If ever there were any more serious signs of the steely resolve and determination of the state government to force amalgamations on a raft of councils, then this weekwas it.
Hot on the heels of the release of the 272-page report of a parliamentary inquiry into local government, the minister Paul Toole came out with what most observers would see as allguns blazing.
The government gunslinger fired at will at the report recommendations and his bullets would have slayed the biggest beasts, particularly with plenty of ratepayers and residents who have long condemned metropolitan councils as fat cats, wasters and pigs with snouts in the trough.
However, while the state government’s Fit for the Future reforms might in fact just be a hunt to herd up some of the more recalcitrant and inefficient metro councils, it is likelyto sweep the more effective andhard- working rural councils into the pen as well.
Local Government Minister Paul Toole said recommendations of a Legislative Council inquiry into local government reform would condemn the community to higher rates and poorer services, reinforcing the need for council mergers.
Scary stuff, and perhaps many councils will see it as a determined move by the Baird government to push councils into amalgamations, or the more tepid and acceptable term mergers, which sounds so much more gentle and voluntary.
Mr Toole claimed the upper house inquiry recommendations released this week would mean more of the same – higher rates, a growing infrastructure backlog and “ultimately the collapse of some local councils”.
He has said rates in NSW have been capped to protect the community from high rate rises and again, designed to scare the ratepayer, claims the report called for that safeguard to be scrapped.
While the government, even the minister or the premier, have not even uttered a word about actually forcing amalgamations, or when or if they will be attempted – now or later – it seems from all the rhetoric and posturing that they might be hoping councils will run to the bargaining tables and volunteer to do it because they believe if they don’t, then they will be forced into it.
Scare the natives enough to do your own dirty work and don’t test the electorate’s anger.
Regional councils have jumped through hoops to satisfy the criteria for Fit for the Future, but, while most seem to think they have passed the test, the end play is a whole new ball game.
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