Dept of Local Govt fail to understand the issues

LG ReformAs anyone with the slightest interest in the local government reform process would know, the abolishment of the ward system has caused great consternation amongst some local governments, elected members and community members. I have written about the importance of a ward system previously. The Department of Local Government has belatedly released a paper on the process to implement the ward system after they were recommended to be abolished by the Local Government Advisory Board. 

I say belatedly because on the 3rd of November the Department of Local Government wrote they were preparing the paper because “the topic was a major discussion point when Local Government Minister Tony Simpson briefed the Mayors, Presidents and CEOs of the 30 metropolitan local governments in Fremantle…”

On the 10th of November they said they’d prepared it and it would be released soon. And on the 4th December, it was finally released. Not sure why there was almost a month’s delay, perhaps someone didn’t like the original paper and it had to be revised till the right message was conveyed??

Anyway the steps required for a ward system to be re-introduced for local governments undergoing a ‘boundary change’ are at the end of this article, and they are numerous. What was most telling however were the Departments comments on the advantages of a no-ward (also known as a single-ward) structure and a ward structure. They are good to read because I really couldn’t come up with any advantages of a no-ward system myself, however I believe they have deliberately been spun this way, and hence is a directive from higher up. Ergo, the powers that be, don’t want a ward system and, despite virtually all local government’s believing they should be kept, even if they go through the process detailed below, they can and probably will get knocked back by either the LGAB or Minister. In other words, save yourself the time and expense and just bang your head against a wall instead.

According to the Department paper, the following are the benefits of a no-ward and a ward system (my own comments are in brackets and red):

“What are the benefits of a district having a single-ward structure?  (Note there are 6 listed)

  • A single ward structure means that councillors are elected by the whole community and not just a section of it. Knowledge and interest in all areas of the council’s affairs would result in broadening the views beyond the immediate concerns of those in a ward. This would be particularly beneficial where integrating the electors of two or more districts into one district. (This won’t be beneficial, it will be problematic. No Cr can be sufficiently knowledgeable about all streets/parks/local issues etc throughout the entire, and enlarged, City)
  • This is an important way to bring together different communities following an amalgamation or boundary change, sending a clear message to them that they are all now part of one new district. (On the contrary, this will exacerbate concerns that they are being taken over)
  • Members of the community who want to approach an elected member know that they can speak to any elected member. (On the contrary, it will disempower residents because they will not know who to contact)
  • Social networks and communities of interest are often spread across a local government and elected members can have an overview of these. (As if this doesn’t happen already; scrapping the bottom of the barrel here)
  • Elected members can use their skills and knowledge for the benefits of the whole local government. (According to law, it is explicitly stated that all Cr’s must vote at Council meetings they attend, hence this is already happening. Does the Department not know this?)
  • The election process is much simpler for the community to understand and for the council to administer. (In other words, according to the Department, the community are simpletons and despite having ‘seats’ in State and Federal politics, they can’t understand similar in local government. Not sure how it is simpler for the council to administer either)

3.2         What are the benefits of a district having a multi-ward structure? (Note there are only 3 listed, and 1 of the 3 is on self-serving grounds based on “perception”)

  • Different geographic areas can be represented ensuring a spread of representation and interests amongst elected members.
  • Elected members living in a certain area may have a greater affinity and understanding of the issues specific to that area. (May have a greater understanding. Give me a break, clearly they have a better understanding of the neighbourhood they live in)
  • There is a perception that it is easier and less expensive for candidates to be elected if they only need to canvas in a smaller area. (This is bound to resonate with the community, NOT. Bring out the violins for the poor elected members. In seriousness, running in an area the size of a Federal seat will price many people out, and those that do run will probably have to get financial backing from someone with deep pockets – developers, political parties etc)

What I read from between the lines is abundantly clear, and that is that the Department is in favour of a no-ward system. Perhaps they form this opinion because it is the one their political masters want them to have.

