Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Regional Science

Voluntary Regional Co-Operation in Australia */ la Co-Operation Regionale Volontaire En Australie

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Regional Science

Voluntary Regional Co-Operation in Australia */ la Co-Operation Regionale Volontaire En Australie

Article excerpt

Provincial and state governments in Canada and Australia have encouraged the development of regional cooperation as an alternative to local government consolidation. In Canada, this process has usually been a 'top-down' affair with provincial authorities using legislative and financial measures to encourage collaboration. In Australia, on the other hand, cooperation has usually been a voluntary, 'bottom-up' exercise. The most common form of this activity bas been the regional organization of councils (ROC). ROCs consist of groupings of neighbouring local governments which combine their resources to pursue mutually beneficial economic, social and political objectives. This article explores the growth of ROCs over the last two decades and suggests that several of these entities have evolved into de facto forms of regional governance. Three brief case studies are provided. The analysis draws upon theories of social capital and organizational networks to explain how and why some ROCs achieve success. The article also explores how the achievements of ROCs have helped to erode state governments' long standing commitment to amalgamation as the most cost-effective policy option. The discussion includes a number of comparative references to the Canadian environment.

Les gouvernements provinciaux et d' etat au Canada et en Australie ont encourage le developpement de la co-operation regionale en tant qu'alternative a la consolidation des gouvernements locaux. Au Canada, ce processus a ete pour la plupart une affaire 'top-down' avec les autorites provinciales utilisant des mesures legislatives et financie res afin d'encourager cette collaboration. En Australie, par contre, la co-operation a ete volontaire pour la plupart. La forme la plus repandue de cette activite fut l'organisation regionale des conseils (Regional Organization of Councils--ROC). Les ROC sont des regroupements de gouvernements locaux avoisinant qui se mettent ensemble afin d'atteindre des objectifs economique, social et politique qui sont positifs pour tous les participants. Cet article explore la croissance des ROC au cours des deux dernie res decennies et sugge re que plusieurs de ces entites ont evolue pour devenir des formes de gouvernance regionale de facto. Trois etudes de cas sont presentees brie vement. L'analyse se base sur les theories du capital social et de l'organisation des reseaux afin d'expliquer comment et pourquoi certaines ROC ont connu un succe s. L'article explore egalement comment les reussites des ROC ont contribue a reduire l'engagement depuis longtemps des gouvernants d'etat a la fusion municipale en tant que l'option politique le plus efficace en termes de cou ts. La discussion se refe re a plusieurs reprises a la situation au Canada.

Introduction

Municipal consolidation was a major feature of local government reform across both Canada and Australia during the 1990s. In Canada, Ontario, Quebec, and most of the Atlantic provinces imposed, or encouraged, the amalgamation of municipalities. Australia's capitals escaped the mega-city mergers of Toronto, Quebec and Halifax, but state-wide amalgamation programs were equally as extensive. Over the five year period 1992-1997, Tasmania reduced the number of its local authorities from 46 to 29, South Australia from 118 to 72, and Victoria from 210 to 78. Queensland undertook a more modest exercise involving nine amalgamations. As Dollery and Crase (2004: 265) observe, the long dominant perception that 'bigger is better' in the structural reform of Australian local government had changed little. Indeed, it still continues, though with somewhat diminished force. In the course of 2004, New South Wales' 172 councils were forcibly cut back to 152.2. (1)

In both countries the rationale underlying consolidation has been much the same. Proponents argue that larger municipalities are more cost effective because they can deliver economies of scale and scope, and reduce duplication. …

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