“Public Buy-In” Needed for Local Government Act Reform Success: Expert

A political expert has claimed State Government reforms to the Local Government Act need public support to be successful, despite the reforms currently being “just ideas”.

Murdoch University Politics and Policy Senior Lecturer Dr Ian Cook stated the changes needed “public buy-in” or it would not be effective, as Local Government Minister David Templeman opened the reforms to public comment on Wednesday.

“It relies a lot on people,” Dr Cook said.

“You can create transparent systems, you can crate cultures of openness, but until the people buy into that, until they become a part of it, I’m not sure it’s a deep fundamental change.”

Dr Cook said reforms were important but the public needed to accept the changes for it to work.

“I think we can see it as a significant and valuable reform,” he said.

“But if we don’t get public buy in, if they still treat local government as if it doesn’t really matter as long as their bins are emptied, the council pickups are done every few months they’re happy, until they get buy in, I’m not sure rules by themselves are going to have profound effects.”

He cited previous attempts to reforms to local councils were met with backlash and a similar response could be possible.

“Remember, the Barnett government tried to introduce significant reform processes particularly around amalgamation,” Dr Cook said.

“We’ve yet to see how local councils are going to respond to this and if they embrace it, then this will be radical reform. If they resist it, I’m not sure exactly what we’re going to end up with.

However, he stated the reforms were needed.

“There are questions about governance,” Dr Cook said.

“We’ve seen with the Lisa Scaffidi example that the rules weren’t that clear, the rules aren’t universal.”

“So, we need to have much clearer senses of the responsibility and particularly in the context of gift receiving on the part of councillors.”

Dr Cook believed a “greater reporting process” was needed.

“A lot of a part of the problem with respect to local councils and local government is there isn’t a level of transparency I think we’d like to see,” he said.

“Increased transparency means that we’ve got a clearer sense of what’s going on, we can have greater accountability and hopefully a little more buying in on the public’s part.”

Local Government Minister David Templeman opened the next stage of the reform process for public comment, calling the act “a new act for a new time” that reflected modern challenges for the local government sector.

“As a major employer and the glue for communities in WA, local governments support economies and businesses which often involves making controversial decisions.”

“The reforms will help improve the way local governments make these decisions and contribute to better services, better decisions, and more efficient and accountable local government into the future.”

He called it the “biggest reform to the local government sector in more than 20 years.”

However, Dr Cook said it was too early for the minister to make big claims about ideas in the reforms.

“These are just reforms that are being discussed,” he said.

“We haven’t seen them implemented and if they are implemented, then he would have a claim to say look these are the most radical reforms and the most significant reforms we’ve seen in local government for 20 years.”

“I’m assuming things will come out of it, but just how much comes out of it will really answer that question as to whether these really are reforms.”

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