12 March 1991 - Current
Mr SEITZ (Keilor) -- I have some observations about the government's hasty handling of the Bill. The government has used the defence that the KPMG report motivated this significant move that former governments have tried to take. Many countries have been forced into amalgamations, but those amalgamations have not lasted. Some countries have been amalgamated at the point of a gun, but they later break up. The government has the job ahead of it if it is to get the people of Geelong to support the amalgamation. It is important that they feel comfortable with it because they are the ones who will be most affected. The amendment foreshadowed by the honourable member for Dandenong North will enable the people affected to be part of the process. Although there should be some rationalisation of local government, some municipalities can end up being too large. The greater Melbourne municipality was divided because it was collecting more rates and revenue than the government. For the government to succeed where its predecessors have failed, the issue should be handled cautiously. The amalgamation must be beneficial to the people who are affected, particularly the ratepayers in the smaller municipalities. They must be fully acquainted with what is intended and must feel comfortable being part of the new City of Greater Geelong. Some of the smaller municipalities have particular strengths, such as netball facilities.
How will they be affected by the amalgamation? There are cultures peculiar to each shire. Those issues must be taken into account. The Bill is far-reaching and will have an impact on many people. One could say it will have an impact on the whole of Victoria. If the amalgamation is successful, further amalgamations may take place. If it is not, it will delay amalgamations that many ratepayers wish to occur because of the savings to be made in the sharing of libraries and so on. Because of improvements in transport decisions that were made at the turn of the century are outmoded and need to be re-examined. One example concerns people travelling through a number of municipalities to attend a football match. When the Cain Labor government tried the amalgamation process it failed because it did not have bipartisan support. Had bipartisan support been given, amalgamations would have taken place earlier and Victoria would have saved millions of dollars by avoiding the duplication of services. I hope the legislation does not suffer the same fate. Although the government has the numbers to ram legislation through this place and the other place, it should consult the people in the Geelong region. The government has left the decision making to the Governor in Council because it is not confident that the people of Geelong will accept amalgamation. There are no dates or firm decisions for the return of democracy. Although Russia has discovered democracy, Victoria has forgotten about the importance of letting people vote on the issues. Russia is learning about democracy yet Victoria is heading in the other direction -- and that is a dangerous sign. A poll should be taken on amalgamation. Members may ask why I am speaking on the Bill. I have an interest in and some knowledge of the Bellarine area because I have holidayed in that area over the past 20 years, as have a number of my constituents. Some of them have bought holiday homes there, and I know how they feel. The people of the area should get a fair deal and should be allowed to exercise their democratic rights. They should know where they are going and what their futures will be. The Borough of Queenscliffe has not been included in the proposed amalgamation probably because of the number of elderly retired people in the area. The residents of Portarlington, Drysdale and St Leonards have expressed concern about their rates and the retention of the services that have been provided by the local council , such as nursing, podiatry and other services. Those people are used to the availability of face-to-face services and feel comfortable in a rural setting. For the proposed legislation to be successful boundaries should not be drawn like lines on a map. The wishes of local communities should be taken into account and people should be given a choice about the drawing of boundaries, not the dominant shire or chief executive officers. Local government is basically run by elected part-time councillors and chief executive officers who are on contracts. If the amalgamation is to be successful a different approach must be taken by the smaller municipalities surrounding Geelong, each of which has a small budget. Will the City of Greater Geelong have an image similar to BHP or the multinational companies that are run by professional accountants? Will the amalgamation engender the corporate image of private enterprise rather than catering to the needs of the community? Local government is about communities being able to express their views and wishes to local councils, which have time to talk to their communities about particular issues. I hope the government will consider the foreshadowed amendment and allow public debate and discussion to take place. It is clear from representations I have received from the Geelong area that councillors are not happy about the situation. If the proposal is to work the people who have to implement it must be happy with it and it must be able to be supported by the local press and community groups in the area. The boundaries must be looked at in that light. In a regional area with the growth potential of the greater Geelong area, which may eventually have a greater population than Tasmania, an amalgamation will have a significant impact, and more will need to be done than local government can handle. That is where the role of the Geelong Regional Commission comes in. If the commission is abolished, who will take on the role and pay for the planning development that needs to be carried out to ensure the economic future of the region?
The Labor government fostered and supported the Geelong region with funding and forward planning for the needs of the whole region and attempted to assist the development of tourism by developing infrastructure such as roadworks, caravan parks, jetties and other activities in the area. Will all that work now be concentrated in the city centre and the outlying areas forgotten about? If that is done, a decade from now petitions and demands will come from people in those areas seeking the creation of separate shires. We need to take time with this proposal to ensure that the results last. We do not want forced amalgamations that will cause divisions, as has happened in Ireland and Eastern European countries.