Local Government Structural Reform
The Hon. HENRY TSANG: My question is addressed to the Minister for Local Government. What is the latest information on the State Government's local government reform program?
The Hon. TONY KELLY: All members will be aware that the local government reform program is now in full swing. We now have three regional reviews under way: one in the Australian Capital Territory region, one in the Peel Valley and another in the Clarence Valley. These reviews are held in areas in which there are a number of conflicting proposals for boundary changes or amalgamations. We have put in place three expert independent facilitators with experience in local government. After extensive talks with local community groups, councils and individuals, they will come back to me with the best ideas.
At the Local Government Association's annual conference on Monday I announced our intention to conduct a further two regional reviews, one in the Murray region and one in the Macquarie region in the Central West. Today I am able to announce that Chris Vardon, the former Eurobadalla Shire Mayor and former President of the New South Wales Shires Association, will conduct the review of the Macquarie region.
I understand he stood for preselection for the Liberal Party. The review will examine councils including Bathurst, Evans, Oberon, Lithgow, Mudgee and Rylstone. Mr Vardon is currently completing the Peel review and will start on the Macquarie review shortly. The Government has invested an extra $2 million in these reviews to make sure that communities are consulted.
The Hon. Duncan Gay: Couldn't you find anyone competent?
The Hon. TONY KELLY: Is the Deputy Leader of the Opposition suggesting Mr Vardon is not competent? I make it clear that these reviews will be conducted in addition to the community consultation that the Boundaries Commission has to undertake by law. We will not be taking any shortcuts when it comes to listening to the community. Regional reviews allow all the ideas to be put on the table so that we can get the very best for the community. I have asked the facilitators of regional reviews to develop a proposal for change to be referred to the Boundaries Commission for further consideration. That is another clear indication of our commitment to the local government reform program. I again put on record that the local government reform program will improve service delivery for residents and ratepayers. We want to make sure that all communities are fully consulted before any reform is undertaken. The Government is not interested in reform for the sake of reform. We value local government in New South Wales. It makes an important contribution to our community.
The Hon. Duncan Gay: Point of order: The Minister is clearly misleading the House now.
The PRESIDENT: Order! There is no point of order. The Minister may proceed.
The Hon. TONY KELLY: That is why we are working with councils and the community to make sure that local government survives. Changes to the Federal Governments Federal Assistance Grants are looming, and local government will end up with less money in real terms. Some councils in New South Wales rely on Federal assistance grants for up to 30 per cent of their income. We want to make sure that local government in New South Wales survives these changes, and that is why we are committed to reforming local government in New South Wales.