Metro councils halved in amalgamations

YOLANDA ZAW and AAP
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Metro councils halved in amalgamations

Premier Colin Barnett

UPDATE: The number of metropolitan councils will be slashed from 30 to 14 under changes announced today by the State Government.

The changes will be in place from July 2015.

Premier Colin Barnett and Local Government Minister Tony Simpson have briefed mayors and chief executive officers on the plan.

Mr Simpson said the reforms aimed to deliver strategic benefits for Perth, and financially stable councils, with a population of around 100,000 people each.

“All levels of government face pressures to provide affordable services. The mergers bring councils together to create economies of scale that offer the best opportunity to keep rates down and deliver services,” he said.

Mr Barnett said the reform plan redefined outdated local government boundaries to create councils with improved economies of scale and provided better co-ordination across the metropolitan area.

Nine new local government areas will be created under the changes.

Wanneroo, Joondalup and Rockingham will be the only councils not affected.

Mr Barnett refused to accept they were ramming the changes through, and said there was no reason it should mean an increase in rates.

“I said we would not have forced amalgamations, and we have not got forced amalgamations,” Mr Barnett said.

“We expect we will get agreement and it will all come together by 2015.

"But the State Government has made the decision - it will stay and this will be put in place.”

The Premier said the key objective was to create stronger councils and provide the best services for residents.

“Perth is the fastest growing city in Australia but our local government structure dates back to the late 1800s when residents, communities and the city faced vastly different issues,” Mr Barnett said.

“This is something long in the making and long overdue. Across this State we have 140 local authorities. I don’t think anyone could realistically say this is viable and functional for this State in this century.”

Mr Barnett denied he was forcing council mergers but councils will not have any avenue to debate the new boundaries. The Dadour provisions, which once allowed councils to protest against forced mergers, were abolished by the State Government today.

Mr Simpson said today was the beginning of a new era in local government.

“Fewer local governments will streamline the decision-making process,” he said.

When asked whether local governments would be forced to merge, Mr Simpson said there would be no forced mergers today. But he would not say there would never be forced mergers.

The planned mergers are:

• Melville, Fremantle and East Fremantle
• Cockburn and Kwinana
• South Perth and Victoria Park
• Armadale, Serpentine and Jarrahdale
• Stirling with parts of Vincent
• Bayswater and Bassendean
• Belmont and Kalamunda
• Nedlands and Subiaco, with Cambridge, Claremont, Cottesloe, Mosman Park and Peppermint Grove plus North Fremantle, Wembley Downs and Churchlands
• Gosnells and Canning

• Swan and Mundaring

The State Government announced at the weekend that City of Perth would take in Kings Park, the University of WA, the QEII Medical Centre and the cafe strips of Leederville and Mt Lawley under the changes.

Kevin Morgan, the mayor of Mr Barnett’s electorate in Cottesloe, said the move amounted to an “electoral fraud”.

“It most certainly is going to be a forced amalgamation. That is a force being used despite the Liberal Party going to a State election on a platform of no forced amalgamations,” Mr Morgan said.

“It is a very sad day for democracy in this State.”

Councils have been given a deadline of October 4 to come up with the new local authority maps.

The State Government would not say exactly how much the changes would cost, but one mayor placed the cost of just one merger at about $5 million.

Mr Simpson said the opposition to the changes was expected, and not surprising.

“No one is happy with any type of change. Hopefully I can get the councils to the table to agree that this is the best way forward,” Mr Simpson said.

Mr Barnett said he still intended to focus on rural councils next, despite WA Nationals leader Brendon Grylls claiming he had secured a deal which would leave regional authorities untouched.