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local government rationalisation adelaide

Adelaide has got to be the only city in the world where you can drive 5km and pass through five different local government areas.

Heck, when I walk my dog, I pass through three council areas and am subject to three different by-laws in relation to dog walking! In Walkerville, it’s OK to have the dog off the leash in Linear Park, but in neighbouring Port Adelaide-Enfield such an act attracts a fine. Buggered if I know what the rules are in the third council area, Norwood, Payneham and St Peters.

It’s high time that South Australia rationalises its metropolitan councils.

Like Cameron England in The Advertiser, I’ve actually considered running as a candidate for the Walkerville council, entirely on a council rationalisation ticket. I’m guessing that I’d have a snowflake’s chance in hell of being elected, given the demographic of the council area – ie. generally old, well-heeled, and change-averse.

But consider this.

The Town of Walkerville is home to just over 7,000 people (compare that to Onkaparinga with 165,000). At its narrowest point the Walkerville council area is a mere 800m wide! As Cameron England points out, the council’s eight elected representatives are looking after just 666 electors each.

As the crow flies, the City of Prospect is less than 3km from the Town of Walkerville, which is about 2km from the City of Norwood, Payneham and St Peters (they used to be three separate councils, believe it or not), which is about 3km from the Burnside Council.

Each of these councils have a CEO that is paid an annual salary package in the vicinity of $250,000.

Each of these councils employs dozens of staff (in some cases, more than a hundred staff) that perform functions that are duplicated across the councils.

Each of these councils maintain their own shopfronts, libraries, online interfaces and facilities depots.

Each of these councils legislate and enforce their own disparate standards, by-laws and local rules, creating complexity, red-tape and bureaucracy.

And perhaps most concerning of all: many of these councils provide a platform for talentless, power-giddy councillors who receive a nice little allowance for rocking up to a monthly meeting and making stupid decisions.


Surely we could be doing this much better.

I’m a former resident of the Australian Capital Territory. The ACT has a single, central entity that is responsible for standard ‘council functions’ (ie. rates, roads, rubbish) across the entire Territory, home to over 350,000 people. All local government services are accessible via Access Canberra shopfronts and an online portal. It works extremely well and I never had cause for complaint – my bins were always picked up on bin day.

Queensland has long seen the benefit of rationalising its councils. The City of Brisbane is recognised as the largest local government area in the world. And in New South Wales they’ve recently taken the plunge to amalgamate some of their metropolitan councils.

So why aren’t we thinking that way here in South Australia?

Consider the problems that we would avoid if we rationalised our councils and centralised our decision-making with a single, professional entity:

  • In Campbelltown, the Punjabi Association would be free to run its Diwali festival in the spirit of multiculturalism, without the xenophobic barriers imposed by the local council.
  • In Burnside, there would have been no need for State Government intervention to investigate its accounting practices and no requirement for the resultant legal proceedings.
  • In North Adelaide, the ‘NIMBYs’ would have less of a voice, enabling important events and state-defining developments, like the Adelaide Oval, to proceed without undue restriction and delay.
  • In Mitcham and Unley, we would see less delays with housing approvals, an important factor if we are to realise the State Government’s economically-sound urban infill aspirations.
  • In Walkerville, we would probably have a nice wine bar on Walkerville Terrace by now, instead of the multitude of hairdressers and service providers that do little to improve the vibrancy of our main street.

Then again, as Cameron England points out, Adelaideans seemingly enjoy the ‘theatre’ that is provided by local government politics. Only in Adelaide, hey?

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