by Geoff Egan
MERGING Queensland's councils was lauded as a way to save taxpayers millions.
But a decade after amalgamation the Queensland Government has no data on what, if any, savings amalgamating councils made.
The much-protested upheaval, including a threatened plebiscite, turned 157 councils into 72 and ended 724 councillor positions.
From March 15, 2008, amalgamations were designed to cut costs through greater economies of scale.
Local Government Association of Queensland CEO Greg Hallam said the mergers had not solved councils' financial woes.
"Any claims of savings were clearly illusory," he said.
"Financial conditions haven't changed one iota. Amalgamation wasn't the silver bullet."
A Local Government Department spokeswoman said it had not collected any data to see whether amalgamation's goals had been met.
"The department has not carried out a specific comparison of local governments' financial positions prior to and after amalgamations, or in some cases de-amalgamations," she said.
"The department does analyse council sustainability and financial positions through specific processes such as the Local Government Borrowing Program and the Grants Programs.
"It also works closely with the Queensland Audit Office in analysing data and trends in order to provide assistance to at-risk councils as required.
"The QAO has an audit program which identifies local government financial risks using a range of financial data."
Was merging Queensland councils worth it?
Mr Hallam said some larger councils had made gains and pointed to being able to plan across an entire region as one of amalgamation's benefits.
But he said some smaller councils were still struggling and some communities continued to push for further de-amalgamation. In 2014 the LNP de-amalgamated the Noosa, Livingstone, Douglas and Mareeba councils.
The most recent QAO local government report, for the 2015-16 year, expressed concerns about councils' revenue generation.
Research from leading local government expert Brian Dollery has found mergers were unlikely to have made significant savings due to the labour-intensive nature of councils' biggest costs.
The University of New England business professor said bigger did not necessarily mean better when it came to many of council responsibilities.
"You can't get half a road resurfacer for a smaller area and you can't get one twice the size for a bigger council area. They only come in one size," Professor Dollery said.
"Or look at a health inspector. If you have double the council you need double the health inspectors because you've got double the work."
Prof Dollery said as certain functions including water supply, payroll and computer systems did benefit from economies of scale, small councils would have been better off teaming up than merging.
"That is a massive opportunity. You could have 30 or 40 councils operating off the one IT system, for example. Then leave labour intensive services to individual councils," he said.
Mr Hallam said the LGAQ had heavily invested in technology to help provide such services to councils.
Local Government Minister Stirling Hinchliffe defended amalgamation but ruled out further boundary changes.
"Overwhelmingly, amalgamation has delivered more benefits than costs to Queenslanders," he said.
"Too much energy has been expended on amalgamation and de-amalgamation and I believe the community is best served by just making the arrangements work.
"The key issues for reform in local government need to be restoring community trust, transparency and accountability and this is where we will be focussed."
Shadow local government minister Anne Leahy said the government must continue to support communities who still felt disadvantaged from amalgamation.
"When in government, the LNP empowered local communities though genuine partnerships between state and local governments," she said.
"Annastacia Palaszczuk and Labor should be working with local governments to address any on-going concerns over Labor's forced amalgamations."
Ms Leahy did not answer questions about why only four councils were given the opportunity to de-amalgamate, nor did she say whether amalgamation had been a success. -NewsRegional
What is the biggest issue arising from council mergers?
This poll ended on 12 March 2018.
Loss of community identity
Rural and regional services suffering
None, it hasn’t caused any problems
This is not a scientific poll. The results reflect only the opinions of those who chose to participate.
AMALGAMATION TIME LINE
April 2007: Premier Peter Beattie forms the Queensland Local Government Reform Commission to make recommendations around council amalgamations.
July 2007: LGRC report recommends many councils be amalgamated into "regions" based on major towns and cities. Opposition leader Jeff Seeney vows to de-amalgamate councils if a Coalition government was elected.
August 2007: Queensland Parliament debates the Local Government (Reform Implementation) Act 2007 until 4am before passing it into law.
March 2008: Council elections are held on new boundaries.
August 2012: Newly elected LNP government establishes Boundaries Commission which receives submissions from 19 communities wanting to be considered for de-amalgamation.
November 2012: Four areas - Douglas, Livingstone, Mareeba and Noosa - allowed a referendum on de-amalgamation.
March 2013: Residents vote to de-amalgamate from regional councils.
January 2014: De-amalgamation comes into effect for Douglas, Livingstone, Mareeba and Noosa.