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"There needs to be compromise": Lib hopeful breaks ranks on rate-capping

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A prospective Liberal candidate in the marginal seat of Light has effectively broken ranks with the party over its policy to cap local government rates, voting against a similar proposal in her northern regional council.

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Adelaide Plains councillor Karen McColl is one of two Liberal hopefuls to nominate for preselection in the battleground seat, which was held by then-minister Tony Piccolo by just 2.9 per cent in 2014.

In a council meeting last week, McColl was one of three elected members to vote against a motion to peg future rate rises to the Consumer Price Index.

However, the state Liberals have published their own policy commitment to cap council rate rises, with a document on the party’s website stating: “If elected in 2018 a Marshall Liberal Government will impose a cap on council rate rises, to stop rates being dramatically increased by local government and putting undue pressure on homeowners.”

The policy pledges a Liberal government to “working with local councils and the Local Government Association to ensure state government costs are not shifted on to them and their rate payers unfairly”.

“We will protect South Australians from unnecessary council rate hikes by allowing an independent regulator to set the rate rise councils are allowed to apply based on the cost of services councils provide,” it continues.

“The cap will be calculated on a measured and transparent basis, to reassure property owners that they are not paying more than they should.”

McColl told InDaily the Liberal policy was “a separate issue”, and her objection was to the notion of aligning rates to CPI.

“My personal opinion is it’s a bit risky to our ratepayers to be aligning our rates to CPI, [because] if it goes sky-high, our ratepayers are going to cop that,” she said.

“I asked the question in the chamber, what happens if CPI goes into the negative? CPI, to me, is a bit hit and miss.

“Before I voted on something like that I would have liked to see something like a 10-15 year trend, so we could get a bit of a handle on it.”

McColl questioned how the council could formulate a long-term financial plan without knowing what its revenue was projected to be.

Cr Karen McColl web

Karen McColl. Photo: Adelaide Plains Council

She said she was “aware” of the state Liberal position on rate capping, but insisted: “I just think aligning rates to CPI is a bit dangerous.”

However, she appeared to suggest the Liberal policy was yet to be formalised, saying “everyone knows that, yes, that’s on the state level agenda… it’s a proposal, but we don’t know what that model might look like”.

“It’s obviously got to be debated,” she said.

“We’ve got to go through a process, and I believe there needs to be compromise so that council can still facilitate the services at a level that meets community expectations.”

She said a raft of new state legislation, including planning law reform and an overhaul of the dog and cat management regime, was “actually putting more financial pressure on councils”.

“I’m not saying I don’t support a rate-capping policy… but not one that’s going to be volatile, like CPI can be,” McColl said.

“It needs to be sensible, and I didn’t see the CPI one as being sensible for ratepayers or for the council.”

McColl said she was “not prepared to comment on the Liberal Party’s view on rate capping at the moment, because I want to do a bit more research on it myself”.

“In regards to what they’re looking at proposing, I’m not saying I don’t support it, but aligning our rates to CPI is very dangerous.”

LGA CEO Matt Pinnegar told InDaily: “Every council caps its own rates every year – in consultation with its communities on the infrastructure and services they want the council to provide.”

“What we are trying to avoid is a state Liberal government setting an arbitrary cap which overrides local decision making and cuts much-needed local services.”

The council motion was carried with the support of five councillors.

McColl is facing off against Stephen Balch for preselection in Light.

Over the weekend, the Liberals finalised five candidates, with state president Steve Murray overcoming former minister Wayne Matthew in Davenport, and Paralympian Matt Cowdrey easily accounting for challenger Alex Brown in Colton.

cowdrey

Matt Cowdrey is congratulated by Liberal leader Steven Marshall. Photo: Twitter.

As expected, Unley mayor Lachlan Clyne will be the Liberal candidate in Badcoe, while councillor Steven Rypp was preselected to take on Labor frontbencher Stephen Mullighan in Lee.

The Liberals have also confirmed Australia China Business Council SA CEO Aaron Duff as its candidate in Hurtle Vale (formerly Fisher), as forecast in InDaily last week.

The party is facing a turbulent round of preselections, with two sitting members – Education spokesman John Gardner and former frontbencher Duncan McFetridge – under threat to retain their party’s endorsement.

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