Queensland now has two councils, Logan and Ipswich, with state government-appointed interim administrators. The stench of corruption coming out of both council chambers was overwhelming, and Local Government Minister Stirling Hinchliffe has acted appropriately in both cases, appointing Logan’s interim administrator today and Ipswich’s in August last year.
Listening to Steve Austin’s 612 ABC Brisbane Drive program this afternoon, I was fully in agreement with one interviewee who highlighted the problem of declining media coverage of local government matters. Not enough light is being shone on many councils.
We all know that the internet has undermined the business models of traditional media. Newspapers we once relied on for coverage of local politics, such as the Courier-Mail and the Queensland Times, have shed many staff over the last decade, and their coverage of local politics has suffered accordingly. We have the ABC, for sure, and Tim Swanston has been doing a great job of keeping an eye on Brisbane City Council (BCC)—indeed Tim interviewed me following my criticism of the City of Brisbane Investment Corporation last year—but there is generally insufficient coverage of most other councils in Queensland, until the stench of corruption is too strong to ignore.
Queensland needs fewer councils and fewer local politicians. With fewer and larger councils, it would be easier for journalists, ratepayers associations, bloggers, and other concerned citizens to keep an eye on them. Since I started blogging in 2010, I have advocated for more council amalgamations. Queensland has too many small, financially vulnerable councils, so it would be a good start to amalgamate many of these (see chart below).
Ipswich and Logan, of course, are not small councils. They have several hundred thousands of residents. It appears that even councils of that size are not subject to sufficient public scrutiny, and, hence, they are at significant risk of corruption. It may be desirable to have much larger councils, each covering at least one million residents, as BCC does, in which case we should start thinking about regional governments, rather than local governments. Perhaps we could divide Queensland into a handful of regional governments and do away with local governments altogether. I myself have previously commented extensively on the prospect of a new state of North Queensland (see the ABC news article on “Nexit”).
The current local government debacles should prompt us to consider whether there are more desirable governance arrangements than those we currently have.
On the need for a new round of council amalgamations, see my posts:
Council amalgamations may not have gone far enough
Qld councils and the 80-20 rule
Regarding my criticism of the City of Brisbane Investment Corporation, see my posts:
City of Brisbane Investment Corporation’s peculiar investment philosophy
4BC Dora the Explorer interview and ABC News coverage of my CBIC analysis
Nope – https://www.une.edu.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0005/198239/dollery-ting-couting-the-cost-eap-2018.pdf
Show me the irrefutable academic evidence council mergers do achieve economic and financial improvements.
Otherwise the risk is you create large problems in councils such as Ipswich or Logan from *relatively* small problems. Are Ipswich and Logan Councils actually too big?
Thanks for the comment Alistair. I’ll have a read of Dollery’s paper.
I don’t think size itself should be a measure of likely local govt efficiency, one only has to look at the farcical joke that is Townsville City Council to realise that a council of any size can fail to deliver any sort of value to ratepayers despite the exorbitant rates charges paid by the local community. I would suggest the state govt create a direct charter that local govt must adhere to and deliver local services instead of becoming a quasi business partner to tourism ventures, mining companies, battery factories, football stadiums, entertainment centres, airports and many other business ventures.
Thanks for the comment Glen. That’s a great suggestion regarding a charter.