THERE’S a strong case to be made for a State Government review of the cost, funding, roles and responsibilities of local government but the chances are that no government would want to attempt such a review for fear that it might backfire on them.
In politics, they say, it pays to know the answer before you ask the question.
As well as highlighting issues that apparently can’t be tackled by individual councils, including the runaway increases in costs and salaries, such a review would also reveal the extent of cost-shifting that has gone on over the past couple of decades, resulting in sharp rises in the regressive tax we know as rates.
But the State Government has, at least, shown an interest in a piecemeal approach by reviewing the sector’s electoral system, governance and differential rating.
Another thing the government should be prepared to look at is municipal wages and the way EBA reviews are conducted by individual councils.
There is strong evidence that people within local government are paid at significantly higher rates and enjoy better conditions of employment compared to those in the private sector performing the same tasks.
It also appears that their executive salaries are out of kilter with what the private sector is able to pay, especially in country areas.
This has resulted in workers from the private sector leaving for similar jobs at the council where wages are higher for similar, but easier work.
Certainly, like a football club aspiring to make the finals with a good team, a shire council might go out and pay a bit more to get a star on-baller or key forward to lead the team.
And they have to meet the market rate to attract the players they want but at what point should we say “enough is enough”.
As we’ve seen in country football circles, bidding for the money men of the game has got out of control in some areas and the same could be said for local government.
South Gippsland’s CEO Tim Tamlin is paid a typical shire CEO’s salary of $233,000 pa, however while this is the going rate across the sector, you’d have to ask if he’s worth the same money as the person responsible for operating Leongatha’s Murray Goulburn factory, a plant that’s responsible for generating the lion’s share of MG’s $1.15 billion in export earnings.
It also represents just under half what our prime minister is paid.
There are claims that inflated wages and conditions are provided right through the municipal workforce as a result of a hard-nosed approach to EBA negotiations and that councils aren’t in a position to challenge these legally binding but excessive agreements.
In effect, locally they are locked into an annual increase in the cost of shire wages of $1 million, short of drastic cuts to services.
But who really knows if the wages paid are comparable with what the private sector can pay or if serious savings can be achieved in this area? No one knows and no one seems to be able to control the increases.
At the very least it should be the subject of a State Government study, even if only to assuage concerns about wages and conditions in local government are out of step with what’s paid in the private sector in country areas.