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Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Room for more transparency in local government

Professor Percy Allen, the former Secretary of the NSW Treasury has a well earned reputation for thoroughness and analysis which will be enhanced by the publication of the Interim Report: Findings and Options of the Independent Inquiry in to the Financial Sustainability of NSW Local Government. The 258 page report “Are Councils Sustainable” is a veritable book on the subject. It identifies a wide range of major problems facing local councils and suggests various options about how they should be addressed.

Accountability is one of the twelve local council values he assesses. While the report doesn’t specifically address access to information issues, it does comment about the need for greater transparency and due process in dealing with development control issues, particularly in light of the scope for undue influence by interested parties. The report notes that councillors can be lobbied, aren’t required to give reasons for decisions, and often how they vote on particular DAs is not recorded.

There is plenty of material in the report about local council governance and the roles and responsibilities of those involved to discuss and debate in the few weeks before submissions on the Interim Report close.

There appear to be no specific references in the report to local government concerns about the complexity and cost of legislative compliance with the various information access laws that apply.

What will the Department of Local Government make of the report’s comment that it is “more akin to a nanny than a mentor and monitor” of local government in NSW?

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