Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the final report prepared for the NSW Government by the NSW Independent Local Government Review Panel, ‘Revitalising Local Government’.
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.
MACROC has been 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 supports many of the key proposal and options presented in the final report, particularly those that relate to improving the financial position of Local Government.
In this submission however we would like to focus on two of the Panel’s suggestions: regional collaboration and regional boundaries.
MACROC is disappointed that the final report ignores regional organisations of councils as a key element of the process of local government reform and instead reaffirms the Panel’s belief in the value of creating “joint organisations”.
MACROC does not see the need to replace ROCs with “joint organisations” and believes instead that councils should be able to expand the role of their ROC. MACROC believes that rather than establishing new bodies, the role and legislatively recognised position of ROCs should be strengthened and mandated to allow them to provide the expanded services that may be required.
MACROC believes that regional organisations of councils have a contribution to make to regional collaboration and coordination between State and Local Government in New South Wales however acknowledges there needs to be consideration given to capacity and resourcing as well as the legislative framework that ROCs operate within. It would be more effective to build on the strength and resources already in place as well as the experience of the regional organisations already established to perform many of the services promoted by the Panel as being performed by “joint organisations”.
MACROC would agree with the Panels assertion that stronger regional governance is a central plank of local government reform. Regional organisations of councils are already well placed to support the work of councils and facilitate more efficient and effective State-Local relations especially in the areas of strategic planning, economic development, infrastructure provision and service delivery. Legislation around regional cooperation would strengthen the role of ROCs.
And finally the Panel gives no indication in the discussion paper of the costs of establishing these new “joint organisations” or on ongoing costs. Transitioning from current models to the Panel’s preferred new model would require contractual changes with existing partners/funders, changes with current and future host councils and existing staff. So the questions that need to be addressed are: How much will the new models cost to establish and to run? And once established where will the model derive income? And is there really a need to establish an entirely new model rather than strengthen the existing one?
The other issue that MACROC would like to raise is in regard to the Panel’s definition of the LGA’s that constitute South West Sydney.
Macarthur is a designated and significant growth area for Metropolitan Sydney and the Draft Metropolitan Strategy for Sydney to 2031 indicates the projected population of the region will grow from 250,000 to 500,000 by 2031.
To achieve a positive future for the Macarthur community the Government needs to recognise the need to foster sustainable population growth and change within Macarthur itself. MACROC would encourage the Government to partner with MACROC councils to formally identify and fund the preparation and delivery of a comprehensive strategy for Macarthur that aims to maximise the region’s dependence upon enterprises and jobs located within Macarthur and facilitate new enterprise development, recognising the range of key natural drivers that already exist in the Macarthur region such as the UWS Medical School, stocks of vacant and accessible land, geographic location, workforce, agricultural resources and the like.
MACROC contends that there is little economic, social or environmental commonality shared between the MACROC councils and those LGAs located to the north: Fairfield, Bankstown and Liverpool. There is a much more tangible relationship in a social and economic sense that exists between Macarthur and the Southern Highlands.
MACROC would seek the Government’s support to acknowledge and maintain Macarthur as a separate region particularly for the purposes of the Metropolitan Strategy for Sydney to 2031 and in this final report to Government on local government reform.
MACROC supports the need to build on the new State-Local Government agreement to secure increased collaboration and joint planning between councils and State agencies. A review needs to be undertaken to identify more effective service delivery solutions and more work needs to be done to rectify the current disconnect between local government community strategic plans and State Government planning. MACROC also supports the initiatives that relate to improving the financial position of Local Government.
MACROC supports the strengthening of recognition of elected local government in the NSW Constitution and a shift in focus of Local Government NSW and the Division of Local Government on sector improvement.
MACROC would once again like to commend the Panel on the thoroughness of this report.
However MACROC believes that regional organisations of councils should be the preferred model for regional governance. ROCs have the defining factors of the “joint organisations” and are already undertaking many of functions identified by the Panel as the core features of “joint organisations”. ROCs have established strong reputations and strategic alliances. There may be some deficiencies within individual ROCs and lack of consistency between ROCs, but that does not mean the model should be abandoned. MACROC believes that ROCs can be strengthened so that they can better assist local government to provide greater benefits to the community.
Macarthur is a distinct region within Metropolitan Sydney and MACROC believes that, with the appropriate Government consideration given to capacity and resourcing, as well as the legislative framework that ROCs operate within, our Member councils will to continue to work collaboratively as MACROC to deliver better results for our residents.
31 March 2014