Paul Omodei

Paul Omodei


    Minister rejects claims about local government inquiries

    19/05/2000 1:46 PM

    Local Government Minister Paul Omodei has rejected assertions by lawyer Denis McLeod that inquiries are undermining local government.

    Mr McLeod’s criticisms were first made in a client bulletin shortly before the tabling of the report of the inquiry into the City of Cockburn, in which he was involved, and were then publicised in the media.

    Mr Omodei said that the real situation was significantly different from the picture Mr McLeod painted.

    Since 1996 when the new Local Government Act came into effect there had been only four local governments subject to major inquiries, and only two of those directly involved lawyers.

    Those two were Wanneroo and Cockburn. Wanneroo was really the continuation of the Wanneroo Royal Commissions, and it was doubtful that anyone would argue that Cockburn did not need to be investigated.

    The other two important inquiries involved York and East Fremantle. Following those inquiries, York had sorted out its problems and East Fremantle was currently working through its difficulties.

    In the same period there had been 38 Council Advice Programs which were voluntary peer review processes in which Councils sought assistance and advice from the Department.

    This hardly measured up to Mr McLeod’s assertion that councils seemed to have a tremendous fear of scrutiny.

    “It seems more likely that the fear of scrutiny is proportionate to the level of wrong-doing, while councils which are genuine about local problems are happy to ask the department for assistance,” Mr Omodei said.

    “I also disagree with Mr McLeod’s claim that the circumstances in which an inquiry can be ordered need to be more clearly defined.

    “A close look at the variety of matters examined in the Cockburn Inquiry shows that it is very difficult to imagine, much less define, all the circumstances that might occur which warrant examination.

    “It needs to be remembered also that the Local Government Act covers all local governments from the City of Perth to shires like Sandstone, with 166 people in an area of 28,000 square kilometres.

    “The Department has the responsibility to assist and to scrutinise all of them in whatever circumstances arise.

    “Their autonomy is respected in that they cannot be ordered to make decisions – and the new Act removed 80 per cent of the circumstances in which they previously needed the Minister’s permission to make decisions.

    “At the same time, however, councils are accountable both to their local community and to the State Government representing the whole Western Australian community.

    “Local governments are truly local in the sense that they govern their local area and their local community within the powers and responsibilities bestowed on them.

    “But at the same time, a council is part of the undivided whole that is Western Australia and it must carry out its duties within that larger framework.

    “The Department does its utmost to protect and preserve both these aspects of Local Government and I believe it is doing an excellent job.

    “Its assistance is not confined to formal or informal inquiries. Advice is given daily in response to requests and in regular newsletters.

    “Since the new Act was introduced, thorough training programs have been developed for councillors and staff and these are being offered around the State.

    “The Department has also received from the State Government $1.8 million a year which is disbursed through the Local Government Development Fund, mainly for research and development programs to assist particular groups or local government as a whole.

    “All of these things are a long way from the handful of formal inquiries carried out by the Department or by independent inquirers as in the Cockburn case.

    “It is the behaviours uncovered by such inquiries, rather than the inquiries themselves, which tend to undermine local government.

    “I believe that is why there is no clamour from the public to abandon, or even reduce, the supervision of local government.”

    Media contact: Hugh Ryan 08 9213 6700