BY ANITA SENARATNA
Located in Sydney’s leafy eastern suburbs and home to one of Australia’s most iconic beaches, Waverley Council is traditionally Liberal party heartland. But the failed merger with Randwick and Woollahra councils and the deeply unpopular Bondi Pavilion upgrade have left a bad taste in voters’ mouths, and this could translate to a swing away from the Liberals at the upcoming local government elections on September 9.
Earlier this year, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced that the State Government would no longer be forcing local councils to merge with each other. The proposed mergers, which were initiated by the Baird government, were controversial with voters and the councils themselves, with many councils declaring they would challenge the mergers in the High Court.
Waverley Mayor Sally Betts supported the merger with Randwick and Woollahra. She recently told the Wentworth Courier that she was “disappointed” that it was no longer going ahead, and that it had “wasted” her staff’s time planning for it.
“I believe supporting a possible merger was in the best interests of Waverley, certainly from a financial perspective but that’s no longer the government’s position so we need to move forward and continue working for our residents,” she said.
The Bondi Pavilion is a heritage building that is currently home to a theatre, art gallery, music studios, art and pottery studios, a screening room and halls available for hire. While the proposed upgrade would retain some of these facilities, it also involved changes to the first floor to allow for a cafe or restaurant overlooking Bondi Beach.
The proposal led to a ‘Save Bondi Pavilion’ campaign, started by locals who objected to privatising a heritage building and the loss of a creative space for emerging artists and musicians. The campaign, which has almost 5000 supporters, has several high-profile members such as the Hoodoo Gurus and The Castle actor Michael Caton.
Labor Councillor Paula Masselos has criticised the lack of community consultation in the proposal’s early stages, calling it “cynical and disingenuous.”
If she is re-elected, Cr Masselos says she and the other Labor councillors will work to stop the “overdevelopment feeding frenzy” currently happening in the area.
Greens councillor Dominic Wy Kanak has also opposed the Bondi Pavilion upgrade. Cr Wy Kanak said that the community “responded with thankful sighs” and “heartfelt relief” to the news that the merger with Woollahra and Randwick was no longer going ahead.
Despite being a safe liberal seat, the area did see a swing towards the Greens in last year’s federal election. Cr Wy Kanak says he is hoping the trend will continue at a local level as well.
“Our community is certain that the Greens increased votes in the Prime Minister’s federal electorate of Wentworth will transfer to strong support for local council Greens Candidates come the September 9 Local Government Elections,” he said.