6.1 Require councils to collaborate with others in their region, and with State Government, on regional strategies for specific agreed issues
Some of councils’ responsibilities and interests are shared with others in their region, for example road networks that cross boundaries or common challenges such as flooding. Where neighbouring interests can be aligned, there are opportunities for mutual advantage; where interests are in conflict, there are benefits in resolving them.
This option would aim to identify a core list of regional issues that councils should be collaborating on, requiring them to engage and agree on regional strategies for those issues. It could include, among other things, land-use planning, regional economic development, climate change adaptation, and procurement of large civil construction projects. Each council’s strategic plan would be aligned with these regional strategies.
There are a variety of ad-hoc regional structures in place for collaboration between councils and with other spheres of government. Rather than mandating a particular structure, this option would allow councils to choose the structure most effective for them to consider regional issues.
- There was strong feedback that defining the regional role of councils was more important than mandating council participation in regional organisations.
- Some regional organisations have been highly effective on particular issues, especially where there is a clear and shared common purpose.
- Without a clear purpose for regional organisations, some councils are reluctant to make long term funding commitments to them.
- Activities such as economic development work better when planned and coordinated by regional and state-wide bodies, rather than individual councils.
- For issues that clearly transcend council boundaries (climate change is an example), better region-level and multi-tiered government collaboration is desirable.
- Many respondents to our survey of Tasmanians under 45 noted that the inherent competitiveness between councils is stifling regional planning for key issues like public transport, climate change response and mitigation, and efficient urban planning.
Experience from jurisdictions such as NSW has shown that State Government attempts to formalise regional structures based on defined boundaries are not necessarily supported by councils.
Collaboration among councils and between councils, regional organisations, and other tiers of government has been effective in the establishment and operation of the NRM hubs and Regional Tourism Organisations.
6.2 Establish stronger, formalised partnerships between State and local government on long-term regional, place-based wellbeing and economic development programs
Earlier this year, the Tasmanian Government announced it will develop ‘regional strategic partnerships’ between the Tasmanian Government and LGAT, working directly with relevant ‘council clusters’ in those regions.
The stated objective is to set a 20-year framework, vision, and direction for planning and land use to support economic and community development.
The Board understands the partnerships will focus on:
- identifying natural advantages at the regional level for supporting the attraction of emerging industries, such as hydrogen and synthetic fuels production;
- partnering with skills and training providers to align with growth industries and key regional strengths; and
- place-based planning and delivery of education, housing, and health and community services to support the attraction and retention of regional workforces and build viable, vibrant, and sustainable communities.
- Collaboration between State and local government is essential in health and wellbeing related programs and economic development. Without collaboration, there is a risk of duplication of effort.
- Collaboration must go both ways and clear and consistent State Government commitment to working with regional organisations is needed. On occasion, State Government may choose to bypass regional organisations and deal directly with individual councils on issues of regional significance.
Effective strategic partnerships can be given effect in a variety of different ways. In Victoria, clarity on long-term strategic wellbeing objectives is provided through the Victorian Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008, which recognises the key role of councils in improving the health and wellbeing of people in their municipality. It requires each council to prepare a municipal public health and wellbeing plan every four years.
This is supported by an overarching Victorian Public Health and Wellbeing Plan, which sets priorities councils need to consider, such as tackling the health impacts of climate change, increasing healthy eating, increasing active living, and reducing tobacco-related harm.
6.3 Introduce regional collaboration frameworks for planning and designing grant-dependent regional priorities
Competitive processes for State and Australian Government grant funding often create unhealthy or inefficient competition between councils for funding which – if packaged up and allocated differently - could otherwise benefit a greater number of people in a wider regional community. Additionally, larger councils often have greater capacity to undertake and be successful in these processes. Grant application processes themselves potentially divert funding away from pressing core service needs and priorities.
Enhancing collaboration between regional councils could ensure State and Australian Government grant processes receive high quality applications from councils that best serve the needs of regional communities. In addition, it would lead to more efficient efforts by councils in seeking and expending grants by reducing duplication of effort between councils, enabling more equitable access to grant-seeking expertise by all councils.
- If council membership in regional organisations was mandatory, these organisations could be the vehicles for identifying regional funding priorities and undertaking grant application processes.
- Grants are caused by, and perpetuate, uneven capability: often councils with capacity apply for and win grants, and those that don’t, miss out – this is not an effective model.
The Northern Tasmania Development Corporation (NTDC) developed a list of Northern Tasmania Regional Priority Projects. These Regional Priority Projects contained a mixture of health and wellbeing, built infrastructure, skills and jobs development, and other initiatives identified as benefitting the broader Northern Tasmania region. The NTDC advocated and supported these projects on a regional scale, supporting the development of a broader region, as opposed to an individual council.
6.4 Support increased integration (including co-location) of ‘front desk’ services between local and state governments at the community level
It is broadly accepted that Service Tasmania shopfronts represent a ‘success story’ in providing a well established integrated, customer-centred hub for accessing a broad range of government information and services. Many Service Tasmania shops are now co-located with libraries and other community services and facilities.
There are likely to be significant opportunities to leverage these and other arrangements to further develop ‘one-stop shop’ service hubs.
Further co-location of State and local government shopfronts and shared online customer service systems have the potential to provide a more seamless and customer-centred service experience, improve operational ‘cross-pollination’ between local and State Government, and save on commercial rents.
- The Board has heard that many community members do not have a clear understanding of which level of government is responsible for various services.
- In many cases, it should not in fact be necessary for community members to understand these delineations – e.g., where they simply need to be able to undertake a transaction such as obtaining a licence, paying a fine, or completing an application form.
The Independent Review of the State Service recommended (Rec. 66) developing and expanding service delivery partnerships between State, Commonwealth, and local government in Tasmania.
Co-location of Service Tasmania and council office ‘shopfronts’ has occurred in Devonport (Paranaple Convention Centre) and was previously trialled in Hobart.
Other states (such as South Australia) have established shared online service portals which can be used by councils to support a range of customer service functions.