David Shoebridge amongst the protestors outside NSW Parliament House. Source: Ryan Quinn

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By RYAN QUINN
A rally of united councillors and residents crowded the NSW Parliament House footpath on the opening day of the Fit for the Future parliamentary inquiry.

More than 20 people chanted and protested against forced amalgamations on Monday morning, July 28, led by the Save Our Councils Coalition (SOCC).

The rally brought together concerned protestors from Mosman to Holyroyd councils on the commencement of the first of five public hearings on NSW Local Government reform.

Save our Strathfield Co-Chair Nella Gaughan chanted as the group cheered loudly.

“[Local Government Minister, Paul Toole], you declared to your constituents in Bathurst that you would not force amalgamation. Today I’m saying to you: keep your promise,” she said.

Rally members wore ‘We Love Our Local Communities’ t-shirts, held up several placards and chanted ‘no amalgamation.’

Many of the protestors were concerned residents who expressed anger at the thought of reduced councillor contact.

Mosman resident Jane Floyd said that amalgamation would “break down” the community.

“I know who my councillors are, they live up the road from me, if I’ve got a hassle I know where I can find them,” she said.

According to NSW Greens MP and inquiry committee member David Shoebridge there would be one councillor to every 20-25,000 residents after amalgamation.

“Their so called ‘Fit for the Future’ is really a plan to take the democracy out of local government, to convert the local councils which have strong connections with their local people…and turn them into just another professional layer of politicians,” he said to the rally.

The Macquarie Room of NSW Parliament was attended by about 50 people for the inquiry.

The first day included the examination of serveral witnesses, including NSW Office of Local Government Chief Executive, Marcia Doheny.

Mr Shoebridge and Labour Local Government Spokesperson Peter Primrose led the questions among cross-examiners.

“Will there be forced amalgamation?” Mr Primrose asked Ms Doheny.

She answered “These questions go to issues of cabinet confidentiality which I can’t answer”, causing laughter and discussion among the audience.

Co-Convenor of Save Hunters Hill Municipality Coalition, Phil Jenkyn, has suggested regional cooperation of councils instead of amalgamation.

“That’s independent councils cooperating on efficiencies and on regional issues,” Mr Jenkyn said.

He said that if the state government “wants to take communities with them into the future, then it should listen to what the communities say.”

Earlier this month, 144 proposals were submitted by councils to the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) for assessment. Only four of which willing to voluntarily amalgamate.

The next public inquiry is set for August 10.