BY ALEC SMART
A deal between Labor and the Liberal Party in last week’s Inner-West mayoral election has critics furious that democracy has been subverted, with The Greens claiming they’ve been marginalized.
The Mayoral election pitted former Leichardt Mayor Darcy Byrne (Labor) against first-time councillor Pauline Lockie (Independent), in a contest that was ultimately decided by former Marrickville Mayor Vic Macri (Independent), who cast the deciding vote.
However, what infuriated critics and councilors alike was that Liberal Party candidate Julie Passas was sworn in as Deputy Mayor, seen as a reward for backing Labor, despite the Liberals being a minority party in the 15-seat Inner West Council.
In the September 9 Local Council Elections, a swing against the Liberal Party was recorded across the inner west region, which saw Labor and The Greens take five seats each of the fifteen available, with three going to Independents. The Liberals took two seats, in Ashfield and Leichardt, respectively.
The swing was attributed to voter backlash against the NSW Liberal Party, which forced the amalgamation of the former Marrickville, Ashfield and Leichardt council wards into the new Inner West Council, as well as dissatisfaction with the WestConnex road scheme and high-rise housing construction across the district.
The Inner West Council area, comprising approximately 186,000 residents, covers suburbs immediately to the west of Sydney city centre and east of Strathfield and Canterbury-Bankstown districts, within natural boundaries of the Parramatta and Cooks Rivers to the north and south, respectively.
Councillor Pauline Lockie (Stanmore ward), an Independent, was the primary opponent of Byrne with the backing of The Greens and fellow Independent John Stamolis (Balmain).
She was passed over by the deciding vote of Councillor Vic Macri (Marrickville), who claimed her position as a new councillor made her ‘inexperienced’, despite four other new councillors on the Inner West Council, thus sealing the Liberal-Labor pact.
Councillor Stamolis declared, “It is far too simplistic to say that Councillor Lockie lacks experience. She has a long professional career and has spent years fighting for and leading her community on one of the biggest and most complex issues in the State.
“The bid by Councillor Pauline Lockie was positive and strong. It would have created a fresh start and it would break away from the tired old party politics that communities all over the Inner West have had enough of. Councillor Lockie offered change but many of the old guard of Councillors were not comfortable with change. The old-style deals had served them well in the past and continue to do so now.”
In her response to the Mayoral election result, Councillor Lockie said, “It was pretty obvious from the reaction within the chamber and on social media that many residents feel extremely disappointed, if not betrayed, by this result. The Liberal vote plummeted in the Inner West Council election as voters overwhelmingly rejected the state government’s destructive agenda for our area, and 12 out of 15 seats went to progressive candidates.
“The reason I decided to run as Mayor was because I was very worried that a Labor/Liberal alliance would see compromises made on issues such as WestConnex. The majority of Councillors elected (12 out of 15) ran on explicit anti-WestConnex platforms, so I think it’s fair to say residents expect our Council to deliver on this.
“The last thing residents would have expected was a Labor/Liberal alliance that gave the Deputy Mayor position to a Liberal Councillor.”
The deal between Labor and the Liberals brought back memories of the secret meeting between the two parties on 2 June 2016, which controversially voted in favour of a rescission motion proposing that council consider a merger of Leichhardt, Ashfield and Canada Bay.
However, the subsequent merger, which excluded Canada Bay and instead amalgamated Marrickville and Ashfield into an interim Inner West Council, saw then-Mayor for Leichardt Darcy Byrne sacked.
Furious about the dismissal, Byrne then stated at a press conference, “The interim council has been set up to serve the Liberal Party’s interest… It is important for the unelected administrator and the Premier to know that we will be scrutinising them from now until democracy is restored in our communities.”
The Greens’ Colin Hesse (Marrickville ward) said of the Mayoral election, “This is a desperate bid for power which is all about supporting Councillor Byrne’s tilt at the State seat of Balmain in 2019. Council should not be held to ransom while Councillor Byrne focuses his energy of his political ambitions.”
“The Greens were consistent in negotiating to form a progressive alliance on Council, working in coalition with anti-WestConnex Independents, and Labor to deliver strong campaigns which put people and community first,” added Rochelle Porteous, Green’s Councillor for Balmain.
“The Greens proposal of sharing the Mayoralty and Deputy Mayoralty between Labor, the Greens and Independents was fair and represented the will of our community.
“Labor’s failure to support a progressive alliance on Council indicates that Labor still hasn’t got the message that people want community representatives on Council, not careerists.”
“Our community sent a huge message to the Liberals to lift their game,” said Councillor Stamolis. “Then, Labor do a deal with the Liberals giving them the second highest position of leadership for our community. This is exactly the same political behaviour that we saw on past Councils. How can this be explained to our community?
“We may have a new Council but the politics have not changed at all. If anything the politics of the past will become more entrenched. The results of the Mayoral election already clearly show this.”
Inner West Labor had still not responded to City Hub’s request for comment by the time we went to print.