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Crunch time for Great Southern councils as they receive deadline to decide on reform pathway

Stuart McGuckinGreat Southern Herald
Local Government Minister John Carey has written to all 138 WA local governments outlining a voluntary pathway to enact proposed reforms which were finalised in July.
Camera IconLocal Government Minister John Carey has written to all 138 WA local governments outlining a voluntary pathway to enact proposed reforms which were finalised in July. Credit: Ross Swanborough/The West Australian

Five Great Southern local governments face big decisions in the next month as they plan for incoming reforms which would reduce the number of councillors representing their communities.

Local Government Minister John Carey has written to all 138 WA local governments outlining a voluntary pathway to enact proposed reforms which were finalised in July.

In the letter, Mr Carey asked the local governments to indicate by the end of October how they planned to implement the reforms.

The shires of Cranbrook, Gnowangerup, Kent and Kojnonup each exceed the limit of seven councillors which will be placed on LGA’s with a population fewer than 5000.

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Initial proposed reforms would have limited those councils, as well as four others in the region, to just five members.

Concerns voiced by several local governments and councillors about the size of councils being determined by population prompted an amended to allow small LGAs to choose between five, six or seven councillors.

Some argued that LGAs with smaller populations often covered much larger areas, which meant a greater diversity of issues.

In its submission, the Shire of Cranbrook said it “strongly opposed” being forced to reduce the size of its council.

At the time, Shire president Phil Horrocks said the reforms would not allow for adequate representation of the Shire’s wide range of agribusinesses and diverse demographic.

He said the Shire’s council elections generated strong interest from the community.

“At the last election held in 2021 we had eight nominations for five councillor positions, of which each candidate would have brought a different set of skills and knowledge to the Shire,” he said.

“It was the community that had to evaluate and choose whom they saw as most valuable to the leadership of the Shire going forward.

“When we, like some other Shires, receive no surplus of nominations or in fact, no nominations at all for a position on Council, then we will have to consider a reduction of numbers.”

Cranbrook councillors will revisit the issue at their October meeting to determine whether they still do not intend to voluntarily fall in line with the reforms.

Shire of Gnowangerup chief executive Bob Jarvis indicated the matter would be discussed at this week’s council meeting.

The City of Albany also faces having its council reduced from 13 members, including the mayor, to nine as part of limits imposed on LGAs with populations between 5000 and 75,000.

As a band three local government, the Shire of Denmark will need to assess how it will adopt the reforms as one of 11 local governments required to do away with wards.

Under the reforms, only band one and two local governments will be allowed to retain wards, which have traditionally been viewed as a way of ensuring fair representation for different sections of communities.

The reforms will also make optional preferential voting mandatory for all local government elections, bringing the contests more in line with the system used for State and Federal elections.

“Our reform agenda is clear — we are strengthening the transparency, accountability and efficiency of local governments, and this set of electoral reforms will enable stronger local democracy and community engagement,” Mr Carey said.

“I’ve written to every local government in WA about their transition requirements and look forward to seeing these reforms enacted.

“Local governments can decide on the best pathway forward for them, whether it makes sense to phase in changes or implement them all in 2023.”

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