Local government reform: What it means for each North West council

Josh Zimmerman and Sam JonesBroome Advertiser
Local Government MInister John Carey.
Camera IconLocal Government MInister John Carey. Credit: Simon Santi/The West Australian

Nearly 50 local governments will be forced to boot at least one councillor — and some as many as four — as part of major changes aimed at slimming down the sector and providing better value for money for ratepayers.

Eleven councils will also be told to abolish their ward systems and 22 will be made to allow ratepayers to directly elect their mayor or president, rather than delegating the decision to councillors.

Optional preferential voting will also become mandatory for all local government elections, bringing the contests more in line with the system used for State and Federal elections.

Local Government Minister John Carey has written to all councils advising of the reforms and encouraging them to immediately begin preparations to fully enact the changes in time for the 2025 elections.

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Impacted councils will have until next month to provide Mr Carey with a transition plan.

Those that cannot — or will not — voluntarily agree on such a plan will be forced to “spill” their entire council ahead of the October 2023 local government election, at which point all of the required changes would be enacted in one hit.

The reforms will be enabled through a combination of regulatory and legislative changes, with amendments to the existing Local Government Act to be introduced to Parliament next year.

“I want to create greater standardisation across local government about just the basic rules,” Mr Carey said.

“But also, it is about understanding that we do have more than 1000 councillors in the system and I would say that some communities are over governed.

“This will provide, I think, greater efficiencies but also will save ratepayers money.”

Under the reforms, 48 of WA’s 138 local governments will be required to remove at least one councillor — with some forced to trim as many as four to bring their elected representation in line with what will become prescribed population levels.

Only the biggest band one councils will be permitted to retain ward systems, which Mr Carey said would prevent councillors being elected with “a few dozen votes”.

“I genuinely believe that in large councils we should give ratepayers a clean line of sight about who leads local governments,” Mr Carey said.

“In smaller councils, we opted not to do that because if you’ve got a council of only five or seven it is much easier to come to consensus about a shire president.

“We have seen in the past some horse trading (amongst councillors) in large local governments over multiple elections (over who becomes mayor).”

The introduction of optional preferential voting — which will allow ratepayers to either rank multiple candidates or vote for just one — would ensure more democratic outcomes, according to Mr Carey.

“People claim that it will lead to greater politicisation (of local government),” he said.

“I can point to plenty of examples where group voting is run by mayoral candidates or teams — it already happens.”

Complete guide to NW council changes:

Shire of Ashburton

  • Change to directly elected president and consequential loss of one councillor.

Shire of Broome

  • Change to directly elected president and consequential loss of one councillor.

Shire of Derby-West Kimberley

  • Change to directly elected president and consequential loss of one councillor.

Shire of East Pilbara

  • Change to directly elected president and reduce council representation by more than one.

Shire of Exmouth

  • No impact.

Shire of Halls Creek

  • No impact.

City of Karratha

  • Change to directly elected mayor and reduce council representation by more than one.

Town of Port Hedland

  • No impact.

Shire of Wyndham-East Kimberley

  • Change to directly elected president and consequential loss of one councillor.

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