Local councils talk change

Changing times: Shire CEO Matthew Scott, president Victoria Brown and councillors Bowman, Parker and McMullen attended the forum. Photo: Jesinta Burton.
Changing times: Shire CEO Matthew Scott, president Victoria Brown and councillors Bowman, Parker and McMullen attended the forum. Photo: Jesinta Burton.

Shire of Esperance councillors have travelled to Perth to discuss everything from waste management and local government reforms to the impact of social media at the state's annual local government convention.

Last week's 2019 WA Local Government Convention was attended by Shire of Esperance chief executive officer Matthew Scott, as well as shire president Victoria Brown and councillors Natalie Bowman, Basil Parker and Steve McMullen.

Reflecting on the convention, Mrs Brown said she found talks regarding the future of the sector to be most interesting, as well as the concerns voiced about who would stand at the upcoming election in the face of immense public pressure.

"I attended the Mayors and Presidents' Forum and the message was very interesting," she said.

"The Honourable Simon O'Brien MLC, who is chairing the Inquiry into Local Government, stood up and said that local government had been under attack and under seige and that it was unwarranted.

"He said the local government needed the support and the ear of the whole of parliament.

"The point of this inquiry is to find out what the issues are because everybody is deeply concerned about the future of the sector.

"The main concern from those in attendance is who will stand for the positions as councillors when they have had such vicious and personal attacks on social media?

"If the good people don't, who will?"

Mrs Bowman said she, too, had heard other members of local government voicing those concerns and acknowledged that doing things differently had resulted in criticism from the community.

"The theme that came out throughout the conference was the grave concern for the future of our communities if we don't have good people to stand," she said.

"One of the messages that I took away was to expect criticism if you dare to do things differently. That's precisely what we've been doing.

"We are copping criticism but we're making a change. We had to, we had to from a sustainability perspective.

"We're improving and we are working towards sustainability.

"We have to translate that vision in an open and transparent way and, somehow, we need to get better at doing that because we seem to struggle with that communication sometimes."

Much like last year's convention, Mr Scott said social media, its impact on local government and how it should be dealt with was still a hot topic of discussion, as was the idea that there should be a review of local government responsibilities.

"The Local Government Minister addressed the media discussion about whether local governments should go back to 'roads, rates and rubbish'," he said.

"That would mean that a lot of things would disappear overnight that the community relies on.

"There is more and more pressure on local government and expanding community expectations, but people don't want to pay for those services.

"Capping the rates would be difficult for many local governments in WA and people don't see the connection between the services being delivered and what it costs to deliver those services."

The theme for this year's convention was 'Local Government: Renewal Practical', looking at the changes for the New Local Government Act.

While the sector is still waiting on the regulations to be developed, Mr Scott said the new mandatory training laws prompted questions about who would foot the bill for it and whether there would be any assistance.

Mr Scott also addressed proposed changes to the disclosure of financial interests in returns, which would require councillors and employees to disclose personal information online, including property ownership, sources of income, personal debt and gifts.

Previously, under the Local Government Act 1995, only physical copies were kept at the shire's office.

"Virtually every staff member with the ability to purchase something has to do an annual return," he said.

"Now, everyone's details need to be posted to our website for anyone to browse at their leisure.

"Previously, people have had to physically come into the office, ask to see someone's returns and we can advise that staff member of that. There are still a lot of unknowns."

Many councillors also attended a session about waste avoidance and resource recovery, which looked at the move to the three bin system.

Councillor Brown said that while she enjoyed the session, she had stressed the importance of avoiding waste and owning your own impact.

"The message has to be 'own your own impact', waste will cost you so it's your responsibility to make that decision when you're shopping," she said.

Having attended the 'Reframing Rural Fire' forum, councillor Bowman said she was pleased the Rural Fire division had recognised that additional resources needed to be put into the regions to manage the risk.

"The executive for the Rural Fire Division gave a lot of information about what it's going to look like and what it's going to do," she said.

"I was pleased to see that they are shifting from a response agency to management of risk and mitigation.

"They have also recognised that additional resources need to be put into the regions to manage the risk.

"I came away thinking that they are listening to our feedback and they are putting more resources where they need to be."

Councillor Brown said it was also great that those in attendance were able to see councillors Shelley Payne and Dale Piercey receive their diplomas of Local Government.