The article below was adapted from a post made to Online Opinion in response to an article "An end to big fish in small, shallow ponds" by Dr Paul Reynolds, Lecturer in Australian Politics and Australian Political behaviour at the University of Queensland
The argument in favour of forced amalgamations has been comprehensively demolished by, amongst others, Professor Brian Dollery of the University of New England in an interview on ABC Radio National's Bush Telegraph of 31 July (transcript not available but audio file can be downloaded from web site for another three weeks). In an article "Counting the Merger Costs" (see below) printed in the Courier Mail on the same day, he demonstrtated that the report from the the Local Government Reform Commission was seriously flawed.
He noted that the Local Government 'Reform' Commission handed down its conclusion just two months after submissions were closed on 25 May.
"In other words, we are expected to believe that in a mere two months it was able to consider tens of thousands of pages of submissions, carefully weigh in the evidence and deliver sound policy advice. ...
"It is hardly surprising that the final report is seriously deficient in several respects."
- no evaluation of the costs of alternative courses of action,
- No attempt to determine the costs attached to amalgamation and the implementation of structural reform (admitted on page 38, chapter 3 of the report)
- No account taken of experiences of amalgamation in Victoria, South Australia or Victoria, nor evidence from Canada, nor the 2007 Lyons report into British local Government.
Professor Dollery concludes :
"Evidence-free policy-making of this kind is alarming. State Government politicians should ask themselves a simple question before embarking on a potentially destructive forced amalgamation program.
"Why do financial problems persist in other Australian states that have already compulsorily amalgamated local councils if amalgamation is indeed a silver bullet for all the ills of local government?"
For further information, visit www.une.edu.au/clg, www.localdemocracy.com.au, www.friendsofnoosa.com.au, /NoForcedAmalgamations
Article from: The Courier-Mail. Also available as PDF document at www.localdemocracy.com.au
July 31, 2007 12:00am
ON Friday, the Queensland Local Government Reform Commission released its report on structural reform of local councils.
The commission recommended a radical plan that would result in the most drastic forced amalgamation of local councils in Queensland history.
If the recommendations are implemented by the State Government, it would see the number of local councils compulsorily reduced to less than half their current number.
When it is noted that no changes at all are proposed to 37 councils, then the extreme nature of the commission is placed in even greater relief.
Given the drastic nature of the commission's recommendations, the handing down of its report heralds a new phase in the struggle for local democracy in Queensland. Whether the State Government actually implements all or some of the amalgamation proposals will depend in large measure on the intensity of popular feeling against forced amalgamation.
The distressing nature of the wholesale program of compulsory mergers is underlined when we consider that the commission arrived at its conclusions just two months after submissions closed on May 25. In other words, we are expected to believe that in a mere two months it was able to consider tens of thousands of pages of submissions, carefully weigh the evidence and then deliver sound policy advice.
Given the time available to the commission and the volume of material to be considered, superhuman effort would have been required to produce sensible policy to advance the interests of Queensland local government.
It is hardly surprising that the final report is seriously deficient in several respects.
For example, rational evaluation of economic and social policy requires a careful assessment of the costs and benefits of alternative courses of action. The public will be dismayed to learn that the commission made no attempt to determine the costs attached to amalgamation and the implantation of structural reform. This is all the more distressing when it is well-known both in Australia and abroad that forced amalgamation always imposes substantial costs even in the process of amalgamating several councils into a larger organisation.
The commission itself recognises that "there are costs inherent in amalgamations".
But in the next breath admits that "it has not attempted to quantify these costs in respect of the recommendations it makes" (Chapter 3, P38).
The only factual "evidence" on the costs of forced amalgamation considered by the commission derived from a few amalgamations in Queensland in the 1990s as well as the submissions of four councils under the now defunct Size, Shape and Sustainability process abandoned by the State Government. No account is taken of experience in Victoria, South Australia and NSW, all of which have undergone amalgamation. Nor is any of the extensive evidence from Canada, the 2007 Lyons Report into British local government, and the substantial American literature even mentioned.
To add insult to injury, by rhetorical sleight of hand the commission then goes on to assert that any costs that do eventuate will depend on the councils themselves rather than forced amalgamation.
Evidence-free policy making of this kind is alarming. State Government politicians should ask themselves a simple question before embarking on a potentially destructive forced amalgamation program.
Why do financial problems persist in other Australian states that have already compulsorily amalgamated local councils if amalgamation is indeed a silver bullet for all the ills of local government?
Professor Brian Dollery is director of the Centre for Local Government, University of New England