Three local authorities would replace the state’s 29 councils in a bold new plan floated by the Tasmanian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
With the Tasmanian economy at its strongest in recent history, the state’s peak business organisation has called on the State Government and Labor Opposition to reform local government once and for all.
TCCI CEO Michael Bailey said the chamber’s vision would improve efficiency and provide greater transparency.
The TCCI has been a strong advocate to restore State Parliament to 35 seats, and now it wants to review what it says is an antiquated and inefficient local government sector.
Mr Bailey said the system was not based on modern best practice.
“The days have gone when every town in Tasmania needed a local council and it is time to ensure there is more transparency in the sector,” he said.
“In Victoria rate capping is now a way of life, with consumers and business able to compare their council performance with others through the “Know Your Council” website.
“Not only are consumers and business able to compare rates in their municipality with those paid in neighbouring council areas, but they are also able to compare the services offered and make informed decisions about what their local government area delivers.
“There is no way to do that in Tasmania.”
Tasmania has 29 councils, and 263 councillors, for a population of just over 500,000 people, ranging in size from under 1000 people on Flinders Island to more than 67,000 people in Launceston.
“We have 4000 local government employees, 23,000 State Government employees and just under 3500 Commonwealth Government employees, which equates to one employee for every 16 people or one employee for every small business in the entire state.”
Mr Bailey said it was a ridiculous system of over government – with duplication of services costing the community and business tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars each year.
“We regularly see rate increases frequently well in excess of the consumer price index, compared with no increases in tax and charges at the State and Commonwealth level of government,” Mr Bailey said.
“Earlier this year residents of Glenorchy were stunned that rates could increase by nearly 20 per cent in one year, only to be told the final rate of a 12.5 per cent increase was a win – this is more than five times the consumer price index for Tasmania.
“Consumers and business are being gouged and it is time to hold local government to account,” Mr Bailey said.
“We are concerned that the clumsy micro management of our state is preventing strategic, whole of region/state planning for infrastructure and service provision.
“This has been exemplified by the TasWater imbroglio, which highlighted the constructed conflict of interest, where a statewide service provider is governed by 29 separate local government authorities.”
Mr Bailey said despite the State Government giving local government the opportunity to reform in 2015, little, if anything, has happened.
“Three years on, local government has blown its chances and despite being given the opportunity to do it for themselves, has demonstrated it is too self-interested to act on behalf of the people it represents.
“Tasmania is being done a great disservice by its local government sector, instead of ensuring we make the best of the economic conditions we have, it is mired in self interest and unwilling to step up and put its shoulder to the wheel to ensure meaningful economic reform,” Mr Bailey said.