7 May 2013 [UPDATED 9 May 2013]— A bill currently being pushed through NSW parliament and in the Legislative Assembly on Tuesday would give the state government the power to suspend councils for three months and potentially longer.
Introduced by NSW Minister for Local Government Don Page, the Local Government Amendment (Early Intervention) Bill 2013 would allow the minister to suspend “poorly performing” councils. The bill would also give the government stronger information gathering powers and the power to issue “performance improvement orders”. On top of their commitment to residents and ratepayers, councils would become answerable to the minister.
Joint President of Local Government NSW Keith Rhoades has called for the bill to be deferred.
“If passed, this legislation will undermine the democratic responsibilities of Mayors and councils elected by residents and ratepayers by making councils responsible to the Minister,” he said.
Cr Rhoades told The Fifth Estate today that the bill, which is being debated in the lower house today (Tuesday), could be transferred to the upper house as early as tomorrow (Wednesday). He said he could not see the reason behind hastily pushing the bill through and called for any amendments to the bill to go back to LGNSW member councils for response.
“We’ve asked the government for the continued deferral of the bill,” he said.
NSW Upper House Greens member David Shoebridge said The Greens would not be supporting the bill in its current form, indicating it could be used politically.
“We recognise that there is room to improve the current system of accountability for local government,” Mr Shoebridge said, “but the legislation proposed by the government goes too far and puts too much control in the hands of the Local Government Minister, control that could potentially be politically abused.”
Former mayor, state and federal representative for North Sydney Ted Mack published a scathing opinion piece in the Sydney Morning Herald in March, saying the bill in effect made local government a department of state government. He said “poorly performing” was ill-defined, and could mean opposing a “favoured” developer.
“Will councils who put their communities first, ahead of bowing to the dictates of the minister, be regarded as ‘performing poorly’?” Mr Mack said. “After watching the tawdry proceedings at ICAC, does anyone feel comfortable handing the State Government ministers and bureaucrats such open-ended powers?”
Amendments agreed to on the Early Intervention Bill on Wednesday night have put to rest some of the fears about how the bill could be used by the state government. Speaking to The Fifth Estate, Botany Bay mayor Ben Keneally said he understood there was an agreement to include serious amendments, which may include having a statutory definition of ‘dysfunctional’, as well as forbidding the amalgamation of councils while they are suspended.