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What I See with Peter Fiorenza: Why local government reform could diminish local voices, representation

Peter FiorenzaGeraldton Guardian
Former Geraldton councillor Peter Fiorenza is sworn in by freeman Phil Cooper in 2019.
Camera IconFormer Geraldton councillor Peter Fiorenza is sworn in by freeman Phil Cooper in 2019. Credit: Supplied/Supplied

I’m a little concerned about the changes in the air for local government.

I understand that by 2023, a number of councils in WA will be streamlined to some extent.

The main change will be fewer councillors, and for me, that is definitely a red flag.

Now, logistically, this might make sense. But fundamentally this idea, I believe, is flawed and flies directly in the face of the democratic process.

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You could even go as far to say it is a blatant attempt by the State Government to gain greater control of local government authorities by stealth.

In my limited experience in local government, I have been able to access how things run from the inside and have seen the steady growth of bureaucratic control.

I have had no problems with my individual dealings with City officers, they have always endeavoured to respond to my queries to the best of their professional abilities.

These people are merely the messengers, but the boundaries and rules they operate within can often be what can create frustrations.

Ratepayers may be under the impression that decisions made by a council on their behalf have only been influenced by the men and women taking the vote.

Unfortunately, this is not the case.

Often, it is the best decision from limited alternatives, which, in essence, fall into broad State Government guidelines.

I agree, there must be some sort of generic process that needs to be adhered to, but the current status quo sees councillors being somewhat suffocated by the process: “You can’t say this. You can’t ask that.”

It would seem to me councillors are getting less and less of a say, and therefore, not effectively representing the interests of the people who voted for them.

Comments by State Government ministers suggesting bigger councils are an economic blight on the community are sheer nonsense.

I know first-hand the annual remuneration of a councillor would be less than the take-home pay of a casual junior at McDonald’s.

Is this not a small price to pay for a fostering of different views, robust discussion, debate and decision making that is far more thorough?

Unlike a business, councils are there to deliver a social dividend, rather than profit for shareholders, and this is a process that shouldn’t be streamlined.

When a decision is made that affects a community and its people, no stone should be left unturned. All aspects need to be looked at, and that’s why there need to be more voices in the discussion, instead of this money being ploughed back into the bureaucratic machine, enabling it to continue to grow.

The argument is simply a smokescreen for making WA local governments compliant.

A real, separate, fear is the possibility of creating cartels, where the diverse opinions and needs of a community are shut down

And the only way this can be counteracted is by compulsory voting, which I don’t think is even on the table.

I know there have been many instances in the past in which councils and councillors in various locations have abused their positions at a high price to ratepayers.

Even so, in my opinion, this reform signals the death knell of real democracy in local government.

Peter Fiorenza hosts Fiorenza on Sundays from 10am to noon on Radio MAMA

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