The local government reform Sydney needs to beat out Melbourne

Sydney’s poor metropolitan governance has seen Melbourne edge ahead on competitiveness. Are amalgamations the answer? Planners are looking at lessons from Victoria and Queensland.

As New South Wales begins the agonising task of redrawing the local government map, a warning that Sydney needs to improve its metropolitan governance to avoid falling behind Melbourne.

Roberta Ryan, director of the Australian Centre of Excellence for Local Government and UTS Centre for Local Government, says the Harbour City has been losing global competitiveness to its better-run southern rival. “Local and state governments in Victoria have historically been better at working together than those in New South Wales on service delivery and infrastructure,” she told The Mandarin.

The NSW government will provide financial incentives and practical support to rural or city councils that opt to amalgamate, under its Fit for the Future deal. The offer follows a review led by Graham Sansom into the sustainability of the state’s local government sector, which argued that in Sydney, “the structure of local government has been largely ‘snap frozen’ for more than half a century”.

Premier Mike Baird says the changes are aimed at addressing the sector’s $280 million deficit. “These councils are losing $1 million a day. That’s unacceptable, it can’t go on,” she said.

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