Monday, November 9, 2009

If It Is Broke, Do Fix It.

It seems that local councils who are too broke to fix their roads are putting together a plan to get residents to do the work for them, for free. Across the state, the roads and bridges maintenance and repair backlog confronting councils has been estimated at $4.5 billion, money that most of them just don’t have. As a result, such things as potholes, drainage problems, and corrugations are left unrepaired. To deal with the problem, the Local Government Association is considering a proposal to provide both training and insurance to volunteer citizens who could then go and do the work themselves.

It’s no secret that many councils are strapped for cash. A combination of rate pegging and the increased burden of responsibilities pushed upon them by the State and Federal authorities means that the arithmetic just doesn’t add up. If expenses consistently exceed income, fiscal disaster is inevitable. The trouble is that the local councils are at the bottom of the feeding chain, at the mercy of regulation by a state which is terrified of the political backlash it could expect, should it allow rates to rise significantly. Local government, as such, is an illusion, as it does not have constitutional authority, and instead exists as an instrument of the State. This effectively leaves the people running the councils in the untenable position of having all the responsibility but no authority to make the necessary decisions.

Of course, not all councils have been well run, and not all councilors have been diligent or competent. There have been cases where outright corruption has occurred, and that’s why State regulation and proper supervision must play a part in managing council finances. But as a general principle, local councils should be run by local people who are able to act in the best interests of their local communities, to provide essential local services, including appropriate road maintenance. If that means increasing rates to make sure there are sufficient funds to do the job, then councils must be able to do that. It is an aberration that New South Wales is the only state in Australia which enforces rate pegging and doesn’t trust local councilors to act in the best interests of their local communities.

So now the problem has reached the point where councils are considering asking residents to perform road maintenance tasks themselves. It is something which sounds ridiculous. Why on earth should residents be put into a position where they must take matters into their own hands? Why should residents be expected to pick up the pieces because the state government has been passing the buck to local councils while at the same time tying their hands? Residents who have been paying not only their local rates but also their state taxes, fees, and charges, are entitled to wonder where all the money has been going, when clearly it hasn’t been going into their local roads.

People say that if something ain’t broke, don’t fix it. But this system IS broke, in more ways than one, and it is time that it was fixed.

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