In regards to the Bunbury City Council pushing ahead with its plans to reduce councillor numbers despite six of the councillors vowing to block the move there needs to be equal representation from within the urban (city) and (suburban) areas of Bunbury and that may mean going back to the ward system.
Unlike the ward system, Bunbury City Council has an open system of representation whereby they represent the electors, ratepayers and residents of the city and make decisions for the entire city which includes suburban and the outer fringes of Bunbury like Glen Iris, Usher and College Grove.
The recent referendum conducted during the 2015 Local Council Elections indicated that the people of Bunbury preferred the number of elected members be reduced from 12 councillors down to a mere 8.
There are lots of people who now state that reducing the numbers will affect councillor/elector ratios across the city which will have a severe impact on the deliberations that 12 councillors currently persevere with.
The Western Australian Local Government Advisory Board (WALGAB) provided an insight into some of the perceived advantages and disadvantages of a reduction in elected member numbers in 2014 throughout the State of WA
The advantages of a reduction in the number of elected members cited by WALGAB (2014) may include the following:
- The decision making process may be more effective and efficient if the number of elected members is reduced. It is more timely to ascertain the views of a fewer number of people and decision making may be easier. There is also more scope for team spirit and cooperation amongst a smaller number of people.
- The cost of maintaining elected members is likely to be reduced (an estimate of the cost of reduction would be helpful).
- Consultation with the community can be achieved through a variety of means in addition to individuals and groups contacting their local elected member.
- A reduction in the number of elected members may result in an increased commitment and interest and participation in Council’s affairs by elected members generally.
- Fewer elected members are more readily identifiable to the community.
- Fewer positions on Council may lead to greater interest in elections with contested elections and those elected obtaining a greater level of support from the community.
- There is a State wide trend in reductions in the number of elected members and many local governments have found that fewer elected members has improved their decision making process.
The disadvantages of a reduction in the number of elected members cited by WALGAB (2014) may include the following:
- A smaller number of elected members may result in an increased workload for incumbent members and may reduce efficiency and effectiveness.
- There is the potential for dominance in the Council by a particular interest group.
- A reduction in the number of elected members may limit the diversity of interests around the Council table.
- Opportunities for community participation in Council affairs may be reduced if there are fewer elected members for the community to contact.
By reducing Councillor Numbers the community will say that they are not getting good value from Councillors, and there will be a community backlash against the council when it appears that there is an imbalance with the allocation of council resources and services.
The current system ensures that there is a balance of reputation over the entire city.
Although Bunbury is a City there are still land owners on the outer fringes of Bunbury who contribute towards the city like the rest of the land owners by paying rates, and they will feel forgotten if there is a reduction in council numbers.
Bunbury had a good number of potential candidates for the 2015 Local Government elections and a reduction of councillor numbers will see the Bunbury City Council struggle to gain high calibre interest and involvement in the community by reducing the number of councillors and this disinterest would continue to grow.
Once the Councillor numbers have decreased the C.O.B. will witness the rapid deterioration of councillor representation along with poor management of its infrastructure and assets, together with devaluing the ability of elected members representing the whole community. In addition the 8 councillors won’t have time to explain the complexities of issues and items that need addressing at Council meetings may be put back further because of the limited time to discuss the issues.
There is strong support for the retention of the present system albeit the recent referendum states otherwise but its the smaller suburbs that need good representation from all 12 councillors and only 12 councillors can achieve this much representation which would also provide accountable and transparent leadership throughout the city enhancing open and interactive communications between the council and the community which would also promote and support community participation in the City’s governance.
Quite frankly by reducing Councillor Numbers the C.O.B. would only create a very small saving in elected members expenses, therefore the financial consequences are insignificant.
In summation it would be hard to see how good governance could work for the needs of the Bunbury community by reducing councillor numbers, especially whereby members of the community lose representation which gives them further reason to disengage with councillors and the C.O.B. when the community expects and deserves strong representation along with a balanced allocation of council resources across the entire city, and by reducing councillor numbers there would be a significant imbalance in representation across the entire city.
Furthermore a reduction in councillor numbers will not deliver any benefits to the community, and there will be no transparency in relation to where funds will be allocated and spent.
There is only one road for the C.O.B. to go down and that is to keep the status quo which is the most appropriate outcome considering that Bunbury will only grow.