Northern Tasmania – Unify or bust

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There’s a chill around Northern Tasmanian at the moment , but it has nothing to do with the weather. It’s the relationship between Northern councils, which has degenerated to well below zero. While there is nothing new about councils having spats, the pressure built up recently now appears to have passed the point of no return.The councils in question comprise of some of the State’s biggest councils, including Launceston City, Northern Midlands, Tamar Valley, Meander Valley, George Town, Break O’Day, Dorset and Flinders.  Together, they own and fund the Northern Tasmania Development (NTD) organisation, which was established in 1992 to develop and sustainably grow the economy of the Northern Tasmanian region.

A visionary idea, it succeeded because of the grit and determination of a few individuals, who had a clear and concise vision of what the region needed. Things happened, despite the organisation living on the smell of an oily rag.

Today the NTD is funded by the eight councils on a pro-rata basis. As expected, the biggest bill payer for the organisation is Launceston, with the goals for the NTD remaining unchanged and extremely capable staff on hand to help achieve them.

However, the shareholders are split, with essentially the rest of the NTD versus Launceston, or maybe it’s the reverse. Whatever the case, it is now a matter of he said/she said.

Some describe the meetings as toxic. Issues vital to the future growth of the region are strangled in myopic debates.  The disagreements are rarely aired in public, but behind the scenes it’s a very different story.

Launceston City Council has become increasingly frustrated, as it provides facilities which are used by the surrounding councils and ratepayers, but receives nothing in return.  The Launceston Aquatic Centre runs at a loss of close to $4.5 million, the two QVMAG sites cost more than $2 million and Aurora Stadium in excess of $1 million, not to mention the other facilities around the city.

Just this week, Launceston Alderman voted not to give a $150,000 contribution (which was recommended by the NTD) to a $4.6 million regional mountain bike project within the boundaries of the Break O’Day and Dorset Councils.

Launceston City Council General Manager, Robert Dobrzynski, warned the Alderman this could be seen as a gesture of bad faith. Some Aldermen argued that other councils had been lax in financially supporting Launceston’s regional facilities.

So, finally, the genie is out of the bottle. The majority of Launceston Alderman agreed that the days of one-way traffic are over. Selective sharing is finished.

Launceston’s push for Local Government reform has also been shunned by others because it’s looked upon as a takeover and the same thinking permeates through development and planning ideas for the region.

The opportunity to harness more than 100,000 ratepayers to support major developments and projects for the region is disappearing, much like the region’s employment.

It’s time for a deal breaker, or for breakers to say ‘enough is enough.’

In the absence of the State Government showing a smidgen of interest, it’s about time some radical action was invoked.

How about installing five commissioners to take over the eight councils and return the region to the commercial hub of Tasmania? People who understand business and can make things happen, such as Jan Davis (CEO, TFGA), Colleen McGann (Managing Director, St.Luke’s Health), entrepreneurs and successful businessmen Errol Stewart and Josef Chromy, and the editor of The Examiner, Martin Gilmour.

Imagine the red tape they could shred in five minutes.  Last year, Tasmanian businesses, big and small, spent $610 million on regulatory compliance. This is a combination of Federal, State and Local Government regulations, with red tape such as filling in forms (which are never read), licences and permits and then the duplication of repeating the forms for environmental demands for its licences and permits. This is after already spending 21 per cent of the time trying to understand the forms and their obligations.

But that’s for another day.

Let’s settle for the first miracle, and unify councils.

– Tom O’Meara

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