Have your say on council reforms

Your say: South Australian councils are the subject of a discussion paper - Reforming Local Government - on which the State Government is seeking feedback.
Your say: South Australian councils are the subject of a discussion paper - Reforming Local Government - on which the State Government is seeking feedback.

The South Australian Government is updating legislation surrounding the framework in which local councils are governed and is currently seeking feedback on the discussion paper Reforming Local Government.

After consultation earlier this year feedback was reviewed and a discussion paper was created to put forward models and solutions for four key reform areas - Council membership and conduct; Financial accountability; Voting and election procedures; and Statutory requirements.

Local Government Minister Stephan Knoll said the reforms would enable councils to provide better services to ratepayers.

"The local government sector has been working very constructively through this process and have put their hand up and said that there's a lot they could do better," he said.

"Every dollar councils spend on compliance and unnecessary or over-the-top regulation, is a dollar that's passed on to ratepayers.

"That's why a more efficient and simple regulatory system can have a positive impact for ratepayers through lower costs and council rates."

Local Government Association of South Australia president Sam Telfer said comments made by the SA Productivity Commission in the draft report for its Inquiry into Local Government Costs and Efficiency concerning the costs of the increasing regulatory burden on councils were interesting.

"It all adds up, and has a big impact on council efficiency, the rates we need to charge, and our ability to provide services to the community," he said.

As part of the reforms there is proposed legistlation to make councils meet a certain standard of accountability and sustainability such as using the Auditor-General to oversee annual audits.

Mr Telfer said there was already a number of systems in place to make local governments accountable.

"Councils are already regulated by, and accountable to, the Ombudsman, the ICAC, the Office of Local Government, the Auditor-General and the Local Government Grants and Boundaries Commission," he said.

"Complying with all of these accountability and governance requirements consumes a large amount of resources.

"The trick is to find the right balance between accountability and cost.

"The Auditor-General already has broad powers to audit or investigate any council and chase down the expenditure of any public money.

"We're not aware of any independent report, including by the Auditor-General, that has found any fault in the quality of council external audits."

Another reform on the table is the accessibility of council material which is required to be made public, with some only available in print form.

Mr Telfer said changes over the past 20 years affected council communications and how people accessed information.

"Councils are increasingly using online platforms and social media to communicate with their communities, and we believe the Act should be modernised to provide councils with more contemporary and cost effective options for public notifications, which will enable us to save money and better engage with our communities," he said.

There is also discussion on the increase of information required to be given in a council's annual report, with summaries to include items such as travel costs and credit card charges made by members and staff.

"Councils are already required to include a large amount of information in their annual reports, and there are significant costs associated with compiling this information," Mr Telfer said.

The discussion paper can be found at https://yoursay.sa.gov.au/decisions/reforming-local-government-2/about with feedback via online discussion, email or a survey at the host site. Closing date is November 1, 2019.

This story Council reform on agenda first appeared on The Murray Valley Standard.