Local Government Amalgamations

21st October 2015

Mr GREG PIPER: My question is directed to the Premier. Given that councils such as Lake Macquarie and Newcastle ticked all the boxes under the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal [IPART] other than the nebulous scope and capacity criteria, will the Government, when considering amalgamations, take into consideration the excellent performance of existing joint organisations such as Hunter councils and the potential for them to provide further scope for shared services?

Mr MIKE BAIRD: I thank the member for his question, which is a good example for those opposite of a sensible question about an important topic by a sensible member; that is how to ask a question. In my answer I wish to raise a couple of points. Yes, the member made claims about scale and capacity. It is important to understand that a massive opportunity cost is being lost by communities if councils remain small. Greater scale and capacity mean more opportunities through the removal of duplication, a critical issue, which in the long term frees up savings that can be put back into the community through better services, more infrastructure, lower rates or a combination of all three. Shared services were looked at but the problem was the benefits are small compared to the much greater benefits available if the merger option is pursued.

I understand that those opposite are trying to work out their policy. I encourage them—and this would be a first for them—to tell us their policy and to stand up for it. Are they for local government reform or not? If they want to put reform forward, they should tell us their reforms rather than picking up old pieces of newspaper with some relevance to the debate or telling us what their mother's hairdresser said. If that is their approach it is no wonder that they are in opposition, and they will stay in opposition. The people of New South Wales want to know what those opposite stand for. If they stand for local government reform they need to tell us what it is. I assume those opposite have read the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal report.

The SPEAKER: Order! The Leader of the Opposition will come to order.

Mr MIKE BAIRD: The IPART report considers various merger options and gives the numbers that are potentially available to go back to the community as better services, more infrastructure, lower rates or a combination of all three. The various sums involved include $43 million, $103 million, $164 million, $50 million, $74 million, $123 million, $146 million, $71 million and $126 million, and the list goes on. We on this side of the House are standing up for opportunities for local governments to be fit for the future and have the scale and capacity to deliver those benefits to the community.

In the debate in this Chamber we have heard the Opposition talk about the myths and the scare campaign. Opposition members have asked: What do amalgamations mean for parks, senior citizens centres or libraries? Under our proposals potentially there will be more of them and that is what we are standing up for. Every member of the Opposition has an opportunity to stand up and do what he or she thinks is right for the people in our community and in this State. If they do not, that is up to them.

Ms Jodi McKay: Point of order: The Premier should be asked to direct his comments through the Chair.

The SPEAKER: Order! The Premier will direct his comments through the Chair.

Mr MIKE BAIRD: Opposition members have an opportunity to do what is right. I know that would be a first and it goes against their instincts. Instead they look for a political opportunity and how to wedge the Government. How about those opposite stand up and do what is right for their ratepayers? That is what this Government is doing. We are proud that, under the Minister for Local Government, this Government is standing up for the ratepayers of New South Wales. We want those savings to be delivered as better services, more infrastructure and lower rates. That is what this debate is about—nothing more and nothing less. The Opposition's notice of motion shows how it wants to put the spin on proposed amalgamations. That is up to Opposition members, but this Government is determined to do what is right for the community. That is our focus and that is what we will do. This is an opportunity for those opposite to show that they are in this to look after the people of New South Wales rather than themselves.

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