Vote on forced amalgamations

30th August 2007

The Australian Local Government Association has recommended councils hold amalgamation ballots on Saturday, October 20.

Local Government Association of Queensland president Paul Bell, told this week’s LGAQ annual conference on the Gold Coast the decision whether or not to hold the ballot, under the auspices of the Australian Electoral Commission, would be up to individual councils.

“The LGAQ executive and I fully accept some councils want to get on with amalgamations and we respect those decisions,” Cr Bell said.  “We’re already doing a great deal to support councils through the complicated and costly amalgamation process. At the same time we will see referendums, polls, or plebiscites, call them what you may, held in communities where councils request them – democracy can and must prevail.”

Cr Bell told delegates that Federal Government support for Queensland local government this year was in sharp contrast to that of the State.

For some time now, this State Government has carried an agenda of attacking local government’s elected members – attacking our rights to stand for higher levels of office, attacking how you get elected to council, what you get paid, whether you are full time or part time, attacking your divisional discretionary project funds and, potentially, even the control of your workforces,” he said.

At the same time the Federal Government had extended and raised to $1.75 billion its direct funding for roads initiatives and authorised the AEC to run a ballot on amalgamations amid the State’s threat, now withdrawn, to sack councils that did so.

Cr Bell said for the first time Canberra had put the issue of local government access to a federal growth tax on the agenda.

“It was discussed at a COAG meeting in April this year. I am confident that this push is now bearing fruit, even if it is in other areas of funding,” he said.

Cr Bell also welcomed the federal government’s announcement last week that half of all future federal budget surpluses would go into a fund on which interest earned would go to community and council non-roads, water and sewerage infrastructure projects such as libraries, parks, community buildings and sporting facilities.

“The program could be equal in size to the Roads to Recovery program and grow in similar fashion, giving us a direct link to growth in the economy,” he said.

But industrial relations and WorkChoices had been a complex legal minefield for the association and councils.

“Whether they are pro or anti-WorkChoices, councils and their workforces have become the meat in the sandwich. We will continue to defend the rights of councils to follow the law of the land – all the way to the High Court if need be,” he said.

Source:  Queensland Country Life