By Ian Jamieson
Tasmanian local governments face an uncertain future as the Liberal state government pushes ahead with a program of forced amalgamation.
As part of his "Directions Statement", a mid-term attempt to address the malaise in the state's economy, premier Tony Rundle proposed reducing the number of local councils from 29 to 15. Many councils and community groups have reacted furiously.
Rundle claims that services are duplicated and that amalgamation would ensure that resources are shared. In many cases, councils already share resources, and forced amalgamation would create huge costs in redundancies that most councils can ill afford.
The amalgamations would mean immediate loss of services to ratepayers, particularly in rural areas already reeling under state and federal cutbacks. If the mining area of the west coast was to lose its council in an amalgamation with the Burnie City Council, nearly 100 West Coast Council workers would be replaced with computers.
Rundle also wants to off-load many state government services onto larger councils. In a landmark decision, the state government has foisted the management of Rosebury Hospital onto the West Coast Council. The council reluctantly took the task on to avoid the hospital's closure. The shift of responsibility is now being put forward as an alternative to privatising state hospitals.
While council amalgamations to accommodate geographic or demographic changes are sometimes necessary (as in 1993 when 46 councils existed), the current plans are driven by economic rationalist policies and will only result in more hardship for working people.