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Trimming third tier won’t come quickly

NO longer shackled by the political discipline required with a government ministry, ex-Labor MP Brian Wightman nailed it this week when he said Tasmania was over-governed and drowning in bureaucracy.
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Chris Pippos.

The shame is, as former attorney-general, Mr Wightman wasn’t so blunt, and neither were his cabinet colleagues in their public assessment of Tasmania and its bloated, when considered collectively, triple-tier of government.

It’s amazing the clarity with which Mr Wightman, who, for the record I believe had great potential and much to offer in politics before he lost his seat in Bass to the old guard at the last state election, now sees things since being appointed state executive director of the Property Council.

“As a small state we are overrun by bureaucratic processes that emanate as a result of being over-governed,” Mr Wightman, in response to potential council amalgamations, said this week.

Insightful stuff, but two years too late.

Likewise, former economic development minister David O’Byrne, another Labor shining light who was booted at the last election, was also known to be very keen on council amalgamations, but never took any action.

As former premier Paul Lennon apparently once said, if you’ve got the mayors in your pocket (by this I mean their collective support), then you are one step closer to forming government.

Herein lies the problem, and it’s political.

Forcibly amalgamating councils is not only politically unpopular because council staff and councillors feel threatened, but it also risks severing the 29 community umbilical cords that state governments have traditionally used, most notably during pre-election periods, to help garner local support and funnel their pork-barrelling.

This isn’t some classic Tasmanian conspiracy theory, but rather the reality of doing politics and networking in a small state where councils are disproportionate in number compared to the small size of the population.

It’s another disincentive for state governments to opt for a Kennett-style approach to tackle local over-governance.

Meanwhile, the crawl towards council amalgamations continued this week with Local Government Minister Peter Gutwein calling statewide meetings with councils to discuss potential voluntary mergers.

Mr Gutwein said he detected “a shift in community perceptions around the need for structural reform in local government”.

The government’s go slowly approach, three years after an Auditor-General’s report found too many councils incurred operating deficits and were at either a high or moderate financial sustainability risk, is to be expected but not accepted.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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