The proposed amalgamation between Melville, East Fremantle and Fremantle (plus part of Canning!) has prompted me to think about the practical and tangible differences that such a change to our local governance might make.
It is not simply because Freo is special and has a ‘unique vibe’ that we want to protect, there are potential changes to planning, budget and governance structures that may greatly concern some Freo community members because our values are different to Melville’s.
For example, planning decisions: In Freo we place high value on heritage, our traditional streetscapes, sustainability principles and innovation. I for one don’t want a relaxation of protections for heritage buildings from demolition, or the revocation of the demolition by neglect provisions now in place. I do not want to see easy passage of McMansions and brick and tile suburban nightmares (that take up the entire block and leave no green space or trees) throughout Fremantle. Or the abandonment of local area schemes that ensure the character is maintained. I want Fremantle to continue to be innovative in finding new ways to provide affordable, diverse and low carbon housing options – but will Melville pursue this goal? or allow us to continue this kind of work in Fremantle?
There are also significant budget implications. Fremantle Council has long prioritised funding for local arts and festivals, because it is a huge part of our identity and our marketing. We also have a huge stock of heritage places in constant need of maintenance, plus we fund services that we feel is important socially, like the Warawee womens shelter, the Mens Shed and Buster the Fun Bus – how will Melville ratepayers feel about funding these things? Will there be a similar emphasis when two thirds of the elected representatives come from Melville?
Under Barnett’s proposed amalgamation model, there will be nine councillors for the new Freo-Mega-Melville council – just three of which will be from Fremantle. Fremantle is a very politically active and engaged community – it always has been. Freo people like to be able to speak directly to their elected representatives and have us follow up personally – that will be so much harder to do with 100,000 electors among nine people. Even if councillors are paid a full time wage so they could dedicate themselves to the task full time, it will still be far less personal and participatory. Fremantle’s precinct system is also unique – and an important way for the community to participate – will it continue under Melville?
The fact that Fremantle has a CBD and is a regional centre should also be considered differently to any other suburban centre. In the 1990s the Perth council was split into four (Perth, Vincent, Stirling and Cambridge), because it was clear that the needs of a CBD are different to those of a suburb. This is now being reviewed and changed again to become lager – however, Fremantle should have similar consideration about balancing the CBD and suburban factors an not simply swallowed into a huge suburb.
The City of Fremantle is currently punching well above our weight – leading the way in innovation and being awarded for it – eg the small dwellings scheme which was recently adopted by state government, developing the Living Smart program which is now being run in communities throughout Australia, establishing WAs first Business Improvement District and becoming the first carbon neutral city in WA. Fremantle has always prided itself as being bold, innovative and pushing boundaries for what we believe in and expressing what we value and how we want to live.
If you think local government should simply be about rates, roads and rubbish, then becoming part of a mega-Melville council may suit you fine. But if you want more from your local government, if you want it to be more accessible, innovative and representative, then you may want to fight for Fremantle too.
We can (and are) making service delivery and efficiency improvements without gutting our local governance. Council has until 4 October to make our submission to the Premier and a special council meeting will be held at 6pm, Tuesday 1 October to discuss and debate it. Come along, have your say and get involved – or find out more at fremantle.wa.gov.au/letsdrawtheline