Local Government (Boundary Adjustment) Amendment Bill

14 February 2017

Mr SPEIRS ( Bright ) ( 17:06 ): It is a pleasure to be able to rise today to speak on the Local Government (Boundary Adjustment) Amendment Bill 2016.

As members would be more than aware, local government reform is certainly something I have a personal interest in, and I have raised it in this place on many occasions since my election in 2014. The issue of changing the boundaries of local council areas is something I have an interest in because of my general interest in local government reform, but I also have an interest at an electorate level within my community. 

There are a couple of areas that I think could be tidied up within the electorate that I represent to make council boundaries work better. I have raised one of those matters with the minister. When I had my audience with him, I was pleased that he raised that the Local Government (Boundary Adjustment) Amendment Bill would be coming up and that there would be an opportunity to make the process of changing council boundaries that little bit easier. That is what this bill seeks to do. 

I want to go through the key elements of the bill and give an overview of the bill before I provide commentary on my local community. The key elements include the introduction of a simplified pathway for administrative minor proposals, being those that are correct, historical anomalies and boundaries and a simpler and broader initiation process, allowing proposals to be initiated by electorates, two or more councils, a single council or the minister for local government or by resolution of either house of parliament. 

The Local Government's Grants Commission will be able to undertake the initial assessment of proposals and will make recommendations to the minister. It also includes independent analysis of general proposals, significant boundary changes, amalgamations, or significant structural reform by one or more investigators with the relevant experience for each proposal. 

The bill will also include the ability to recover reasonable costs of the review process. It will insert principles to support regional collaboration to create efficiencies and therefore offer a viable alternative to structural change. That is something that the LGA is particularly supportive of and, I understand, has requested appear in this bill. The bill also seeks that legislation commences on 1 January 2019 following the November 2018 local government elections. That is something that the Liberal Party will seek to amend through this process. 

Local government reform, as I mentioned, is something I hold dear to my heart, having served on the City of Marion council for four years, between 2010 and 2014. While I have said in this chamber before that that often makes me a champion of local government, my time on the City of Marion council also opened my eyes to what could be done better in the local government sector. It has certainly made me a critic with regard to many aspects of the way local government operates in South Australia. 

I have said here before that I have concerns about the way that councils set their rates. I believe it is often a backward process, with councils coming up with a wish list of activities that they would like to achieve during a particular year and then asking the finance officers within a local government to tell them how much those will cost. Once they have been able to calculate the cost of those particular projects and initiatives, they then ask the finance officers what council rate rise will be required to deliver the required money to make those projects happen, and then they jack up rates accordingly. 

I think that is a very backward process. They are coming up with their wish list first, rather than looking to see how much money they have in the kitty before they go down that track. I have criticised that at length here, and I have criticised it publicly. I do not think it is the way that any organisation should operate—whether it is in the private, public or not-for-profit sector, and it is a matter of great concern. It should be a matter of great concern for South Australians that many councils, but not all, go about their budget-setting strategies in that way, and I remain very critical of that. 

Because of that concern, I have been a strong and vocal advocate for council rate capping to be initiated in South Australia. It has been the Liberal Party's policy for several years to initiate rate capping should we form government, and it was announced shortly before the 2014 election that we would explore that. We renewed that commitment following the 2014 election, and we were able to undertake an inquiry through the Economic and Finance Committee, which I sit on, to investigate the impacts of rate capping in the local government sector. It was interesting to be part of that inquiry; there were clearly very mixed views. 

Many of those who came to our committee and provided evidence were from the local government sector. Many councils were represented, through their senior staff or mayors, and the Local Government Association was certainly represented. It is fair to say that they have a strong position against rate capping—but they would, wouldn't they, because clearly they do not want to be told that they have to rein in their spending and to find efficiencies. They have to work better with what they have, and they have to cut their cloth accordingly. They have put forward a position that they do not support rate capping, but there are plenty of people out there in the community who do. 

A number of people fronted the Economic and Finance Committee investigation and provided evidence in support of the rate capping policy. In particular, the Mayor of the City of Unley, Lachlan Clyne, spoke out in favour of rate capping, and there were a number of other people—I recall Councillor Martin Bray from the City of Onkaparinga, another elected member. I have spoken to elected members and senior staff within councils who did not come forward to the committee but who do support rate capping, and it is certainly not a 100 per cent position out there in the local government sector that this is a bad thing. Why would we cap council rates? Primarily, because it would help reduce a cost-of-living pressure that South Australian households are facing. 

Too often, the largest bill a household will receive, the largest single bill in any given year, will be their local government rates bill, and those bills keep on rising year on year well above inflation in too many council areas. That is a significant cost-of‑living pressure at a time when utilities are rising, at a time when fees and charges across government departments are rising, with the emergency services levy being doubled, or trebled, or quadrupled in the case of many South Australian households. We need to look at any opportunity we can to reduce the cost burden facing South Australian households, and we should not forget that local government imposes part of that cost burden, and that is through their imposition of council rates. 

Local government has to be part of the solution as well, so it is timely to have the local government bill open at this time. It provides an opportunity for the Liberal Party to put forward its position in terms of rate capping and its desire to see the local government sector do its bit to reduce the cost pressures imposed by local councils with regard to unreasonable, year-on-year, higher than inflation increases to council rates. The Liberal Party's position is nuanced. It is not— 

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Before I let you go on, member for Bright, you might not have been in the chamber a bit earlier when we discussed the actual scope of this bill. Perhaps you were not here when we spoke about it, but it is actually about the boundary adjustments per se. If you want to talk about rate capping, it is contingent upon the member for Unley's motion afterwards. By the look on your face, you know exactly what I am talking about, so I do not have to tell you again, do I? 

