Devonport City Council has supported the idea of Local Government amalgamation in the Mersey region in its position paper for the Tasmanian Government’s Future of Local Government Review.
The Review started in January 2022 and according to the Tasmanian Government, is expected to take about 18 months to complete.
Devonport Mayor Annette Rockliff said that Council believes now is the time for the necessary leadership to set this region up for the next 50 years.
“It is nearly 120 years since our local council boundaries were drawn up and there is no doubt the world is a much different place now than it was back in 1906,” Cr Rockliff said.
“In today’s interconnected world, with air travel and the digital age, residents have a much broader outlook. No longer do councils just compete with neighbouring councils for residents, government funding, visitors or employees, but rather regions that are successful and prosperous are compared on a much wider basis.
“Council believes that if the Mersey region is to be relevant and recognisable with other similar regions across the country, it needs to be supported, serviced and promoted by a council of sufficient scale and size, working in the interests of the whole region.”
Cr Rockliff said the submission suggests a “Mersey Region” local government area comprising of approximately 60,000 residents through the amalgamation of Kentish, Latrobe, Devonport and the eastern part of Central Coast.
She said the submission outlines the long-term benefits of amalgamation of the Mersey councils, including significant cost efficiencies, improved strategic planning, greater cost equity, better workforce capacity and capability, enhanced digital capacity and improved ability to manage future challenges such as climate change adaption.
“Whilst the detailed modelling is yet to occur, the cost efficiencies from a larger organisation are expected to be significant through the economies of scale that could be achieved,” Cr Rockliff said.
“Existing councils are too small to justify current practices such as separate tendering and contracting of services, the support of standalone operating systems, duplication of management and admin overhead and the development of the myriad of plans, strategies and documents each council is required to produce.
“This is not a ‘bigger is better’ approach, but rather recognising that there is an optimum council size, which requires sufficient capacity to most effectively and efficiently serve residents, whilst still remaining small and nimble enough to ensure strong community representation and engagement.
“If amalgamation occurred it would be important to ensure that the new council remained accessible and representative to all communities in the municipality.”
Cr Rockliff said while local government reform is not a one-size-fits-all approach, the natural synergies between the four existing Mersey council areas, being fluid population transit daily across borders, shared demographic and social profiles, made a strong case for amalgamation in this region.
“As the population increases the urbanised and developed areas of the Mersey region are drawing closer, with limited undeveloped and unoccupied land remaining between coastal townships,” Cr Rockliff said.
“This proximity, along with similarities in demographics, social interests, employment, and educational choices has resulted in the existing municipal boundaries having little relevance to many residents.
“Much of the population transit existing council boundaries seamlessly in their daily lives, yet the management, operation and investment in essential services and infrastructure is managed in isolation from this pattern.”
Cr Rockliff said it is Council’s view that the responsibilities and communities’ expectations of local government will continue to increase over time, meaning an amalgamation of the Mersey councils will be better able to adapt to and finance the changing responsibilities.
“We understand that Council’s position will attract some criticism but our submission to the Review aims to consider issues in a logical manner and presents a clear, rational model which Council believes will be the best for the long-term future of local government in this region,” Cr Rockliff said.
“Unfortunately, uninformed views of Council’s submission will refer to recent borrowings for Council’s LIVING CITY investments, however it should be noted that rental income from Council’s investment properties currently exceeds Council’s total annual interest expense.”
A full copy of the submission can be found at https://www.devonport.tas.gov.au/council/future-of-local-government-review/
A Future of Local Government Review website has been created and contains information regarding the review including research papers and comparative data on each of Tasmania’s 29 Councils.