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Mid West councils approve of State Government local government reform

Lachlan Allen and Jamie ThannooMidwest Times
Local Government Minister John Carey.
Camera IconLocal Government Minister John Carey. Credit: Andrew Ritchie/The West Australian

Response to local government reform plans has been positive from many local government figures in the Mid West.

The reforms, announced by the WA Government last week, include proposals to reduce council sizes in some areas, abolish ward systems in smaller local governments, and implement optional preferential voting.

The Shire of Northampton will see its number of councillors drop from eight to seven, and councillors will now all represent the entire area rather than a ward within.

Northampton Shire president Liz Sudlow approved of the changes, after there had been some suggestions that the reforms would see councillor numbers drop to five for areas of Northampton’s size.

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“I would have been unhappy if the number of councillors had gone to five, I think that is too small, but seven I think is perfectly adequate,” Cr Sudlow said.

“Most local governments have gone away from the ward system, and to be honest in our council, the councillors we have are very aware that they represent the whole shire, not just their particular area.”

The Shire of Coorow’s President Moira Girando agreed that five councillors was too low

“If there were to be only 5 Councillors as suggested by the Minister, given this shire has 3 very different community groups with differing wants and needs there could be the potential for projects to be pushed through when some councillors are unable to attend meetings,” Cr Girando said.

The Shire of Shark Bay will also see its ward system abolished, a move welcomed by Shire president Cheryl Cowell who said it will be more effective for councillors to represent the entire shire.

“I haven’t been a fan of the ward system as it applies here, and I think this will be more representative of our people as a whole,” Cr Cowell said.

“There are times when people who put up for far-flung wards are elected unopposed, because they are the only candidate.”

Cr Cowell said she was happy the State Government had not carried through with a drastic reduction in councillor numbers, as it could be difficult to get enough councillors together in large regional areas.

“We’ll be able to stick with our seven, which is a good thing because in a small country town it is sometimes hard to get people and quorums if you put your councillor numbers too low,” she said.

Reforms to streamline and simplify the local government system have also been welcomed by Exmouth Shire president Darlene Allston.

“The proposed changes will enhance local government democracy beginning at the ballot box,” she said

“It will enable small local governments like Exmouth to reduce red tape further and improve transparency while considering the limited resources we are facing compared to bigger local governments in WA.”

Karen Chappel, president of the WA Local Government Association and Shire president of Morawa, said the State Government had been engaged in lengthy dialogue with local governments about these reforms, and had worked to find reforms both sides largely support.

“Local governments have been well involved in the consultation process, and the minister (Local Government Minister John Carey) has listened,” Ms Chappel said.

“For some the transition will be complex, and not necessarily easy, but everyone is aware they have this process to follow.”

Cr Cowell said she expected most local governments to support the reforms.

“We’ve had a fairly lengthy consultation period with Western Australian Local Government Association and the minister so that every shire had a chance to voice their opinion, and I don’t think there will be too much pushback,” she said.

Legislation to implement these reforms is being drafted and will be introduced to State Parliament next year.

“Our reform agenda is clear — we are strengthening the transparency, accountability and efficiency of local governments, and this set of electoral reforms will enable stronger local democracy and community engagement,” Local Government Minister John Carey said.

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