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From the Land Down Under: A Local Government Bailout?

Posted on September 29, 2014


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By: Andrew Coulson, LinkedInPinterest, and Twitter

It’s oh so quiet… it’s oh so still… you’re all alone… and so peaceful until…local elections! Local government in South Australia is in a ‘caretaker period’ as local people are sharing their ideas for what they would do as a councillor.

For council staff, this means carefully overseeing policy that will not benefit one candidate over the other. Examples of this include: thinking tactically ahead about city infrastructure and social media posts directed toward a targeted audience.

Needless to say, it’s an interesting time. Let’s put aside the South Australia (SA) local council elections to highlight five news stories that you need to know about.

Fact(oid) or Fiction?

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The LGA (Local Government Association) of SA has developed a sheet summarizing key facts for this year’s local council elections. The facts are broadcast on Twitter and are aimed at getting people into the voting mood. A few facts to “wow” your friends:

  • 707 positions (51 Mayors and 656 Councillors – down 7 from 2010) are up for grabs;
  • On average around 1.89 people will contest each position
  • There has been a 4.7% increase in nominations from 2010
  • 1261 candidates will be electioneering
  • A record number – 381- of nominees are women – 28.56%

The facts are equally as interesting for my council. In 2010, the majority of councillors ran unopposed, this time it’s different.

  • 8 electoral Wards, 2 councillors in each and 1 Mayor position, all will have elections
  • 2 candidates for Mayor. The challenge has been quoted as saying he is standing as no one should go unopposed
  • 32 candidates for the Wards
  • 1 non returning Councillor
  • 10 female candidates, 7 current female councillors.

Elections will be conducted by postal ballot in November. In 2010 more than 343,000 of voters (32.9%) participated. The LGA is aiming to increase this by at least 2%.

State Helps Locals Get “Fit for the Future”

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Previously I mentioned the quest for innovative approaches to cost cutting.  In New South Wales (NSW), the State Government has stepped up to help by proposing “Fit for the Future.” It’s a $1 billion package and would be the largest investment NSW has ever made in local government.

Mr. Baird, NSW Premier, stated that the success of ‘Rebuilding NSW’ depends on proposals like these that support strong local government. Mr. Baird stated a strong local government “is not possible when more than one-third of the State’s councils are facing financial problems – losing more than $1 million a day. This package puts ratepayers first, so councils deliver better roads, footpaths and sporting fields”.

The Fit for the Future package includes:

  • $258 million to assist councils who decide to merge and make the changes needed to provide better services to communities;
  • Cheaper financing for councils to build and maintain necessary community facilities, saving them up to $600 million;
  • Up to $100 million savings through reduced red tape and duplication;
  • Improvements to the local government system, including the laws that govern it, the way the State works with councils and the support that councils receive.

The Fit for the Future package is based on an Independent Local Government Review Panel’s recommendations following three years of research and consultation. NSW Councils have until June 2015 to submit proposals on how they plan to be ‘Fit for the Future’. These proposals will be assessed by independent experts against independently-set criteria.

Welcome to the Ideasbank

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Possibly linked to ‘Fit for the future’ and ‘Rebuilding NSW’, the New South Wales (NSW) state government announced a start to crowdsourcing ideas and solutions from private and non-government organizations to address problems such as public housing, congestion, open data and policy challenges.

Though not particularly aimed at local councils or their involvement, this is great news for communities in NSW. I can envision opportunities for the NSW LGA to encourage its councils to engage communities in developing ideas for local problems that may have a state wide impact.

This is a developing story, worth watching. Governments in Malaysia and India have used similar processes. Similarly, I must mention the story of SA Power Networks who started crowdsourcing ideas and solutions from its own staff. Innovative ideas shared via ‘Ideasbank’ have helped the organization save thousands from simple cost saving solutions proposed front line staff.  Something maybe local government can learn from, even internally. Full story of NSW Crowdsourcing here: http://bit.ly/XZbtms

Dubstepping Downunder

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What happens when you combine Australian census data with a light (and funny) strategy game? You get ‘Run That Town’, a free and highly entertaining game for your mobile.

With local elections looming in SA and other parts of the country, I thought the time was ripe to mention this game. The goal of the games is to discover who in your area can make decisions that will sway popular opinion in your favour.

Run that Town let’s you take control of any neighbourhood in Australia  (If you want a postcode to play Adelaide is 5000 and Salisbury where I’m based 5108)

Choose from hundreds of projects for your town – from the practical to the preposterous. Reckon you’d be a popular mayor because you’d make ice cream free and ban dubstep? Let’s see, shall we? Lunch time sorted.

Not So Fast…Council Blocks Savings Initiative

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Reportedly, Queensland councils are being blocked from saving the nation’s taxpayers millions of dollars. The reason? The Federal Governments bureaucrats are refusing to accept the use of local council staff to clean up and rebuild after disasters. This is crazy talk, I say, crazy talk.

Queensland faces the threat of numerous natural disasters which in the past few years have included devastating floods, storms, cyclones and more recently massive bush fires.

The Federal Government is insisting councils use paid contract labour for disaster recovery work. This is despite Queensland Reconstruction Authority estimates’ showing that a recent trial using so-called council “day labour” for disaster recovery saved taxpayers around $126 million. There also was no mention of the armies of volunteers that regularly contributes thousands of hours during disaster relief in Australia each year.

State of Australia

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These are testing times but also a time for innovative solutions. These solutions may develop through community engagement and strong leadership at the local level.

Before I sign off, I have some exciting news. I have accepted a position in state government. This will be my third work experience on the state level. Let’s hope it’s the best one.

Until the ghostly month of October is ending its Australia over and out!

 

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