Sorry, Neil, you're wrong (from Herald Sun newspaper, Melbourne)

Independent surveying shows local government in Victoria has an approval rating of nearly 80 per cent. These are figures to die for. No other government or large industry could claim such popularity. The community appreciates us, but a small number of misdemeanors unfairly distort public perceptions. Neil suggested Victoria should follow the lead of Queensland and New Zealand and savagely cut the number of councils in order to save millions of dollars. I hate to be churlish, but Neil is about 12 years too late. Victoria is the only state where local government has had extensive structural reform to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of council operations. Other states are now following our lead. Under the Kennett government in the mid-1990s, 210 municipalities were amalgamated into 78. Some 2000 councillors became 600 and the average municipal population tripled from 21,000 to 61,000 people. The consensus suggests cost savings, improved efficiencies and enhanced service delivery were achieved. But savage rate cuts during the reform period also resulted in a devastating underspending on community assets, creating financial pressures that are still being felt today. When you look at what local government does, it's easy to see why 80 per cent of our communities love us. Councils provide more than 100 services, from child care to aged care and everything in between. We do it for people of all ages and backgrounds, for those needing maternal and child-health nurses, child care, food safety inspections, parks and gardens maintenance and garbage collection. As well, we have responsibility for the planning system, removal of graffiti and cleaning local shopping centres. But it's not just services. Councils are responsible for $39 billion of ageing infrastructure, including roads, bridges, drains, public lighting, town halls, swimming pools, libraries and kindergartens that must be maintained and upgraded. In fact, our innovative asset management practices have been recognised in an independent PricewaterhouseCoopers report as the best in the country. The work of Victorian councils has been so demonstrably good it's also been acknowledged by the Victorian and Commonwealth Governments. Similar initiatives are now being adopted in other states. And with local government collecting only 3 per cent of the total national tax revenue, all these services and assets are delivered on the sniff of an oily rag. Through lack of equitable funding, councils have become extremely savvy at doing more with less and finding new ways to realise cost savings and improve performance and administration. Amalgamations were necessary, but further cuts would undermine the very strength local government offers. We know we sometimes make mistakes, but we take our responsibilities seriously. Reform in Victoria has led the nation and councils are a cheap and efficient glue for our communities. Cr DICK GROSS is president of the Municipal Association of Victoria


Dick Gross is a member of the ALP, he is one of the front runners to be a candidate for recently resigned ex-deputy premier's Thwaite's seat of Albert Park. When Kennett rammed through the local government changes there was very little opposition to it. I vaguely remember some rural shires putting up a fight, but next to nothing in suburban Melbourne. Kennett had majorities in both houses of parliament and didn't even need the support of the Nationals as the Libs had a majority in their own right. Many changes were pushed through in the aftermath of the failed ALP administration which had the misfortune of being in charge when the Pyramid Building society (actually a commercial property speculation credit institution) failed along with a cowboy merchant bank subsidiary of the then state owned State Bank, "Tricontinental". The media and the Liberals created a climate of panic which resulted in a landslide for the new Kennett government. In this climate all changes where justified without any of the normal process. With regard to local council amalgamations, I vaguely remember talk of increased efficiencies as the only argument that was put forward, that was it. Kennett then sacked all local governments simultaneously and then put a CEO in charge of each of the new merged entities for a year (might have even been 18 months). During this time local democracy was totally non-existent, and when new councils did emerge there was a new balance, where the CEO held a lot more power and elected councilors operated at the fringe. For me it appears than elected members of local councils have very little say, anything they oppose is overturned by VCAT (Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal). So instead they argue about which pool to shut down and what monument they will build with the proceeds. Also where I live (City of Glen Eira), when the CEO's term was about to expire the local councils had the temerity to advertise for his position, for their trouble, he threaten to sue them, and sure enough his contract was extended. Isn't wonderful being stuck with someone who is on $250,000 p.a. +++ who likes the job so much!

<p> funny how he comes out in support of Kennett's &quot;reforms&quot;, usung the same argument that Kennett used &quot;<span style="font-size: x-small"><i><b>efficiencies</b></i></span>&quot;. This from someone who as far as I know comes from the left wing of the ALP (I know that probably has very little meaning today!) </p> <p>  Perhaps there could have been other ways to force efficiencies without destroying local democary. Local councils could have been directed to pool together buying power for various goods and services without any political amalgamations. Such things could have been done in a public and transparent manner to ensure that any restructuring did not result in a loss to any significant section of the community. </p>  

Sheila Newman, population sociologist What is Gross talking about, "Victoria led the way"??? Victoria led the way only by being the first to get rid of a whole bunch of democratic rights, with the Kennett government. Then Bracks consolidated that terrible situation. It is amazing how all dictatorships and their adherents and beneficiaries convince themselves that what they do is good and always justify it as 'efficiency', When I see the word 'efficiency' I get very suspicious about who is benefiting. Sheila N

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