The Independent Local Government Review Panel will shortly release its report on the series of regional meetings it has hosted which have involved councils, community members and key stakeholders.
The report is an important first step in the process of identifying how councils can best govern and be structured to support the future wellbeing and prosperity of NSW communities.
After it has completed all its investigations the panel will report back to the NSW minister for local
government in July next year and its final paper will be issued for public comment.
This is an important process, but its significance is lost in public apathy. Most of us only focus on the processes within local government when we have a complaint. While ever the garbage is being collected, the water keeps flowing and sporting fields are prepared for weekly competition, most people appear uninterested in the workings of their local council.
Yet local councils have an important role to play, particularly in planning for the future.
One of local government’s biggest shortcomings is its inability to dedicate time and resources to strategic planning. Councils should be working on projects relevant to their communities in 20 and 30 years time. Instead, most are trapped in the day-to-day operations which is a short term focus.
This is not a criticism of any individual council, but indicates the shortcomings in the current system of operation.
State governments suffer the same infliction. The O’Farrell government is attempting to piece together a transport masterplan which will serve the city of Sydney well into the future. It is working on high-cost proposals which should have been dealt with decades ago.
The consequence of not planning for the future is evident in Sydney’s inadequate public transport system and road network.
It is important that local government rids itself of shortsightedness and has the flexibility and the capability to focus on the future.
For this to be achieved, changes will need to be made, and in some cases they are likely to be substantial.