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Sweeping reform: Colin Barnett
Sweeping reforms are ahead for local government in Western Austraila according to Premier Colin Barnett.
In an announcement today the Premier said the proposed changes will improve the delivery of services to the Western Australian community.
Among the proposed changes is the merger of Verve and Synergy.
Other comprehensive reforms will result in a new Department of Local Government and Communities established, a new stand-alone Department of Lands created and, as outlined during the election campaign, responsibility for science will be moved into the Department of the Premier and Cabinet (DPC).
Mr Barnett said he was keen to get on with his election commitment of splitting the Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) into a new Department of Parks and Wildlife and an environmental regulation department which will retain the name DEC.
The Premier said that consideration was being given to subsequently amalgamating the Department of Water with the remaining part of DEC but if this takes place, it would not occur until the end of the year.
It's expected that the Office of Strategic Projects and the Regulatory Gatekeeping Unit from Treasury will be brought into the Department of Finance. The Department of Indigenous Affairs will be renamed the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, following requests from the Aboriginal community and the Department for Child Protection will be renamed the Department for Child Protection and Family Support.
The Drug and Alcohol Office will be joined with the Mental Health Commission under the control of a single chief executive, in an effort to ensure better integration if prevention services.
Mr Barnett said the changes to the Drug and Alcohol Office were in response to the findings of the Stokes Report which highlighted issues facing the mental health system including the need for ‘improved liaison between mental health and drug and alcohol services worker willingness to co-operatively provide care and intervention for patients with dual conditions’.
“The changes will improve service delivery, streamline processes, ensure better transparency and bring greater efficiencies to many government operations. They are about building better structures of government and ensuring better delivery of service to the public,"he said.
“These are logical steps in the provision of better government services," the Premier added.
He believes that the changes to Verve and Synergy would deliver improved efficiencies in the delivery of electricity, and noted that the splitting of Western Power into separate State-owned entities had failed to deliver lower electricity costs.
“This structure has created a series of unintended and highly inefficient outcomes which has contributed to higher electricity costs,” he said.
Mr Barnett said while the electricity market changes had attracted some private sector investment they had also resulted in a lack of longer-term planning on electricity market requirements, including energy security.
With regard to the other changes, the Premier said the new Department of Local Government and Communities would improve the delivery of a range of community services at the local level.
“We expect this will drive increased collaboration at a local level between Government agencies, not-for-profit organisations and local governments,” he said.
He foresees that splitting DEC would also have great advantages.
“This will clearly separate the management and conservation of our unique marine and terrestrial environment from the role of environmental regulator,” he said.
“Parks and Wildlife will focus on scientific research and conservation efforts and promotion of the tourism potential of our State’s natural assets.”
In addition, a new single authority, to be named the Conservation and Parks Commission will replace two separate existing authorities, the Marine Parks Reserves Authority and the Conservation Commission.
According to Barnett, moving Science into the DPC shows the importance of Science and a science culture to the future development of the State.
“The knowledge and application of science is what underpins new and diverse concepts and ideas. It’s what enables communities to take steps forward in the way they run businesses, the way they protect the environment and the way they educate their children,” he said.
“Recreating a Department of Lands will also ensure that sufficient attention is given to the integrity of the system of land titles while moving the Office of Strategic Projects and the Regulatory Gatekeeping Unit in the Department of Treasury to the Department of Finance will consolidate capital works projects within one agency.”
The legislation which will see the reform of ports management, including the consolidation of the seven of the State’s eight port authorities into four regional port authorities, announced last year, will also be introduced into Parliament this year.