A postal survey, conducted by individual Liberal MPs through their taxpayer-funded global allowance, is seeking feedback from voters about whether they “support the capping of council rate increases”, also asking: “Do you believe you get value for money from council rates?”
But the local government sector is up in arms about the survey, described by one mayor as akin to “push-polling”, since council rates have been thrown into chaos by a 40 per cent rise in the solid waste levy imposed by Treasurer Rob Lucas in last month’s budget.
Local Government Association president Sam Telfer told InDaily: “Arrogant political games are being played by the Government at the expense of ratepayers.”
“Councils have been keeping average rate increases at low levels, so the government then hit them with a massive rubbish tax rise, to try to add to their petty political narrative,” he said.
“Local government wants to work cooperatively with the state to achieve meaningful reforms.”
Other mayors have reacted with disdain at the move, with Norwood, Payneham and St Peters mayor Robert Bria pointing out his administration has passed on the $165,000 levy hike in full yet “still managed to keep the rate increase more than one per cent below what the rate cap would have been this year”.
“This is a very cynical ‘look-over-there’ exercise, obviously timed to coincide with council budgets and get people’s attention focussed on council rates rather than the state budget,” he said.
“You’ve got to ask yourself the question: what’s the point of this exercise? It’s designed to do one thing, which is divert people’s attention away from the state budget.”
Tea Tree Gully mayor Kevin Knight said it was “a bit disappointing having the rate capping debate reignited days after the state budget”.
“What sort of a survey is that?” he said of the mailout.
“The question is so simple, it’s very obviously going to get the answer you want – it’s almost push-polling.”
He said “every mayor in Adelaide” was “bitterly disappointed” to have the bin tax imposed without consultation, when the Government “must have known” council budget processes were already well in train, as mandated under the Local Government Act.
But Lucas insists the survey is merely “to canvas public opinion”, noting “there’s very strong support” for the Liberals’ rate-capping agenda.
Ironically, Lucas has just taken the reins of a committee overseeing public spending on government advertising. The global allowance does not fall under the committee’s purview.
“There’s been a very strong pushback from councils, the Opposition and the media [on the bin tax]…so it’s a good opportunity to go back out and test the water,” he said.
He denied the move was a bid to shift blame to councils for government-imposed rate increases, saying “people as they receive the survey forms would have been informed by your good selves and others that the government’s made that decision”, and noting that “a number of councils” are pointing out as such on their rate notices.
“I think people are well-informed in relation to the issue,” he said.
“The strong view still is that people support the Government’s direction in relation to rate-capping… it’s very useful information from my viewpoint.”
The rate-capping bill hit a roadblock in the Upper House, but Lucas says “just because you’re defeated on one particular occasion doesn’t mean you take your bat and ball and go home”.
“The end result is we want to establish what people’s views are,” he said.
“Sometimes ‘anti’ campaigns change public opinion, so it’s important to gauge whether or not that’s happened… and early returns indicate that that strong pushback hasn’t changed.
“Public opinion is much, much more in tune with the Government’s opinion on this particular issue – that there should be more controls and councils need to be reined in in relation to their capacity to increase rates.”
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