Extra time to ponder reform

THE Tasmanian Government has buckled to pressure and extended the timeframe for the Local Government sector to respond to controversial proposals which could see forced amalgamations.

Following individual and sector complaints about the short timeframe, Local Government Minister

Nic Street has agreed to extend public consultation by six weeks and the board heading up the process has been given more time to finalise its report.

The extension announcement came just minutes after the Opposition called for it.

“I have agreed to the Local Government Association of Tasmania’s request for Government support in the form of additional time and funding to help it coordinate council submissions across the nine community catchments identified by the board in its Stage 2 Report,” Mr Street said.

Last week Labor spokesman Luke Edmunds said councils were still waiting for their Review Packs with less than a month to provide a final submission.

“Local Government Minister Nic Street sat on the report, taking three weeks to read it at the end of March,’’ Mr Edmunds said.

“The Minister now expects councils to receive community, workforce and business submissions, consult with their neighbours and have internal discussions in a month before making a final submission.

“It is unfair on councils to expect them to live up to this timeline and at a time they are also expected to deliver their annual budgets.

“There is great unease about the changes Mr Street wants to enforce on local government and councils should not be expected to do this important work in such a short timeframe.’’

Mr Street rejected the criticism, saying he had always said positive and lasting reform was most likely to succeed where the sector was actively involved in the co-design of any proposals.

“I believe the LGAT proposal reflects a level of genuine intent and goodwill from the sector to invest the time and effort to consider sensible, practical, and achievable structural reform options,’’ Mr Street said.

“I have written to the Local Government Board requesting that it extend its current engagement timeframe by six weeks to August 2, 2023.

“I have also decided to extend the board’s final reporting date by one month, to October 31, 2023, to accommodate the additional engagement period so the board still has enough time to formulate its recommendations.

“There is no doubt the Review is contemplating some very important and complex reform proposals for Tasmania’s system of local government.

“If providing some additional time is what is necessary to help the sector work with the board as a genuine partner in reform design, then I am more than happy to support that.”

LGAT president and West Tamar Mayor Christina Holmdahl welcomed the announcement.

“The original timeframe provided by the board was not sufficient for councils to meaningfully participate at this critical stage of the Review,’’ Mrs Holmdahl said.

“We are pleased the Minister has responded positively to LGATs request for additional time and funding and look forward to working through the further information to be provided by the board on reform opportunities.” 

Report recommendations include the amalgamation of the Derwent Valley, Central Highland and Brighton councils.

The Report warned the Minister amalgamation of Tasmania’s 29 councils would not take place unless “mandated’’ by Government.

Review Board chair Sue Smith said in the report that there was broad consensus the status quo was not an optimal or sustainable model for the sector in the years ahead, and therefore some form of consolidation was necessary to deliver greater economies of scale and scope.

The report found that the “scale and extent of the consolidation needed to deliver significantly better services will, unfortunately, not occur on a purely voluntary basis within the current framework’’.

“Reform must be designed collaboratively but once settled, implementation must be mandated by the State Government’’.