The ACT's longest-serving chief minister says it's time to consider establishing local councils in Canberra, arguing a second level of government would be "healthy" for a city which has been ruled by the same party for almost 20 years.
Former Labor leader Jon Stanhope believes the territory would benefit from having councils to balance the power of the ACT government on decisions shaping the national capital.
One community council president has backed Mr Stanhope's suggestion, saying the concentration of "absolute power" in the hands of the ACT government left communities without a voice on local issues.
With no upper house in the ACT Legislative Assembly to scrutinise legislation before it passes into law, Mr Stanhope said councils could play an important role in providing "checks and balances" and "occasionally banging heads" with the territory government.
"I think we need to have a conversation about it [second level of government] as a community," he told The Canberra Times.
"I think it probably is time that there be a pressure point, that there be another organ with powers ... to basically put up a contrary argument, perhaps challenge the state-type parliament in relation to decision making.
"I'm concerned that after 20 years [of having the same party in power], I'm beginning to worry that we do need to have another check or another balance as part of the democratic process."
Mr Stanhope, who remains the only ACT chief minister to govern in majority, has been a vocal critic of Andrew Barr and his Labor-Green governments, in particular for its handling of the territory budget, health system and social housing.
The ACT is the only jurisdiction which doesn't have local government.
The government's City Services Directorate takes on many of the traditional local council functions, including responsibility for maintaining roads and collecting rubbish.
Tasmania has 29 councils for a population of about 540,000, which is only about 100,000 people more than the council-less ACT.
Mr Stanhope said he hadn't thought deeply about exactly what form a second level of government might take, including the number of possible councils or what powers they might have. He suggested the council-type functions delivered by the City Services Directorate could be handed over.
There are community councils across Canberra which advocate and advise the ACT government on local issues, but they don't have decision-making powers and are essentially large residents' associations.
Mr Stanhope floated the idea during an interview with The Canberra Times in which he threw his support behind calls to repeal the federal laws which prevent the ACT and NT from legislating on euthanasia.
One counter argument to a repeal of the so-called Andrews Bill, which has been used by Liberal Senator Zed Seselja, is that the ACT couldn't be trusted to responsibly legislate on the issue because the Legislative Assembly didn't have an upper house.
Mr Stanhope strongly refuted Senator Seselja's argument, saying it was unreasonable to hold up the euthanasia issue as an example of why the ACT parliament needed a house of review.
But as the debate over territory rights reignites, Mr Stanhope believed it was time to reassess the makeup of the ACT's democratic system.
"It think it would be good to have a pressure point, where you had two arms of government occasionally banging heads," he said.
Woden Valley Community Council president and former independent ACT election candidate Fiona Carrick said having just one tier of government meant there wasn't "meaningful community representation" on local planning issues.
"We have no local government to ensure the planning is ambitious for our community and that we create great places for residents to meet and build local connections," she said.
"There is no house of review to check legislative changes and the impact on the community they affect, and then there are no appeal rights to ACAT for developments in town centres.
"It might be time to look at the governance arrangements for the AC. Absolute power leaves many people in the community feeling like they do not have a voice and disengaged in matters that impact on their community and their future quality of life."
John Warhurst, an emeritus professor of political science at the Australian National University, supported a discussion on the merits of councils in Canberra.
But Prof Warhurst said it should be just one part of a wider debate which also examined the size of the ACT Legislative Assembly, how councils would interact with the government and whether Canberra needed a Lord Mayor.
He said the argument for local councils would only strengthen as Canberra's population continued to grow.
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