NEWS THAT MATTERS
Winning back democracy
FOREWORD ALAN HAYES
The ultimate goal of society is to promote a good and happy life for its individuals. It creates conditions and opportunities for the all-round development of individual personality. Society ensures harmony and cooperation among individuals in spite of their occasional conflicts and tensions. Yet the people of the Central Coast have been denied this right for far too long, instead suffering the machinations of the state government and the rule of their 'client dictator'.
It is the people who are the backbone of democracy, whether it's on a federal, state or local level, because the source of social power is the people - their aspirations, energy, and capacities, all of which when channelled and organised through a system becomes social power
People's norms, beliefs, and values make up a collective consciousness, or a shared way of understanding and behaving in the community - a collective consciousness that binds us together and creates social integration.
So, why, under the Liberal Government, has there been democratic backsliding, where the people have no say in the fate of their community and instead are pushed aside in favour of an autocratic hammer?
The Central Coast may seem to be floundering democratically in that darkest hour before the dawn but there is still hope for local democracy. There is a pathway for the Central Coast community to put ‘LOCAL’ back into Council, according to the three speakers who were part of a webinar hosted by The Point ESG News Site on Thursday, 2 March.
3 March 2023
BY JACQUELENE PEARSON
THE digital gathering heard from Pip Hinman, from the Residents for De-amalgamation movement in Sydney’s Inner West mega-council Local Government Area, Glen Moore from the Gundagai Council in Exile and former Central Coast Council Mayor Jane Smith.
All three speakers are members of the Demerge NSW Alliance which has strong support from all of the 20 remaining merged councils across NSW.
Moor spoke about how he ran a successful campaign for the demerger of the Cootamundra-Gundagai Council. Commenting that there is currently no Boundaries Commission in NSW, due to the resignation of multiple commissioners and the Perrottet Government’s failure to replace them.
He said the Boundaries Commission had said yes to the demerger of Cootamundra Gundagai and the Office of Local Government had released a roadmap but didn’t expect any further action until mid-year.
Mr Moore said he didn’t see why it was taking so long. The boundaries could be adjusted and the existing councillors split between the two LGAs until after the September 2024 election.
Pip Hinman said it was telling that Premier Perrottet, in the midst of the election campaign, had ruled out any more council mergers.
“The fact that Minister Tuckerman and Premier Perrottet have both made election promises that there will be no more council mergers if they remain in government after March 25 is a strong indicator that they are under pressure from their own political base,” said Hinman.
“The NSW government and the opposition have both underestimated the importance of local government to communities in NSW. Our community wants their local voice back,” she said.
Jane Smith urged those present to join with her Central Coast Friends of Democracy to work on pre-poll booths in the leadup to the state election to gather the 25,000 signatures required on the Central Coast to start the demerger process here.
She said the NSW Government, irrespective of its stripes could hold an election for Central Coast Council on any Saturday of its choosing between now and September 2024 when the next state-wide local government election is scheduled.
The barrier is that a fixed four-year term is set in the legislation. However, if there was the political will, amendments could be pushed through quickly to allow those elected in a poll held before September 2024 to have a five-year term.
Hinman spoke about how the residents from the former Marrickville, Ashfield and Leichhardt Councils campaigned to make their new amalgamated council vote on holding a referendum at the 2021 council elections to determine whether or not residents wanted to go back to their old local government boundaries.
The result of that referendum was that over 62 per cent of people across the three former local government areas voted in favour of de-amalgamation.
The Point’s executive producer, Jackie Pearson, said Pip Hinman’s experiences resonated with anyone who has lived on the Central Coast since the forced merger of the former Gosford and Wyong Councils in 2016.
“The Inner West of Sydney is a very different community to the Central Coast but they’ve lost representation, lost services, they’re paying higher rates and they’ve lost their voice,” Pearson said. “It’s a very familiar story.”
Pip Hinman who has lived in Marrickville for over 30 years, has been active in many campaigns and said she “was very aware of it when the ‘fit for the future’ council mergers were being pushed by the Baird Coalition Government.
“People had to register to go to this ‘consultation’ and I think virtually everyone who spoke was against it. It wasn’t what we felt was fit for the future and I got involved at that point because of the fake consultation the Baird Government was running in 2015.”
She said community concerns at that time were “around questions of representation, how many councillors would be left, how many workers would be left or put on the scrap heap, what would happen to our say in our local area.
“We used to have 36 councillors across those three areas, it has now been slashed to 16 so accessibility of residents to counsellors and counsellors to residents has been reduced.
“Jobs have been lost. There was a great big reshuffle which involved people opting to take a redundancy and others feeling like it wasn’t what they signed up for. Councils were being encouraged to contract jobs out as they still are.
“Even if you define fit for the future in their neo liberal terms two of the three councils were fit for the future. They were in the black,” Hinman said.
Marrickville Council was in the black and Hinman recalls how that council would collaborate and support its community.
“A gas company announced it was going to continue looking into using its drilling licence to drill for coal seam gas right in the middle of the city, slightly out of the area for Marrickville Council but alongside us.
“Residents formed a group to get this company’s licence for drilling stopped. It was 5km from the city and we didn’t agree with CSG anyway. We got together and ran a campaign and eventually successfully got that company’s licence, which actually covered the whole of the city of Sydney which nobody knew about, got it canned.
“Marrickville Council supported the campaign and was the first LGA to declare itself a CSG free LGA,” she said.
“This is an issue right across the state – resident driven campaigns about accessibility, about having a voice is not unique to one brand of politics.
“A lot of us went to the first meeting of the amalgamated council only to see Labor and Liberal pat each other on the back and Labor became mayor and there was a Liberal deputy.”
Another of the many similarities between the Inner West and Central Coast experiences were the promises of efficiencies, more funding and no need for rate rises.
“As far as I know no one’s rates went down and everyone was slugged hard.
“The promises didn’t wash on us, they were all on the financial lines but council is more than a financial entity.
“Making councils into a rubber stamp of state government is not going to cut it,” Hinman said.
Locals interested in helping to gather signatures for a de-amalgamation petition on the Central Coast can express interest via Central Coast Friends of Democracy.
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