There is something intensely irritating about many modern-day local councils.
Once upon a time citizens looked to the local council to provide a few basic local services such as ensuring the maintenance of local roads, the collection of the garbage, the operation of a library and provision of a maternal and child health service.
This had begun to change by the 1980s when a few left-wing councils decided to make the odd feel-good meaningless gesture such as declaring themselves a “nuclear free zone”, but other than stinging ratepayers for the cost of a few signs this did not really do too much practical damage.
However, in recent years councils have more and more chosen to use their planning powers and ability to set rates to impose their personal world view on the rest of us.
Take poker machines. Earlier this year several councillors of the Logan City Council in south-east Queensland put forward a plan to outlaw any new development including poker machines within the municipality and to also prohibit any existing venue increasing its number of machines.
Not to be outdone, the mayor of Moreland Council in the northern suburbs of Melbourne, Cr Lambros Tapinos, has recently proposed doubling the rates paid by gaming venues in his municipality. The discriminatory nature of this rate hike is astounding, especially when one considers that other businesses who will continue to pay rates at the standard level in Moreland will include brothels, tattoo parlours, tobacconists, pawn shops, and so on, all of whom at least some citizens might consider to be as socially damaging as the local RSL or footy club.
Cr Tapinos maintains that it is the role of the council to discourage gambling. Nonsense. First, if there is a role for a level of government to regulate gambling, it is clearly the resposibility of state government. More fundamentally, the decision on whether to gamble, on horses at the TAB, on pokies, or on officially illegal card games in the back of one of Moreland’s many ethnic cafes is a matter far better left to the individual choice of adult citizens.
Compounding the problem of meddling councillors is the even more insidious practice of local bureaucrats weighing into the debate. Somehow these unelected local officials believe that they have a right to impose their world view on the citizenry. When the Moreland mayor proposed his plan it was welcomed by Philip Moran, the chief executive of Moreland Community Health.
“Anything that could try to reduce the impact of the scourge of gaming machines on our community is a good thing,” Mr Moran said. “There are too many venues and too many machines in this community.”
As far as I know Mr Moran has not specified how many machines is the correct number to ensure the maintenace of community health in Moreland, but he does know that it is fewer than the current number.
What is ironic about the rates increase proposal is that for years pokies critics have attacked state governments for relying too heavily on gambling taxes. Now the same charge will be able to be levelled at local governments.
While poker machines seem to the greatest bête noire of meddling local government councillors and bureaucrats, they also have other targets. Sydney’s Kogarah Council and Gosford Council on the Central Coast became the first councils in New South Wales to ban the use of trans fats. Both councils amended local development control plans, banning cafes and restaurants from using the controversial fats and forcing businesses to use healthier oils.
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