PROPOSED LOCAL GOVERNMENT AMALGAMATIONS
Do you ever get the feeling that your democracy is slipping away from under you? Do you ever get the feeling that the Government is trying to pull a fast one but you're just not sure which direction the 'swiftie' is coming from or how it will affect you? Do you ever get the feeling that your elected politicians represent anyone but you?
Well you can relax, knowing that your democracy is being stripped away, that your Government has become a master of spin rather than a master of administration, and no, your politicians don't work for you. Disappointing isn't it, but unfortunately, it's the case.
So you now know that you have a very real problem, but do you have any options? Well here's the good news. You really do, but it's up to you, each and every one of you. So far you have worked well 'stopping the rot' but the reality is you haven't actually stopped it, you have only succeeded in slowing it down. But that's a good start and a good beginning. But you're got some way to go before you get a result.
Once upon a time when you cast your vote, you were invited to consider a multitude of factors like, the costs and quality of your water and energy supply, the transport system that served you or whether your local Hospital Board was getting a fair go. Even whether or not your wages were sufficient to support your family, and was the local school providing a worthwhile education to your children?
Well, how things have changed, and mostly for the worse. A phenomenon called 'centralisation' has crept in and we are now all governed from afar. How far 'afar' is an open question but there is no doubt it's a long way away. Our local Member of Parliament, in the great majority of cases, is a party politician and s/he will follow the party line as a matter of both course and necessity.
As a matter of course because s/he's party's policy is determined by a group of 'specialists' whose authority and knowledge is unquestioned. Sacrosanct if you like and the only available option for the individual party politician is to take their advice or risk being made look foolish in those circles both where the policy is made and, in the eyes of the general public. In other words they stick with the official party agenda and, to the very letter.
As a matter of necessity because if s/he doesn't follow the party line or the party agenda they stand to loose preselection [as a disciplinary or deterrent matter] and consequently, their seat in Parliament. It's really not rocket science and it's not exactly news. Nor is it attractive.
What we, the public, have to really worry about is the 'agenda men'. Those faceless and nameless people unknown to us who set the agenda for our politicians to follow. Not a lot different from the legendary aboriginal 'medicine men' who were believed to be vested with supernatural powers. While politicians come and go the 'agenda men' seem to go on forever, as history has shown, relentlessly pursuing their course, and irrespective of the political party that is in power.
Perhaps the most enduring and topical of these agendas right now involves Local Government and the compulsory amalgamation of local Councils. You may recall that during the Whitlam era there was a public outcry when it became common knowledge [finally] that it was the then Federal Government's intention to do away with the States and form a series of regional Governments that would be directly responsible to and, apparently, funded by the Commonwealth. The idea, at that time, never came to fruition and to all intents and purposes the concept died with the Whitlam Government. Now, if you believe that I have a cheap bridge in Sydney to sell you!
So when the Queensland Goss Government came to power the matter of 'council amalgamation' again came on to the agenda but this time it was 'voluntary'. Also during this period a new Queensland Local Government Act was written that transformed the face of Local Government entirely by changing the status of Local Government from an Authority exercising powers on behalf of the Government, that is delegated powers, to being Governments in their own right. The only fetters placed on the new Local Government power-making ability was that they could not make laws (regulations) inconsistent with any law of the State and, any Local Government law made had to be approved by the 'Minister'.
This of course adds a whole new dimension to Shire amalgamations. We are not really amalgamating Councils as we understand them but rather forming mini autonomous governments. In addition, the 'Minister' is a very real, but largely mythical character these days, who really is a person holding a Commission from the Crown as a member of the Executive Council, and little else. Ministers now regularly disavow responsibility for areas under their control and the Departments don't accept it either so
so much for accountability.
It was in 1993 when the Goss Government introduced this new form of Local government within Queensland and it was a watershed in Queensland history. The Governments only obvious authority to do so goes back to the United Kingdom power, with which it is vested in the Queensland Constitution Acts. The power is broadly described as the 'powers, rights and immunities by custom, statute or otherwise, of the Commons House of the Parliament of the United Kingdom and its members and committees at the time of the establishment of the Commonwealth'.
And you may have noticed over the last few years that these new local 'Governments' aren't beyond passing on a few 'taxes' in the form of levies, charges, surcharges and things like that. We can only speculate at this stage that if they became larger bodies they might need their own GST 'levy'. Of course such a 'levy' would be additional to the 10% GST already collected by the Commonwealth.
The end result of all this is that the power of any State Government is, to all intents and purposes, unquestionable unless you have more money and clout than the State Government [a criteria that most multinationals companies easily meet or exceed]. The same of course could be said of Local Government as they have similar powers. The only counterbalance is for the people to organise and use people power, which has been done before, and to good effect.
So we have to accept that Premier Beattie has the authority to proceed with the proposed Council amalgamations, but really he can only do it is if he is in Government. And he won't have that power if the people don't support him. More to the point, 2007 is a Federal election year and already the Labor Opposition leader, Kevin Rudd, is concerned that Premier Beattie is rocking 'his boat' or words to that effect.
The point is that Queensland has both a number of Councils that cover vast areas and are sparsely populated together with clustered local Councils and City Councils that are growing daily. There is no reason to deny any of them local representation in favour of centralisation. They have, in many cases managed to survive for over 100 years and it is only now, [given the Whitlam doctrine] that they have become 'unviable'. So the big chance is that the Councils themselves have not become financially distressed but rather that the weight of the State Government functions, passed on to Local Government without adequate compensation is the cause of the 'distress'.
Even without this direct 'buck passing' the Productivity Commission has estimated inefficiency has increased simply by way of the imposition of 'process' on both Local authorities and business. So maybe it's not the Local Authorities that need revision but rather the State Government, or perhaps even more to the point, the medicine men.
But putting all this to one side, we in Queensland can remember when Wayne Goss became Premier. At that time he initiated the closure of rural services such as, Court Houses, and any number of other government offices, which reduced towns to mere shells. As a result of these actions the towns lost other services such as schools, health and agricultural services.
This exacerbated a natural economic disadvantage to rural areas. They lost their local Hospital Boards on which they had a say, and authority was centralised back to the bureaucracy. It has taken the mining boom, and some quiet reinstatements to moderately reverse that Goss government induced setback, but few will forget it.
And what else Queenslanders should not forget was that a then obscure official in the Department of Foreign Affairs, one Kevin Rudd, took leave of absence from his Departmental duties to become Premier Goss' Director General and went on to oversee these centralising 'reforms'.
Clearly now the public has expressed their opposition to the proposed enforced Council amalgamations but it is not the Premier, or the state politicians who are becoming nervous with this public discontent. Rather it's Mr. Rudd, yes that same Kevin Rudd, now Leader of the Opposition, who oversaw the initial round of 'centralisation'. The effects on Queensland Health alone cost over 2,200 hospital beds, and hundreds of doctors, nurses and health associated jobs!
It is interesting to note that Kevin Rudd has not said to Premier Beattie '
centralisation is not a goer Pete, forget it, get it off the agenda.'
NO, he is saying words to the effect '
Peter, not now please. We can do all that
AFTER the 2007 Federal elections'!
AND THAT SHOULD BE THE WORRY FOR ALL OF US.
COUNCIL AMALGAMATIONS IN QUEENSLAND
COUNCIL AMALGAMATIONS - FOREWARNED IS FOREARMED
RETURN TO: INDEPENDENT