Sydney City Council – Fit for the Future
There was an extraordinary meeting of the Council on Thursday 18 June to consider the Council’s submission to the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) concerning the NSW Government’s ‘Fit for the Future’ local government review process designed to reduce the number of Councils in NSW. Without any credible rationale, the Government has proposed the creation of a ‘mega-council’ for the City to include Botany Bay, Randwick, Sydney, Waverley and Woollahra – a local government area with a population of over 500,000 (the same as Tasmania), but with no increased responsibility or authority. Not one of the councils or local communities concerned supports the proposal. The Premier went to the last election promising that there would be no forced amalgamations, but he has refused to be drawn as to whether he intends to keep that promise.
The principal resolution put to the Council was ‘that the City of Sydney is “Fit for the Future” and that no major structural change be undertaken to the City’s boundaries at this time’. Before voting on the resolution, the Council went into a committee of the whole to enable members of the public to speak.
Most speakers raised all the obvious points; that the public would find it impossible to deal with a Council so large, that it would become the plaything of the major political parties since no independent could afford to mount an effective campaign, that it was yet one more example of the major parties’ ‘Get Clover’ campaign, and so on. I spoke on behalf of the Society, trying to tie the proposal back to our particular area. It is always hard to remember what one said extempore, but I hope the gist of it was as follows:
- I introduced myself as the current President of the Glebe Society. Ironically, the Society came into existence in 1969 mainly to oppose some horrendous planning decisions taken by the City Council when Glebe was part of the City up to 1968.
- I did not purport to represent the views of the residents of Glebe as a whole, but I believed I did reflect the views of at least a substantial majority of the 400-odd members of the Glebe Society.
- The Glebe Society is non-party-political, but that doesn’t stop us criticising any government which is acting in a manner designed purely to pursue its own political ends.
- And we do not support the amalgamation of the City of Sydney into the mega-council proposed by the Government – for all the reasons canvassed by other speakers.
- There has been a history of manipulation of local government boundaries so that the party in power in Macquarie St could have power over the City of Sydney.
- Glebe has form when it comes to amalgamations. In 1969, when there was a State Liberal government, we were hived off from the City to Leichhardt, presumably so that we could be more at home with our trendy lefty mates in Balmain, Lilyfield and Rozelle (who all, apparently, vote Labor). And that seemed to work – the Civic Reform Group took control of the City and retained power for a number of years.
- Then in 2003, when the ALP was in power, Glebe was shovelled back into the City so that Labor could take over the Town Hall – well, that worked, didn’t it!
- Since 2004, we have enjoyed stable, independent local government, highly responsive to local concerns. As far as we can tell, the City has achieved an ideal critical mass, and we can see no rational argument for scaling it up in the manner proposed.
- Of course, if the Government was really fair dinkum about its ‘Fit for the Future’ campaign and not just treating the City as its political birthright, it might be possible to mount a reasonable argument for NSW to be divided into say three mega-councils, and to devolve upon them the rights and obligations currently enjoyed and exercised by the State government. But the logical conclusion of that would be the abolition of the State Government itself. Perhaps that should be the preferred option.
The resolution was passed with the votes of all Councillors, with one exception.
If you feel strongly about this, you can make your own submission to IPART – but not until after 30 June (and before 31 July). Visit http://www.ipart.nsw.gov.au/Home/Industries/Local_Govt/Reviews/Fit_for_the_future.