If Baird Gov follows in Kennett’s footsteps it will CRASH and BURN too

FFTF_logo_square-300x300There are many parallels between the NSW Baird Government “Fit for the Future” local government reform and the Victorian Kennett Government’s reforms (1996-99).

Baird’s Government should learn from history, as it too will crash and burn if it follows in Kennett’s footsteps.

Parallels between the Kennett and Baird Governments

Dramatically reduce number of local Councils
  • The Kennett Government reduced the number of Victorian councils from 210 to 78
  • The Baird Government wants to reduce the number of Sydney local councils from  41 to 14
Sack local democratically elected councillors and replace with commissioners
  • Using powers derived from amendments to the Victorian Constitution Act, the Kennett Government adopted a most extreme approach to restructuring; all elected councillors were dismissed and replaced by commissioners chosen and appointed by cabinet
  • The Baird Government reported plan in the Daily Telegraph (16 Aug, 2015) mirrors this
Privatisation is king
  • Kennett was devoted to reducing the role of government in favour of the private sector
  • Baird is just as keen in this commitment; as seen with the recent placing of our poles and wires on the market, plus roads, rail and water being placed more and more in the hands of private enterprise
  • Local Government under Kennett had a focus of outsourcing local services and sale of public land and other assets – again there are many parallels in the Baird Government
Cut down public participation in political processes
  • Both governments see community participation in the political process as a hindrance rather than an asset
  • Both talk about “self-interested” groups when talking about public community groups – see quote from Paul Toole and Jeff Kennett
  • Both felt that their city councils gave the community too much power with their placemaking process (Melb implemented placemaking plans in 1994, Syd in 2013)
Both underestimate and dismissed the power of the people
  • Rob Maclellan, the Victorian State Minister for Planning and Local Government in 1996 said: “Residents and ratepayers of our municipalities are more concerned with the services they receive from their councils and what they pay for those services, than with having a somewhat intangible ‘sense of community’ supposedly provided by the council chamber.” As history shows he was so wrong.
  • The Baird government is ignoring polls and survey which say 82% of people don’t want their council to merge, and that they are not happy with the “Fit for the Future” process. To ignore this data will prove as disastrous for the Baird Government as is was for the Kennett.

The result of council amalgamations in Victoria on local councils

  • All elected councillors were dismissed and replaced by commissioners chosen and appointed by cabinet
  • When Premier Jeff Kennett sacked councils across Victoria nearly 11,000 people lost their jobs, local assets like community centres and public buildings were sold off
  • Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows almost no money was saved in the process.
  • Local councils became a franchise operation to serve state government customers
  • The reforms also impacted on the equality of political representation: The Stegley Foundation (1998) reported that the reform reduced the number of women councillors from 453 prior to amalgamations to 129 by 1997.
  • The potential of democratic governance was further reduced by halving the number of councillors and substantially increasing the size of wards, thus forcing elected representatives to spread themselves more thinly.
  • The Kennett Government’s economic liberal reform, in summary, had a dramatic and negative impact on the status of ‘citizenship’ and on political rights and obligations at the local government level.

The devastating results for the Kennett Government

  • In the 1999 election the Kennett Government lost the election as a direct result of its local government reforms
  • This was unexpected by the government. It had underestimated the power of the people. The same thing happened in Queensland when the Bligh Government lost as a result of amalgamating councils.
  • Kennett’s name became ‘mud’, as did his government. It had done many good things in its first term yet totally stuffed it in its second term by dismissing the voice of the people.

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