Councils need to work together

THE state’s 147 councils need to work together to ensure they remain financially viable, mayors and general managers heard at a local government conference last week.

Speaking after the two-day event in Dubbo, Local Government Minister Don Page told The Northern Star there was general acceptance that neighbouring councils needed to work more collaboratively and share resources.

“They realise that by working together and sharing backroom resources they can reallocate funds into frontline services,” he said.

Restating the Coalition Government’s policy of no forced amalgamations, Mr Page said if councils found benefits of merging after forming collaborative arrangements they would have the backing of the government.

“Councils will not wake up one morning and find the government has done a Kennett with forced amalgamations,” Mr Page said.

“But, for example, Wyong and Gosford have 20 collaborative arrangements from water supply to waste, and because of those arrangements they have come to me and said we were thinking about amalgamating.”

Asked specifically about possible mergers of North Coast councils, Mr Page said he thought the Wyong/Gosford example was possible if there were real benefits for ratepayers.

He added there was no “one size fits all” solution to the problems facing councils.

Ballina mayor Phillip Silver, who described the conference as a “talkfest”, said he was concerned there were discussions about amalgamations, which were supported by some city-based councils.

“(Amalgamations) are universally unpopular in rural areas, but I can see they are of some benefit in the city,” Cr Silver said.

Lismore mayor Jenny Dowell said the conference was just the first step on the road to a better model for local government, and praised Mr Page for attending both days of the conference.