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The Perth Inquiry: Nose in Fingers Out

‘Good Governance’, ‘transparent’, ‘accountable’, ‘equitable’, ‘efficient’, ‘participatory’ are all buzzwords and catchphrases associated with good government. But what does it really mean? How is a local government, comprised of the council and the administration, supposed to work seamlessly together? It is clear that throughout history, local governments have been fraught with the difficulty of reconciling roles and responsibilities between the council and the administration. What has changed over the years and what can we learn?

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Taking a walk back in time, in November 1938, the report of the Royal Commission appointed to inquire into the Perth City Council was released. It centered on that famous clock we all know, protruding from London Court. That clock protrudes 60cm into Hay Street on one side and St Georges Terrace on the other side of London Court, contrary to legislation. 

At that time, Harold Boas, councilor at the City of Perth, also an architect, had offered to be a consultant on the project to assist to obtain approvals for plans submitted to the City, for a fee of £2,500. His proposal was rejected by the developer. Shortly thereafter the plans were submitted to the works committee at the City of Perth of which Cr Boas was a member together with Cr Raphael. 

After the refusal of the application, Cr Raphael recommended to the developer to appoint Cr Boas as consulting architect to ensure that the plans included “local advice”. Cr Boas again proposed to act in an advisory capacity, offering his knowledge of bylaws, and said that using his services would be “quite usual”. 

The Perth representative of the developer sent a telegram to the developer in Melbourne as follows: “… preliminary plans for London Arcade were submitted to Perth Council yesterday. A number of councilors headed by Boas objected to issuing building permits. Have diplomatically interviewed Boas who is prepared to act for £750 as an advisory architect.” 

Cr Boas was then appointed, strangely the same plans were then again submitted, but this time in colour, and two weeks later those plans were approved by Council, with both those clocks still encroaching into Hay Street and St Georges Terrace contrary to the legislation.

A complaint was made by the then Town Planning Commissioner Davidson, and a Royal Commissioner of the Inquiry was set up to investigate. It found that:

  • Cr Boas was not actuated by any improper motive; and
  • Mr Davidson was motivated to complain by ill-will towards Cr Boas. 

Cr Boas explained to the Inquiry that the main reason Mr Davidson exhibited intense personal abuse towards him was because he was the “only person associated with local government who had resisted his efforts as Town Planning Commissioner to build around himself an edifice which was contrary to every By-Law in existence”. 

Cr Boas continued to say, “I have been consistently fighting to prevent him from building up a super authority over the Local Governments of Western Australia. The time has arrived when the local authorities must consider their position.” 

Fast forward, there has been a significant change in governance, echoed by the legislation; the Municipal Corporations Act (MCA) was replaced by the Local Government Act 1960 and then later, the Local Government Act 1995 (LGA). Now again, the LGA is under review.

 The most notable changes have been the changes in roles and responsibilities. Under the MCA, the Council held the majority of the power, in 1960 there was a movement to the delegation of powers, moving to a more corporate model focusing on efficiency, and in 1995 there became the identification of roles and responsibilities, resulting in a clear divide between the Council and the administration. 

You can read more about this spotlight in our article,  The Perth Inquiry: Nose in Fingers Out by downloading it below.

The Perth Inquiry Nose In Fingers Out