Government Review Panel, which is due to report in July 2013. In its November 2012 discussion paper the Panel said that it "believes that the current system of local government looks superficially well enough, but is really in quite poor shape". Alongside the Panel, a Local Government Acts Task Force has been appointed to rewrite the Local Government Act 1993 and examine the City of Sydney Act 1988. The Task Force is to complete its work in September 2013.
In February 2013 a report by consultants SGS Economics and Planning, commissioned by Randwick Council, found that the merger of four Sydney councils (Randwick, Waverley, Woollahra and Botany) “would save $517 million in a decade – and failing a change would leave them with a $52 million debt in the same period”. The report was said to be welcomed by the Minister for Local Government, Don Page, who stated “everything is on the table” as “the government pursues far-reaching reforms”.
While this e-brief presents an overview of the key issues on the current agenda, its focus is on the question of consolidation and cooperation in local government.