The Hon. J.A. DARLEY (17:10): I rise today to speak on the Local Government (Ratepayer Protection and Related Measures) Amendment Bill. At the election the government undertook to introduce rate capping for council rates. This was done earlier this year; however, the opposition and other crossbenchers did not agree to this proposition. Instead, the opposition undertook to introduce its own measures to address the concerns that ratepayers have over ever-increasing rates.
Councils have been reported as spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on legal costs in relation to disputes between elected members, thousands on golf club memberships, and thousands on overseas trips that the Ombudsman found were influenced by personal rather than public interests. It is no wonder that there is a feeling within the community that councils are not spending rates in an appropriate manner. Like the state government, councils do not have their own money: they have only ratepayers' money. Spending ratepayers' money this way can contribute to an increase in rates.
As such, the opposition has introduced this bill to ensure the operations and expenditure of ratepayer funds is more transparent. The bill will rename the Local Government Grants Commission to the Local Government Commission, and will charge it with the responsibility of reporting annually on quality and cost standards for services, equity and timeliness of service delivery, complaint-handling processes and other local government-related matters that the commission considers relevant.
The bill outlines a number of new reporting requirements relating to travel, credit card expenditure, gifts and the chief executive's salary. There will be new consultation and advertising requirements for councils in relation to their business plans and budgets, and new provisions relating to conduct at meetings and dispute resolution.
Overall I am supportive of the bill; however, I have concerns some of the measures may be a little heavy-handed. What is being proposed is more than is required of any other government. This does not mean it should not be done, but perhaps consideration should be given to raise the standards required for our and other governments.
I note the Local Government Association has indicated it has not finished consulting on the bill; however, there is still time to consult and negotiate on the bill between the houses. I look forward to the committee stage of the bill.