Upper House MPs claim Fit for the Future process is "chaotic" and councils were set up to fail

The Parliamentary committee inquiring into NSW Government’s Fit for Future reforms released their final report today –and called on the Baird ministry to commit to no forced amalgamations.

The committee also demanded the government withdraw its statement that 71 per cent of Sydney councils- including Strathfield –were not fit for the future.

A press conference, led by committee chair Paul Green, Greens MLC David Shoebridge, Shadow Minister for Local Government Peter Primrose and National Party MLC Ben Franklin, highlighted 17 recommendations and nine findings. 

The committee called for no forced amalgamation of local councils except in circumstances where its established that a council is financially bankrupt.

Other recommendations were to increase the mayoral term to two years, amending the Local Government Act 1933, working on a statutory model for Joint Organisations as a consensus model for local council reform and assisting and supporting senior staff affected by amalgamations amongst others.

“We found that many of the Fit for the Future measures are unreliable and we therefore called on the NSW Government to withdraw its statement that 71 per cent of Sydney councils and 56 per cent of regional councils are ‘unfit’ for the future,” said Mr Green. 

Mr Shoebridge said: “We feel that IPART’s appointment to the role of Independent Advisory Panel occurred too late in Fit for Future process and that 30 June 2015 deadline for council proposals was too short.”

The committee was particularly critical of IPART’s assessment based on scale and capacity. “We heard from councils and the finest academics and they said that IPART is good in assessing finance and utility like power and water but it has got no skills to assess something as complex as a local council.

“Getting IPART members who are effectively a bunch of bankers is like getting an accountant to judge a horse. They should have never been given the job by the Baird Government,” said Mr Shoebridge. 

“We call on the Premier to stop threatening local councils and to get on with real reforms of local government by implementing recommendations in our report.  These came from an enquiry which found that so far Fit for Future has been totally chaotic and we heard that from councils and academics,” said Mr Primrose. 

Premier Mike Baird and Local Government Minister Paul Toole have indicated a Christmas deadline to start with council reforms process.

Speaking to the Scene after the press conference, Mr Green said, “I have had local mayors ring me. They are virtually in a grieving process because these are councils that have been around for decades. Its a bit disappointing. All councils were very thankful for the opportunity given to take stock of their performance, no one was against it but many felt that it was set up to fail them and that is certainly an indication of IPART’s statistics of those being fit and unfit.”

The State Government has six months time to respond to the Parliamentary committee’s recommendations and findings.

“Its obvious that we also have evidence of pro amalgamation. This was never a witch hunt for Fit for Future reforms. It was about local government having a dialogue with the government about future needs. We encourage the Premier to work with local government and councils, and for those councils who don't want to merge, may be we need to slow down a bit and look at this feedback we have,” said Mr Green.  


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