Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the consultation paper prepared by the NSW Independent Local Government Review Panel, Strengthening Your Community.
MACROC is the regional organisation of councils for the Macarthur area of South West Sydney. Formed in 1985, it represents the local government areas of Camden, Campbelltown and Wollondilly. MACROC’s role is to identify issues of regional importance and advocate for positive regional outcomes. Regional issues for the Macarthur region include managing population growth, transport infrastructure planning, employment generation, economic development and land use planning. South West Sydney is the area targeted by the State Government to accommodate the major proportion of Sydney’s projected growth and the challenge for local government will be to continue to provide all members of our community with the high level of service they expect (Attachment A: Macarthur: A Regional Snapshot).
The General Managers of the MACROC councils are members of a group of General Managers from a diverse range of councils within the metropolitan and fringe metropolitan areas of Sydney . This Group was formed to discuss and respond to issues that affect local government in a coordinated way. The General Managers of this Group have formed a Working Party that has prepared a paper for consideration by the NSW Independent Local Government Review Panel on the five terms of reference designed to develop options to improve the long term viability of local government in NSW .
On behalf of the Board of MACROC I would like to endorse the comments made in the submission to the Panel by the General Managers Group and offer the following general comments.
The most significant challenge facing local government, and one that was identified as a priority at Destination 2036, is ensuring a financially sustainable future for local government, so that it is able to provide better service to the community. Currently many councils across NSW lack sufficient funds to maintain existing assets. This clearly needs to be appropriately resolved. The issue of rate pegging (and the current Special Rate Variation process) also needs to be addressed in order to give local government more flexibility in rate setting; exemptions on the cap on Section 94 contributions needs to be reinstated and local government needs to receive a greater share of the Commonwealth Financial Assistance Grants.
A large number of actions in the Destination 2036 Action Plan require legislative change, as well as extensive research and consultation. For this process of research, consultation and legislative review to be successful the State Government will need to make a significant financial commitment to ensure that the Division of Local Government and other coordinating agencies are adequately resourced to deliver the actions identified.
The General Managers of the MACROC councils, together with representatives from Wingecarribee and the Executive Officer of MACROC, met with the NSW Independent Local Government Review Panel on 23 August and acknowledged the need for structural reform of the local government sector. However they also stressed that structural reform needed to be accompanied by legislative and political reform, among other reforms, in order to provide successful outcomes.
There was a good deal of discussion at Destination 2036 about the role that regional organisations have to play in the process of local government reform. The Destination 2036 Action Plan has referred a number of actions to the NSW Independent Local Government Review Panel and one of these is to ‘develop options and models to enhance collaborations on a regional basis through regional organisations of councils’.
MACROC believes that any regional governance model should be based on the existing model of independent councils collaborating through a regional organisation such as MACROC.
The research paper ‘A Comparative Analysis of Regional Organisations of Councils in NSW and Western Australia’ highlights the diversity of governance models and the capacity of regional organisations of councils, and concludes that differences in ROCs reflect the resourcing provided by member councils, varied size and geographical locations and regional priorities.
The factors that contribute to a successful ROC, irrespective of size, are identified as a strong commitment by members, mayors and general managers who understand the importance of regionalism, as well as appropriate administrative/operational processes and sound relationships with other levels of government.
MACROC is fortunate to have member councils that have a strong long term commitment to regional collaboration and since its establishment in 1985 has developed robust and productive links with other levels of government, as well as key stakeholder organisations in Macarthur and in Greater Western Sydney.
The Draft Action Paper and the Minister for Local Government’s Media Release of 3 November 2011 ‘Regional Approach a Key to Council Reform’ placed a strong emphasis on regional organisations of councils being an effective mechanism for delivery of shared services. However it should be noted that this is only one of the many functions ROCs perform. Regional capacity building and regional advocacy are still a primary function of most ROCs and all ROCs are involved in some form of advocacy. Activities include identification, prioritisation and research of key regional issues and submissions on regional issues to inquiries etc.; correspondence and meetings with government departments, Ministers etc.; participation in interagency meetings, consultations, focus groups and other activities conducted by government agencies; media releases; regional summits and forums; and the development of regional demographic and economic profiles.
Regional organisations of councils have a contribution to make to regional collaboration and coordination in local government in New South Wales however as the Draft Action Paper indicates there will need to be consideration of capacity and resourcing as well as the legislative framework that ROCs operate in.
MACROC is pleased to support the NSW Independent Local Government Review Panel in the process of developing a strategic response to the challenges facing local government and looks forward to further consultation around the range of options for change to governance structures and boundaries in NSW, as well as on the role of regional organisations of councils in assisting local government to continue to provide benefits for their community.
Prepared by Christine Winning
Executive Officer, MACROC
11 September 2012
Enc: Attachment A: Macarthur A Regional Approach
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