Barnett in renewed council amalgamation pitch

Former Premier Colin Barnett.
Former Premier Colin Barnett.

FORMER premier Colin Barnett has reignited debate on council amalgamations but there is still opposition from councils and the State Government.

Mr Barnett said on 7Perth’s current affairs show Flashpoint that the number of metropolitan councils should be slashed by at least a third to under 20.

He said reducing to 15 to 20 councils would be “sensible” for Perth.

“Local government will do a better job in the future if amalgamation was made because one out of three or more councils are not sustainable in the long term,” he said.

Mr Barnett said the current functioning of Perth councils reflected a “1950’s population distribution” and of the 139 councils across the state, “there are over 30 councils with less than 1000 people population and over 80 have less than 2000 – schools are bigger than that”.

The Perth skyline.

However, Premier Mark McGowan refuses to support forced local council amalgamations.

“When it comes to forced amalgamations, we don’t support that,” he said.

“If councils want to come together and amalgamate out of their own free will and the communities want to do that, let them – but the State won’t be forcing them.”

And councils in the western suburbs don’t want it.

Mosman Park Mayor Brett Pollock said his council worked with neighbours and East Fremantle to share resources, including shared buildings, such as the Town’s depot now used by Cottesloe, and services such as joint-waste contracts and rangers.

“But if the community wants to amalgamate we’d have a look at it, but it’s not on the table,” he said.

Claremont Mayor Jock Barker said there was no benefit to be gained by going through the expense and turmoil of an amalgamation.

“Mr Barnett has touted this idea before and it has been rejected by the community,” he said.

Cottesloe Beach. Picture: Andrew Ritchie

Cottesloe Mayor Phil Angers said the council was not considering mergers and had no position on Mr Barnett’s call while Peppermint Grove chief executive Don Burnett said Shire residents had “no appetite for amalgamation”.

However, figures indicate that across four councils in Mr Barnett’s former electorate of Cottesloe, ratepayers could potentially be contributing to up to $978,026 annually to fund their councils’ chief executives.

The Salaries and Allowances Tribunal For Local Government has capped Claremont, Mosman Park and Cottesloe chief executive salaries at $259,000 a year, and Peppermint Grove’s chief executive’s salary can reach up to $200,000.

According to Mosman Park’s 2018/19 annual report, chief executive Carissa Bywater is being paid between $180,000 and $189,000 this financial year.

The most a chief executive of a metropolitan council can earn is $379,532.

WA Local Government Association president Lynne Craigie said Mr Barnett’s idea would cause a “loss of identity” between councils.

Ms Craigie said a shared service model should be considered instead of amalgamation.

In response, Mr Barnett said sharing services was a “second or third-best solution” because small towns would not be able to deliver what large councils could, and community expectations were high.

Opposition leader Liza Harvey was not available for comment.