NEWS THAT MATTERS

Shafted by the state government

The long-awaited public inquiry report into Central Coast Council has finally been handed down and, as suspected, is nothing more than a blame-shift by the Liberal State Government. It was the Baird-Liberal-Government that forced an unholy marriage between Wyong and Gosford Councils and then left them standing at the alter without sufficient funding for the honeymoon.

18 March 2022

ALAN HAYES

 

IN TABLING the inquiry report yesterday (17 March), Minister for Local Government Wendy Tuckerman immediately sacked all current councillors but refused to accept any responsibility on the behalf of the State Government for its failed merger debacle. The merger was conditional upon adequate financial assistance being provided to the new council by the state government but this never eventuated, with council only receiving $10 million of the promised funds. Yet Hornsby Council, which did not merge, was given a gift of $90 million. It’s difficult not to smell a political rat when you consider that the mayor of Hornsby Council at that time was Phillip Ruddock, a former Liberal Government minister.

 

Central Coast was doomed from the start, which was exacerbated by council’s financial staff who "actively discouraged" the councillors from reviewing the budget in 2019.

 

Commissioner Roslyn McCulloch, who chaired the inquiry, said some staff failed to adequately perform their duties meaning there was insufficient strategic financial direction and information provided to councillors.

 

Former Central Coast mayor Lisa Matthews said the amalgamation proved problematic.

 

"We got underfunded. We got put together, we got into a marriage that was unsuitable," Ms. Matthews said.

 

"It's clear that there was a lot of information we weren't given.

 

"We certainly weren't given accurate information when it came to finances."

 

But in commissioner McCulloch's view, while the amalgamation "added to the financial and political complexities" of the council, "it was not the cause of the financial crisis".

 

On the other hand, she said the "costs of the merger… far exceeded the merger grants" and that the "council had inherited significant infrastructure backlogs" as well as "significant but manageable debt levels".

 

"It would be unrealistic and unreasonable to expect efficiencies or financial savings to have been evident by October 2020," she said.

 

Shadow minister for the Central Coast David Harris said Labor was disappointed with the final report.

 

"Whilst it does chronical what happened, it doesn't offer any viable solutions to the problems," Mr Harris said.

 

“Central Coast residents will be rightly disappointed that the long awaited report from Roslyn McCulloch fails to address increasing rates and service cuts for rate payers.

 

"Ratepayers are still faced with paying higher rates and having less services.

 

"[The state government has] bailed out other councils across the state but apparently not Central Coast Council."

 

David Harris said that although Councillors have been dismissed, the report failed to address definitive recommendations about staff.

 

“The recommendations mainly say that Councillors need more training but do not outline administrative changes to ensure such a financial mess does not reoccur,” Mr. Harris said.

 

Member for Gosford Liesl Tesch said the report was a pretty disappointing outcome for ratepayers.

 

"We don't actually have any great solutions moving forward," she said.

Click image above for Liesl Tesch's detailed comments on the Council Inquiry Report.

Parliamentary secretary for the Central Coast Adam Crouch said the council was working well to control its assets and get spending under control.

 

"The state government has always provided literally millions of dollars of funding and support for Central Coast Council," he said.

 

The question that Adam Crouch needs to answer, and validate with documented proof, where is the evidence of this funding. Council was shafted by the Liberal Government by denying the promised merger grant, a fact that Mr. Crouch has conveniently forgotten.

 

It is clear from the report that Liberal State Government has affixed blame for council’s financial woes clearly of the heads of the elected councillors by sacking them instead of dealing with the root cause.

 

Minister Wendy Tuckerman said “The community rightly expects that its elected council officials adhere to the highest standards and this report makes strong recommendations to help improve the council’s performance moving forward.

 

“The Commissioner’s report raised concerns about the financial management of Central Coast Council and makes practical recommendations to improve accountability.

 

“Central Coast ratepayers deserve a council operating in the best interests of its community and this report puts in place recommendations to continue the road to recovery.”

 

So, why is it that the state government continues to appoint its client dictator to run the council without any clear indication when a democratic council will be elected?

 

After months of testimony and waiting for the report to be released, Central Coast Ratepayers will still have years of higher rates, higher water and sewerage charges and reduced services. Staff continue to have an axe hanging over their heads in terms of their employment; all this because there is no clear indication when democracy will return to the ‘Coast’.

 

The NSW Government must answer to ratepayers as to why they must continue to face increasing rates and charges whilst the architects of the merger stand by and let local people suffer the consequences of their failed ideology. They must answer why the same ‘Kids in the Candy Store’ are still directing the future of the Central Coast instead of having their employment terminated. They must answer why there was no judicial inquiry, which would have prevented a controlled outcome.

 

They Minister for Local Government must also outline:

 

What financial assistance will be given to Central Coast Council to alleviate the need for higher rates and charges;

 

When the next Council election will be held; and

 

What structure is being proposed for our publicly owned water infrastructure.

 

Central Coast ratepayers have suffered too long the machinations of the State Government and its puppet ruler – it’s time to cut the strings.

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