The forced Eastern Suburbs merger could still go ahead, despite community objections. Credit: David Shoebridge MP

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BY DYLAN CRISMALE

The Liberal Party appears to be placing pro-amalgamation candidates at the top of their ticket for Woollahra Council. If they are elected they could kill off Council’s High Court appeal to block a merger with Waverley and Randwick Councils.

Liberal councillor Andrew Petrie alleges the Liberal Party is stacking a ticket of pro-amalgamation candidates in the Woollahra wards of Bellevue Hill, Cooper, Double Bay and Vaucluse to be pre-selected ahead of the election.

Cr Petrie said: “They’ve got a whole lot of people nominating for Liberal pre-selection some on what’s called a ticket… and other Liberals including the Liberal Mayor for the last 4 years, and another Liberal councillor are not part of the ticket. Which is extremely odd and I think it extends right back to the problem of amalgamations, and I know it does. And the reason for it is… that certain people are trying to get councillors elected who will be more inclined to support an amalgamation with Waverley.”
It is believed that a pro-amalgamation council could vote to halt any legal action and then rescind the previous Council’s non-amalgamation resolution, so that a forced amalgamation with Waverley and Randwick councils could proceed.
Cr. Petrie said: “That is exactly the case and a question I asked without notice last night [Monday 26 June] in the full council meeting of the general manager and that was the answer.”
Woollahra Council is one of few councils currently fighting the State Government’s plans for forced amalgamations in the courts.
On May 12, the Council was granted special leave to appeal the decision of the Land and Environment Court in July last year where the council was unsuccessful in challenging the legality of the process of amalgamations, and was ordered to pay the Government’s costs.

Nicola Grieve, secretary of the Local Democracy Matters resident’s group and a former Woollahra Greens Councillor says the community has already shown their opposition to any kind of merger proposal.

Ms Grieves said: “A council can always make a request to the Minister for a voluntary amalgamation, but they can’t do it without having meetings and hearings from the public…in theory they could, but if they’re running a pro-amalgamation ticket, then I would suggest that the good voters of Woollahra would be voting elsewhere.”

“82 percent of the residents when surveyed said they didn’t support amalgamation…and I think that the Berejiklian government needs to really take a long hard look at their policy and their agenda.”

A primary concern for Woollahra residents is that under an ‘Eastern Beaches Council’ rates would ‘skyrocket’ as the council does not calculate rates based entirely on land value as they are in Waverley and Randwick Councils.

Cr Matthew Robertson Greens said: “I believe that our community in Woollahra is particularly astute… they have been following the government’s forced merger agenda with interest because they know that there are severe detriments to the Woollahra community.”

He says the NSW Government has failed by its own admission to find a solution to “the Woollahra problem”.

“Our rates are calculated on a different basis, they’re not calculated exclusively on land values because rates are a fee for service, they’re not a tax on the value of your property, but under the merged council scenario there will be one rating structure and that will mean people in Woollahra could see their rates go up by tens of thousands of dollars for no additional service benefits.”
Councillors and community are feeling confident after learning on Friday that the Councils appeal will likely be heard by the full bench of the High Court.
Cr. Robertson said: “That tells you there could not be higher degree of interest in this matter… only where we’re going to set a landmark precedent would the Chief Justice direct the entire bench to sit on a particular case it also took under six minutes in court to decide that they needed to grant special leave that our appeal should be heard.”
Greens MLC and Woollahra resident David Shoebridge is proud of his local council and community he said: “What I’ve always appreciated about Woollahra is that it’s a collaborative council, of course, there are times where politics gets in the way but by and large it’s a very cluey community who expects their councillors to get on and make decisions in the best interest of all residents…that’s been its history, good governance, care for the environment particularly care for our streets and urban tree canopy…and all that risks being lost if it becomes a super council.”

“One of the most real threats that residents of Woollahra have is the threat of Sally Betts, the very unpopular Mayor of Waverley would become mayor of a super council, and that literally fills residents with dread.”
No date has yet been set by the High Court to hear the Council’s appeal.