Fremantle facing a councillor cutback

FREMANTLE council would lose up to half its elected members under new rules proposed by a panel reviewing the WA local government sector.

The panel, headed by Balcatta Labor MLA David Michael, released its final report on Wednesday.

It recommends councils tie their elected representation to population, which would make Fremantle’s 12 councillors and one mayor look rather bloated for it 31,114 residents.

Cockburn has just nine councillors and a mayor for a population of 112,000.

But Fremantle mayor Brad Pettitt doesn’t think population is the best way to determine councillor numbers.

Tier 1

“Local governments like Fremantle offer many services that others – sometimes larger – don’t offer and that is why we are a Tier 1 local government despite our relatively small residential population,” Dr Pettitt said.

“That said, I am sure that Fremantle council will consider the Local Government Act review panel recommendations in due course and consider them on their merits.”

The panel has also recommended that businesses be stripped of their two votes in council elections, replacing them with guaranteed mechanisms to get their opinions heard.

“If structures and processes are in place to ensure all segments of the community are engaged, there may no longer be a need to extend election franchise beyond residents of the district,” the report concluded.

The recent inquiry in Perth council heard allegations of attempts to rig elections through the double-vote of business, with “sham leases” used to justify nominations and dozens of suspect voters linked to single candidates.

The panel also recommended the creation of a single Local Government Commission by merging the existing grants commission and advisory board. The new body would oversee minor border changes, with the review panel finding the existing legislative framework inexplicably convoluted. 

It also wants to do away with referenda before amalgamations.

Another initiative among the 65 recommendations was to establish community boards as an alternative to amalgamations, allowing bigger and smaller councils to provide cross-border services that played to each other’s strengths.

Responsibility

“The panel noted that with 137 local governments ranging in populations from less than 200 to over 200,000, Western Australian local governments can be either too small to meet their responsibility, or too big to be properly representative of different localities within them, and respond adequately to varying community needs and demands,” the report said.

Regional councils would be dismantled to be replaced by a new “flexible” system where council would “enter into voluntary arrangements outside of the legislated model”.

It also wants the WA Local Government Association’s preferred supplier list – used by councils to bypass tendering – reined in, saying it needs oversight and accountability.

By STEVE GRANT

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