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Better local government in Sydney will pay off for the Illawarra

Better local government in Sydney will pay off for the Illawarra This post was originally published in the Illawarra Mercury

Graham Kelly from the United Services Union really missed the mark last week on local government reform.

The Sydney Business Chamber has never advocated a mass amalgamation strategy for regional NSW. Our focus has remained, and always remains, on how to make Sydney work better through a stronger more efficient local government system.

The Sydney Business Chamber and the NSW Business Chamber proposed a bold strategy to reduce the number of local councils governing Sydney from the current 41 councils to 10 larger, better resourced councils, as part of our pre state election 10 Big Ideas to Grow NSW campaign. But we recognise that regional communities like those in the Illawarra are different to Sydney and should be treated as such.

It’s in everyone’s interest from ratepayers in the Illawarra, through to other communities in NSW and Australia, that Sydney is an efficient and productive city. If Sydney’s growth and success is restricted by housing, planning and transport blockages then that has an impact on other parts of NSW.

That is why the Sydney Business Chamber is such a vocal advocate for overhauling local government in Sydney. We want a system that reflects the needs of the 21st Century and boundaries set in some cases in the 19th Century will never do that. The ratepayers of the Illawarra know firsthand what happens when local government stops delivering for the community.

With 41 local councils worrying about their little patch of Sydney, is it any wonder why planning is a nightmare, why we have a housing shortage, or the absurdity that the rules on one side of the main street are different to the other because they are in different councils?

A commuter travelling from the Illawarra would pass through up to six local council regions to get to the Sydney CBD. That’s six different planning regulations and traffic management strategies overseeing the route between the Wollongong and Sydney CBDs. Under our proposal it would be half that number.

Reducing the artificial boundaries we have placed all over Sydney and resourcing and focusing councils on larger strategic issues like planning, housing and transport will help deliver better outcomes for local communities and ensure Sydney is working for the entire state.

The Sydney Business Chamber understands that the community needs to be involved in the conversation about local government reform. That’s why in responding to the Division of Local Governments Destination 2036 Review, the Chamber proposed a plebiscite on council reform as part of local government elections in September.

When the USU heard about this proposal, rather than support it as a sensible mechanism to hear what residents and ratepayers actually felt about this issue, they lambasted it and accused the Chamber of being out of touch. If the USU is so sure that the community is against reform of local government it makes you wonder why they would oppose the community having a vote on the issue?

A survey undertaken on behalf of the Sydney Business Chamber revealed that 58 per cent of Sydneysiders believed that Sydney had too many local councils. When asked about the benefits of fewer councils, 64 per cent of respondents said that it would reduce government waste.

The USU is right in acknowledging that the community should question “whose interests are really being served?” on this issue. Unfortunately for the USU when the community does so, it will see that their focus isn’t on ratepayers or the delivery of quality local services but instead on the narrow interests of their union members.

Patricia Forsythe
Executive Director,
Sydney Business Chamber

Posted: 29/05/2012 11:24:52 AM by Patricia Forsythe | with 0 comments
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