Local Government Amalgamations - Hansard

This motion is about opposing forced amalgamations, it is not about opposing local government reform. I do not think anybody in this House believes that local government reform is unnecessary, but this Government should be ensuring that it builds stronger and more sustainable councils, not imposing its baseless ideology.

This Government needs to go beyond the sound bites that are either for or against council amalgamations and look at the real data. There is plenty of interesting data about amalgamated councils that this Government and Minister should be considering.

Let us examine the current Fit for the Future indicators that are now being applied to assess New South Wales councils and use those same indicators on 24 regionally significant towns and cities—it is a shame that the Government is not listening to the data—10 of which were amalgamated prior to 2004. There are some very interesting results that this House and the Minister should know. I am happy to share the list of councils. Let me apply the Fit for the Future criteria to be used by the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal [IPART] for assessing the operating performance of those 24 councils. Of the 10 best-performing councils in that group, only three were amalgamated councils; seven are not amalgamated.

A key element to consider when looking at a council's operating performance is that the size of the council has no correlation to its performance. Structural reform through amalgamation is therefore not necessarily the answer. It is certainly not the only answer, and it should not be the forced answer. Infrastructure backlog is another key performance indicator of how efficiently councils are managing their assets and will be used by IPART to assess councils. I have no doubt about that. The Office of Local Government has set a benchmark of less than 2 per cent backlog. In 2014, seven out of the 24 councils to which I referred earlier met the Fit for the Future criteria on infrastructure backlog and only two of those—I emphasise "only two of those"—were amalgamated councils. Again, that evidence suggests that structural reform by amalgamation is not necessarily the answer and, again, it is not the only answer.

Councils also are measured against their employees per capita. Of the 10 best performing councils to which I referred earlier, in relation to employee costs seven were not amalgamated out of the 24 councils. Again, that uses the current Fit for the Future criteria. The overall performance of a council is influenced by the will management of its resources, its people, its assets and it services to the community far more than by size. Economies of scale are a misnomer. Performance is the key. The assumptions of economies of scale made right throughout the Independent Local Government Review Panel's report are wrong. In fact, evidence from our neighbours to the north in Queensland demonstrates that many of the panel's proposed mergers will result in over-scale councils, which will exhibit diseconomies of scale.

There is no evidence that the 10 amalgamated councils in the larger comparable group of 24 councils in New South Wales, to which I referred earlier, are performing any better than non-amalgamated councils. Yet there has been a decade for those amalgamated councils to exhibit those purported economies of scale and general efficiency improvements. There is simply no evidence to show that bigger is better, that bigger is more efficient, and that bigger is better at representing community. I have just provided a whole heap of data that I certainly hope the Government takes into consideration when deciding whether or not it will support the motion moved by the member for Sydney.