Waverley Council has refused to guarantee a public referendum on a potential amalgamation with surrounding Local Government Areas (LGAs).
Councils across Sydney are being urged to prepare submissions for the NSW Government regarding potential amalgamations and mergers under proposals from the Government’s Fit for the Future reform document. Fit for the Future recommends a merger of Waverley Council with Randwick, Woollahra, Botany, and City of Sydney Councils.
Despite assuring that it is “prepared to accept the will of the people”, Waverley Council voted against a motion opposing amalgamation unless expressly supported by the Waverley Community via a formal referendum. Both Randwick and Woollahra Councils have formally resolved to oppose any such amalgamation.
“Neither the state government nor Waverley Council has a mandate to impose amalgamation without a referendum,” said Waverley Labor Councillor, John Wakefield.
“I have no intrinsic opposition to amalgamations if it can be justified for specific issues. If councils wish to amalgamate they should go through a proper process. If this council wishes to pursue that we must be upfront. When the time comes the community must be asked by a referendum if they wish to amalgamate.”
Shadow Minister for Local Government, Sophie Cotsis, is concerned Fit for the Future is forced amalgamation in disguise.
Ms Cotsis raised the alarm after comments made by Treasurer Andrew Constance suggested councils who refused to submit amalgamation proposals would be punished for doing so.
“I think eventually we’re going to have to pull out the stick. We have offered up the carrot first, we’re going to have to pull out the stick,” Mr Constance said.
Fit for the Future is currently offering $10.5 million for each newly merged council with a population of 250,000 and $3 million for every additional 50,000 people.
“My concern is that the Government is not saying there will be no forced amalgamations,” Ms Cotsis said. “There is no evidence that this will be better for communities or better for ratepayers. There is too much evidence which says forced amalgamations just don’t work.”
After a review of council amalgamations undertaken by the previous Labor Government in Queensland by the current Premier Campbell Newman, 11 regional councils applied to de-amalgamate.
“There needs to be an analysis of what is going to be better for the community,” said Ms Cotsis. “What are the costs? It is a very expensive process and a very long process. There is no one size fits all.”
Local Government reform has been welcomed by the Sydney Business Council, which voiced its support for a significant overhaul in the number of LGAs across Sydney.
“The view that doing nothing is not an option is overwhelmingly the view of business,” said the Executive Director of the Sydney Business Chamber, Patricia Forsyth.
“Greater Sydney has to manage its growth and the clear conclusion is that 41 local councils is not the means to success.”
However, Ms Cotsis has accused the Liberal Government of guaranteeing sectional interests over the needs of the community.
“The Liberals want to take the ‘local’ out of local council (and) create these monster bureaucracies,” Ms Cotsis said. “As public officials, as elected representatives, we need to make sure we are administrating efficiently and that people come first.”
The NSW Labor Party confirmed its opposition to forced amalgamations of councils at the Local Government NSW Annual Conference held last week in Coffs Harbour. This commitment has not yet been made by the Government.