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New powers for NSW to identify dysfunction in councils

Laws introduced in NSW last week allow the state to gather more information to identify dysfunction in councils.

February 27, 2013 4:33am

New laws in NSW give the State Government the power to nip ‘dysfunctional’ councils in the bud.

Local Government Minister Don Page last week gave notice in parliament of the new laws, which allow the state to gather information from councils to identify dysfunction, new powers to issue a ‘performance improvement order’ and the power to suspend a council for up to three months with the possibility of extension.

Mr Page said while most councils performed to the high ethical standards their communities expected, a minority of councils and councillors had failed to meet their obligations, resulting in services being held up or grinding to a halt.

‘‘We need to be able to nip these problems in the bud — and this legislation will enable that,’’ Mr Page said.

‘‘It is unacceptable that services including planning approvals and basic maintenance are put in limbo because of council infighting, councillors indulging in personal vendettas or petty political squabbles.’’

At present, the Local Government Act does not contain a power to suspend whole councils but provides for a public inquiry and the subsequent dismissal of council by the Governor following that inquiry.

It is a costly process which could take up to 18 months, Mr Page said.

He said the new laws would act as a powerful deterrent against misbehaviour and would save NSW taxpayers millions of dollars.

‘‘Put simply, the proposal could be characterised as a time-out and it puts councils on notice to concentrate on delivering basic services to the community,’’ he said.

He said a key part of the reforms was the performance improvement order.

‘‘If the PIO is adhered to, that is the end of the matter,’’ he said.

‘‘However, if the PIO is ignored, the government has the power to suspend a council for up to three months while the situation is rectified by an administrator.’’

The power to suspend a whole council exists in a number of other jurisdictions, including Western Australia and Queensland.

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