Plebiscite ‘failure’

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Plebiscite ‘failure’

The State Government has failed to heed calls from Grant District Council to rethink the way votes are tallied in the upcoming plebiscite into the possible amalgamation of the district with Mount Gambier City Council.

The government’s amalgamation Bill last week passed through parliament, with a simple majority vote only required to prompt further investigation into amalgamation, with no distinction between the votes tallied in each council.

This was despite Grant District Council calling a special meeting only days before parliament voted, where councillors voted unanimously to “oppose any non-representative process towards amalgamation where an amalgamation can be forced”.

The government’s decision has drawn criticism from the State Opposition, which claims Labor has “voted for no restrictions on its power to force councils to amalgamate – even if it’s against the view of the people”.

Shadow Minister for Local Government Sam Telfer said the government had rushed the Bill through parliament without listening to the local ratepayers.

“In a worrying blow for small communities, Labor’s rushed Plebiscite (South East Council Amalgamation) Bill 2022 has passed, dramatically reducing the ability for residents to have any influence over these decisions,” he said.

“Labor stubbornly pushed the Bill through parliament despite overwhelming community feedback to make fair and reasonable changes.

“When this Bill was lobbed into Parliament, unannounced and with no explanation, we did what Labor should have done – we went into the communities that this legislation impacts and asked them directly what they thought about it. The feedback was resounding.

“The communities of the City of Mount Gambier and Grant District Council felt deeply concerned that a plebiscite into a council amalgamation could be conducted in a way that pooled all votes into one tally – rather than looking at the views of each council separately.

“The effect of this would mean the views of these communities could be considered disproportionately and possibly lead to an amalgamation against the will of a council community.”

Mr Telfer said the Liberals had worked with the community to develop a set of “fair and reasonable” amendments that looked to address this concern.

“In a sign of disrespect and arrogance that is synonymous with the Malinauskas Labor Government, this amendment was rejected – paving the way for forced council amalgamations,” he said.

“While this legislation initially only applies to two South East councils, the passing of this Bill sends a strong message through all regional communities across the State – the Malinauskas Labor Government has little regard for the views of those communities.

“This amendment was supported across both communities – it’s incredible it was not supported by Labor or SA Best who also voted against it.”

Shadow Minister for Regional South Australia Nicola Centofanti said the communities were also concerned about “lack of transparency” and wanted any plebiscite result to be made public.

“Again, we listened to the community and proposed an amendment that requires the results of a plebiscite to be made public – by each council ward,” she said.

“Thankfully this amendment was supported.

“Good policy starts with good consultation and unfortunately we saw neither from Labor on this process.”

In announcing the passing of the Bill, Local Government Minister Geoff Brock said the Bill’s passing ensured the plebiscite could be held at the same time as the postal ballot for local government elections in November.

Ratepayers will be asked “do you support the examination of an amalgamation of Grant District Council and the City of Mount Gambier to form a single council?”

“The question is being asked of South East voters to assist the State Government in understanding the level of community support for an independent examination of the issue by the Boundaries Commission,” he said.

“The growth of Mount Gambier has seen the city increasingly extend into Grant District Council, strengthening the view among some these two councils constitute a single community, with shared interests.

“The formal results of each plebiscite will be made public on the Electoral Commission website, including the ward results for Grant District Council.”

Minister Brock said a positive result does not mean the councils will be amalgamated.

“A simple majority in delivering a positive result, would lead to a comprehensive and independent investigation and community consultation process, conducted dispassionately and without political interest by the Local Government Boundaries Commission,” he said.

“During the Commission’s process, communities of both councils will have ample opportunity to comment on their views about possible amalgamation.

“This plebiscite gives the community a direct say, ensuring voters of both councils are heard.

“It is now for Grant District Council and City of Mount Gambier community to become involved by participating in both the Local Government elections and voting on the plebiscites.

“My message to the people of those two councils is, tell us what you think. The government wants to hear from the voters of the two councils to inform its decision on whether to refer the matter to the Boundaries Commission.”

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