MACROC welcomes the opportunity to comment on the Destination 2036 Outcomes Report and Draft Action Plan prepared by the Destination 2036 Implementation Steering Committee.  This submission provides a response from the Macarthur Regional Organisation of Councils to some of the issues and actions that are highlighted in the Draft Action Plan, and also makes some observations about Regional Organisations of Councils, their current roles and their varied capacity.

Destination 2036, the two day forum involving Mayors and General Managers from every Council in NSW, their equivalents in County Councils, the Executive Officers of all NSW ROCs, as well as officers from the LGMA and LGSA and relevant union and professional associations proved a stimulating two days where delegates freely shared their various thoughts on the issues that face the sector and the ways those issues could be addressed.

MACROC understands that the Draft Action Plan represents the opening conversation of a dialogue that will continue throughout 2012 and beyond and MACROC supports the initiative and looks forward to working with the State Government during the process.

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.  Destination 2036 provides an opportunity to establish a strategic platform for the future sustainability of the local government sector.

A large number of suggested actions in the Draft 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.

In response to the request for feedback on the five questions listed below, MACROC would like to offer the following comments:

1. What do you like about the Draft Action Plan?

• It represents a true reflection of what was discussed at Destination 2036.
• Responsibilities and timeframes have been established in the Draft Action Plan.
• It acknowledges ROCs and there potential.

2. In what ways could the Draft Action Plan be improved?

• Until there are timeframes and budgets attached to the actions identified in the document this remains academic.
• Greater detail is needed around many of the activities identified and what role coordinating agencies will have.

3. Are there other key activities you believe should be included under any of the initiatives?

• The financial capacity of local government needs to be seriously investigated together with alternatives to rate pegging.
• There needs to be an examination of local government concerns about cost shifting and the implications of this on the financial capacity of the sector.

4. Do you have any suggestions regarding the proposed process for advancing the Draft Action Plan?

• Many of the actions detailed are tied to legislative reform. Will there be a comprehensive review of the Local Government Act? And when?
• The Division of Local Government needs to be adequately resourced to fulfill the roles highlighted in the Draft Action Plan.
• There is much mention of role for regional organisations of councils in the local government reform process but no mention of funding for ROCs.

5. Are you aware of any activities (eg research) currently underway that could directly contribute to the achievement of any of the initiatives or key activities?

• The ACELG/NSROC report ‘A Comparative Analysis of Regional Organisations of Councils in NSW and Western Australia. January 2011’ provides an excellent overview of regional organisations of councils in New South Wales.
• The Local Government Revenue Professionals Working Group.
• The General Managers Growth Centres Working Group.
• The LGMA National Local Government Workforce Strategy.
• The Australian Centre for Excellence in Local Government – Workforce Development.

General Comments about Regional Organisations of Councils

A good deal of research needs to be undertaken about the role of ROCs in the process of local government reform.  However it should be said from the outset that MACROC believes that any regional governance model should be based on the existing model of our independent Councils collaborating through MACROC.  MACROC will continue to explore the capacity of MACROC to deliver financial savings through appropriate shared and collaborative services and functions.

The recently released 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 over the years 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’ place 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 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 submission 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.

The NSW ROCS Network meets regularly to share information and to discuss issues affecting ROCs and local government.  Executive Officers have identified a number of key issues for ROCs and some of these are reflected in the Draft Action Paper.  These include:

• The development of model structures or guidelines to assist ROCs in development of collaborative arrangements.
• Better recognition of role of ROCs in the Local Government Act.
• Recognition of ROCs as a delivery mechanism for government services
• Formalised representation on key bodies and taskforces and greater involvement in regional planning process.

The NSW ROCs Network would be happy to work with the Division to further discuss issues around ROCs and local government reform.

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 State Government in the process of developing a strategic response to the challenges facing Local Government and looks forward to working closely with the Division of Local Government on issues around regional organisations of councils and their role in continuing to provide benefits for their community.

Christine Winning
Executive Officer
MACROC
February 2012

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