Because they were clearly struggling so much with any advantages of a ward system, I’ll help them out with a few:

  1. It allows an active member of a community to get elected despite only being known within their local community.
  2. It assures any amalgamated entities that their community will likely stay as it always has been, and will be represented by locals.
  3. It provides the electors with a clear understanding of who their initial contact point should be.
  4. It ensures the elected member is knowledgeable and committed to their area/ward (and own community).
  5. It will not lead to the politicisation of local government.
  6. It will not overly favour the incumbents who already have a City wide profile
  7. It will not lead to big business bank-rolling candidates.
  8. It will not rip the ‘local’ out of ‘local government’.

Due to the obvious preference of the Department of LG to not have a ward system, I am now inclined to not bother pushing for its continuance in the City of Bayswater as I think it’ll consume great amounts of staff resources, and cost, to only be rejected at the finish line. What a pity for local government.

For those interested, the following table sets out the necessary process an ongoing council of a district affected by a boundary change may undertake to conduct a representation review with a view to implementing a multi-ward structure in time for the October 2015 elections.

Estimated Time frame  Stage
Now Councils or Local Implementation Committees (LIC) may take preliminary steps prior to commencing a representation review.
After Governor’s Orders are issued (December) The ongoing council resolves to undertake a representation review.It is preferable that the ongoing council’s resolution is made following consultation with, and with the support of, the LIC.
December 2014 A Discussion or Information Paper must be prepared exploring a range of models, including no wards, in a balanced way.No recommendation is made in the paper.
December 2014 Council must endorse the paper.It is preferable that the LIC also supports the paper.
December 2014 The ongoing local government must give local public notice to all electors of the new district that the review is to be carried out.The notice must advise that submissions may be made to the local government up to six weeks from the day after the date of the first notice (that is, not including the day of the notice). The closing date for submissions should not be a weekend or public holiday.The public notice should not try to “sell” a particular position. It should include a number of ward system alternatives so that all options can be considered.The public notice should encourage responses and suggestions from the community.
From early February 2015  The council must consider all submissions it receives and record this in the minutes of its meeting along with any other information considered relevant to the decision making process.The council should have due regard to the opinion of the community in making its decisions.
Mid-February 2015  If the council decides it wants to change the ward structure, it must resolve to propose the making of an order to change the ward structure. This resolution must be made by an absolute majority.The council’s resolution must include the reasons for changing the ward structure.
On or before 31 March 2015  The ongoing council must provide the Local Government Advisory Board with a proposal for changing the ward structure including a written report. The report must outline the processes and outcome of the review, and include the council’s resolution(s).A checklist of the necessary documents to be submitted to the Local Government Advisory Board is available on page 34 and 49 of ‘A Guide for Local Government: How to conduct a review of wards and representation for local governments with and without a ward system’ available on http://dlgc.wa.gov.au/advisoryboard.
April to June 2015  On receipt of a proposal, the Local Government Advisory Board will consider the local government’s written report and assess it against the requirements of the Act. The Board will consider all recommendations for change submitted as part of the review, and then make recommendations to the Minister.
May/June 2015  The Minister may accept or reject the Board’s recommendations.
June 2015  On acceptance of the recommendations for a different ward structure, a number of administrative processes follow. This includes the issuance of Governor’s Orders setting out the change to the ward structure for a district.The Act sets out a number of specific issues which can be addressed in the Governor’s Orders. The Act also allows the Governor’s Orders to include other things which are ‘necessary’ for the purpose of giving effect to an order.It will be necessary to make a subsequent order to allocate existing councillors to wards.  This is not part of the Local Government Advisory Board’s considerations.  Refer to page 5 for a discussion of the principles which will underpin the allocation of existing councillors to wards following a ward review.
On or before
22 August 2015
 For the purpose of conducting the local government elections in October 2015, the Western Australian Election Commission must know the number of offices of councillor which will be vacant and require filling at the election.
17 October 2015  Local government elections are held.

* Source “Information Sheet: Wards and representation arrangements”, Prepared for the Metropolitan Reform Implementation Committee by the Department of Local Government and Communities.

Please be aware that these views are my own and have not been endorsed by the City of Bayswater.

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