WA government announce local government reform package

The WA government have announced 'sweeping' changes to local government. Stock image.
The WA government have announced 'sweeping' changes to local government. Stock image.

'Sweeping reforms' for local government is now open for public consultation.

Central to the reforms will be new measures to proactively address dysfunction in local government earlier.

This includes the establishment of a new Local Government Inspector, who will be appointed to investigate and manage complaints, and will have the powers of a standing inquiry.

The Inspector will be supported by specialist independent monitors who can be appointed to work within a local government to resolve problems.

Local governments will also be able to proactively request the assistance of monitors, who will have a range of expertise such as governance, financial management and conflict resolution.

Local government minister John Carey announced on November 10 that the reforms were based on findings and recommendations which had taken place over five years.

The reform package is based on six themes:

  1. Earlier intervention, effective regulation and stronger penalties;
  2. Reducing red tape, increasing consistency and simplicity;
  3. Greater transparency and accountability;
  4. Stronger local democracy and community engagement;
  5. Clear roles and responsibilities; and
  6. Improved financial management and reporting.

Mr Carey said at the heart of the reforms were ratepayers and the changes would deliver the best results for them.

"There are many great local governments across the State and many of them are already doing these things, but we have seen numerous examples in recent times of dysfunctional local governments," he said.

A separate Conduct Panel will replace the existing Standards Panel.

The Conduct Panel will review more serious complaints and assess evidence provided by the Local Government Inspector.

Penalties will be strengthened to ensure better standards of compliance and behaviour, including fines and suspensions for breaching the Act.

The reform will also require all councils to record meetings and make them available online.

The Shire of Augusta Margaret River, Shire of Dardanup, City of Mandurah and Shire of Murray are just some of the councils that will be impacted by the measure.

"The reforms will also make sure the decision-making process is transparent and accountable, help local governments do more for their ratepayers by removing the burden of red tape where we can, and implement changes that improve the democratic process and encourage more community engagement," Mr Carey said.

New online registers will be set up to provide greater accountability to ratepayers covering areas such as leases, community grants, contracts and declared conflicts of interest.

Mr Carey said the 'significant changes' would strengthen democracy and facilitate more community engagement.

"This includes direct election of mayors in larger local governments, the introduction of preferential voting and new rules which will outline the number of elected members on any given council, based on population within the local government," he said.

Rules will also be tightened to ensure only legitimate residents or businesses are eligible to vote or run for council.

This will help crack down on the use of 'sham leases'.

Other proposed reforms include:

  • the introduction of a mandatory state-wide caretaker period for all local governments;
  • a new requirement for all local governments to implement a rates and revenue strategy to provide ratepayers with greater clarity around the setting of rates of spending;
  • the role and responsibilities of councillors and local government CEOs will be further defined in the Act, helping provide a clearer delineation between the functions of council and the CEO; and
  • cutting red tape by streamlining procedures, approvals and local laws across local government. This will help to drive better efficiency and consistency across local governments, and deliver significant benefits for small business, community organisations, residents and ratepayers.

The consultation period is open for feedback. Further details on the proposed reforms can be found at: http://www.dlgsc.wa.gov.au/lgactreform