LOCAL councils in Tasmania are in for a shake-up within the year with amalgamations and compulsory resource sharing again on the agenda. Residents of the Derwent Valley, Central Highlands and Brighton municipalities, as well as the rest of the state’s 29 councils should know within six months just what local council representation will look like.
The Local Government Board recently released an Options Paper on the future of local government in Tasmania. Lead by highly regarded former MP and Councillor Sue Smith, the report outlines 33 specific reform ideas. A final report with recommendations to the Local Government Minister Nic Street is expected by July this year.
The report puts forward three ‘pathways’ for structural reform. “These include a system of mandatory resource sharing arrangements between our current 29 councils,’’ Ms Smith said. “Moving to a system of fewer, much larger councils. “Or a ‘hybrid’ approach that combines both of these elements, to a greater or lesser degree.
“These options are underpinned by the common aim of improving the capacity and capability of our local councils to support the future wellbeing and prosperity of our communities. “Tasmania is growing and changing. “Our communities face the local impacts of an ever-expanding set of global issues, including climate change, economic disruption, and population ageing.
“Local government will play an increasingly vital role in meeting all these challenges, but it must be ready and able.’’
Ms Smith conceded the Options Paper contained “a broad and ambitious set of ideas and options’’ for improving local government. “Our package of 33 specific reform ideas includes options for how councils can better support community wellbeing, more effectively represent their communities and ensure they provide essential services and infrastructure in a fair and sustainable way. They were designed in consultation with the sector, stakeholders and our communities,’’ Ms Smith said.
“Many councils – despite their best efforts – find it hard to do all the things their communities increasingly need and expect. “Sometimes this is because they are simply too small to access or compete for the right resources and people. “If we are to deliver the best outcomes for local government, some kind of ‘scaling up’ is needed.” Local Government Minister Nic Street said the board had put forward a number of ideas to improve local government.
“I’d really encourage all Tasmanians to look at the options paper and to have their say,’’ Mr Street said.
To read the Options Paper and submit a response goes to http://www.engage.futurelocal.tas. gov.au. Feedback is due by February 18, 2023. Meanwhile, Tasmania’s first compulsory local government election, which was held in October last year, will be the subject of a review with voters and other stakeholders being asked to contribute.
With a voter turnout statewide of 85 per cent, supporters of the new compulsory model say the new system is proof democratic processes are alive and well in Tasmania. Mr Street said the move to compulsory voting sought to increase voter participation and strengthen connections between Tasmanian communities and their local council.
“The elections, held in October saw a statewide voter turnout of 84.79 per cent, a massive increase in participation compared with previous local government elections, where voter turnout frequently sat below 60 per cent,’’ Mr Street said. “We now have a unique opportunity to look for ways to improve election processes going forward. “We are keen to hear from the community and stakeholders regarding their experiences and perspectives with the 2022 local government elections.”
“The information we gather from this process will also pave the way for a more formal review of the legislative framework for local government elections, which will be undertaken in 2023,’’ Mr Street said.
To participate in the survey, visit the Office of Local Government’s website www. dpac.tas.gov.au/lg-elections.
Alternatively, contact the Office of Local Government on (03) 6232 7022 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The survey will be available until midnight on January 30, 2022.