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South West local governments face forced changes under minister’s review facing Parliament

Warren HatelyAugusta Margaret River Times
Local Government Minister John Carey addresses the media.
Camera IconLocal Government Minister John Carey addresses the media. Credit: Kelsey Reid/The West Australian

Some South West local governments are facing a major shake-up with proposed reforms entered into Parliament by the minister last week.

As part of Mark McGowan’s Labor Government sweeping reform agenda, Minister John Carey is aiming to force changes on councils and their local governments who have declined to voluntarily take on measures, especially mandatory voting for mayors and Shire presidents.

The Times understands the changes most strongly affect the Augusta-Margaret River, Boyup Brook, Harvey and Manjimup Shires as well as the City of Busselton.

Also proposed are potential changes to the number of elected representatives on council as well as an optional preferential voting system long seen to foster local government as a training ground for State political parties.

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Mr Carey last week said the package was the biggest changes seen in 25 years.

“Our reform agenda is clear,” he said.

“We are strengthening the transparency, accountability and efficiency of local governments, and this set of electoral reforms will enable fairer local democracy and community engagement.

“We will continue to engage with the sector on all aspects of the reforms to get the details right before implementing these significant changes.”

Under the changes, Busselton would hold elections for its mayor as part of biennial voting, while Augusta-Margaret River and Harvey would see similar elections held for the Shire presidency.

Busselton would also have its council capped at 10 members, with the reforms including proposed council sizes based on population that would also see Harvey’s elected members cut from 13 to eight, Manjimup to eight as well, and Nannup and Boyup Brook to seven.

Boyup Brook and Nannup would also be required to abolish their ward system, seen as outdated and already ditched by most local governments despite the Augusta-Margaret River Shire council’s foray last year into reintroducing the lapsed system.

Manjimup was required to review its wards.

Augusta-Margaret River Shire chief executive Stephanie Addison-Brown said the changes included a popular vote for the presidency as well as live streaming of council meetings.

Harvey Shire president Cr Paul Gillett said his council had complied with instructions, voting to keep a no-wards system, cutting elected members from 13 to nine across the next two elections, and to facilitate the separate Shire presidency election.

“There was vigorous discussion by councillors when considering the reforms,” he said.

“These changes were ultimately endorsed after Shire officers conducted an extensive public consultation campaign to better understand how the community feels about how they are represented.

“We are hoping the changes do have a positive impact on the local government sector moving forward.”

Capel, Dardanup and Bridgetown-Greensbushes were among those with no changes required.

Last year, Mr Carey wrote to all local governments requesting they consider taking on the changes voluntarily, with the new reform package labelled “tranche one” in an indicator future reforms were still in the pipeline.

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