Mr SPEIRS: Just taking the opportunity to represent my constituents, Deputy Speaker. 

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: You know exactly what I am talking about. In your exposed position, do not make me look at you again. 

Mr SPEIRS: I do feel rather exposed out here on a limb, but I will return to the substance, having put on the record my strong support for the introduction of a cap on council rates. With my remaining time, I will now start to reflect on the boundaries of the local councils which I represent, those being the City of Marion and the City of Holdfast Bay. 

Although historically it has been quite difficult, it should be easier for councils to amend their boundaries or for communities to initiate boundary changes when they think that these are sensible options. I know the minister agrees because we have this legislation before us. In my own community, the City of Holdfast Bay and the City of Marion share a boundary, both in the northern part of my community and also along the eastern boundary and southern parts of my electorate as well. I have a particular interest in the suitability of the council boundary that lies between the suburbs of Marino, Kingston Park and Seacliff Park. 

We have a situation at the moment where the suburb of Seacliff Park is divided between two councils, with the southern side of Arthur Street being in the City of Marion and the northern side of Arthur Street being in the City of Holdfast Bay. The suburb being divided across two councils really does not make any sense. That is on the east side of Ocean Boulevard. If you move onto the western side of Ocean Boulevard, you have a subdivision within Seacliff Park, which is also found wholly within the City of Marion. 

Beside the subdivision, which is known as Oceana, there is a large area of brownfield industrial land, which has a long history of being rezoned. I hope that will be signed off in 2017 and stimulate the South Australian economy with a large development happening within that site. That site has a number of names. It can be known as Cement Hill. It can be known as the Lorenzin site or it is sometimes known as the Monier site, named after an old factory that was there. It is an ugly site. It is a blight on our landscape and it ought to be redeveloped. It is a perfect site for an urban renewal initiative. 

The community is fully supportive of seeing that redevelopment go ahead, which is quite unique. It is also an ideal site for higher density, which obviously fits with much of the government's plans to see higher-density dwellings constructed in communities along the rail corridor. This site is a fairly comfortable walking distance from the Marino train station along the Seaford line. So, this site is an ideal site for urban renewal, redevelopment and higher density as well. 

However, the rezoning of that site has been greatly complicated in that about three-quarters of that brownfield site lies within the City of Marion and about one quarter lies within the City of Holdfast Bay, and that has meant that the rezoning process has had to go through both councils in equal measure. The developer who owns that site has had to front up to both councils time and again through a very convoluted rezoning process. 

As things currently stand, I hope that when that rezoning occurs—and, as I say, I hope that will occur during 2017 because it is a very positive project for my community and a very positive project for the South Australian construction sector—we will not be faced with the perverse situation where this site is divided between two councils. At this stage, there is a small shopping centre proposed within this redevelopment and, with the plans that I have seen, that shopping centre will be divided between two councils. That makes no sense at all and is a really good example of an area which I hope will benefit from the Local Government (Boundary Adjustment) Amendment Bill 2016. 

The opportunity to realign that boundary and to ensure that that brownfield site and subsequent redevelopment are all within one council area also presents a broader opportunity to discuss how the other communities around that site are located within particular councils. It is my view and it is the view of many residents in the area—and I am certain that it would be the majority view of those communities—that there is a need to look at whether the suburb of Marino and part of the suburb of Seacliff Park, which are currently located within the City of Marion, ought to be moved, using this large redevelopment as a catalyst, into the City of Holdfast Bay. 

The residents who live in Marino—which is inextricably linked to the suburb of Kingston Park—recreate in the City of Holdfast Bay, they shop in the City of Holdfast Bay and the natural gravitation for residents who are living in the suburb of Marino is into the City of Holdfast Bay. In fact, to exit the suburb of Marino, many of them have to drive into the City of Holdfast Bay to get out into the wider community. If the community supports it, it is my view that it makes sense for a future state government, once this legislation is passed and initiated, to have a conversation with the residents of Marino, the City of Holdfast Bay and the City of Marion as to the more appropriate geographical and socio-economic location of Marino going forward. 

As I mentioned before, the suburb of Seacliff Park is awkwardly divided across Arthur Street, and it makes sense to have a conversation in the future about where the suburb of Seacliff Park should be located in terms of its local government jurisdiction. Again, because most residents would recreate and gravitate into the City of Holdfast Bay, to me it makes sense to see the suburb of Seacliff Park entirely located within the City of Holdfast Bay. Equally, it is my view that this new brownfield development, which is split between Marion and Holdfast Bay, should also be entirely located within the City of Holdfast Bay. 

This also goes to the hip pocket of residents living in these suburbs, because the rates that people pay in the City of Holdfast Bay are substantially lower, for a number of historic reasons, than in the City of Marion. So, it is my view that the local residents—and it is not just my view, it is a fact—living in Marino and Seacliff Park would be far better off if they were located under the local government jurisdiction of the City of Holdfast Bay in the future. It would make sense for a range of reasons and also from a cost-of-living point of view. 

With that discussion about the local situation within my electorate and the boundaries of the City of Holdfast Bay and the City of Marion, I would like to say that the Liberal Party broadly supports this legislation. We will be looking to make a couple of amendments. We would like to see the commencement date of the act be from 1 January 2018, as opposed to 1 January 2019, but we do provide broad support to this bill. As foreshadowed by the member for Unley and other speakers and as supported heartily by me, we will be attempting to amend this bill to enable a cap on local council rates. 

Extracted from Hansard