Waverley councillors protesting amalgamation. Source: Twitter

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By Lydia Watson-Moore

 

An amalgamation between Waverley and Randwick councils has been likened to a “shotgun marriage” by one Waverley councillor, as tensions ignited over council’s vote to accept a merger.
At an extraordinary Council Meeting on Wednesday June 10, Liberal councillors voted in favour of amalgamation with Randwick Council, to the dismay of over 50 angered residents and community representatives.
The decision was intensely contested, with a final verdict of six to five.
Greens Councillor Dominic Wy Kanak said the proposed “unholy mergemony” of the two councils lacked community support.
Clr Wy Kanak addressed the meeting and proposed the situation as “a marriage under duress with a bearded grandpa Baird holding a double-barrelled IPART shotgun”.
“Our community has spoken and they are against this marriage. They do not give it their blessing,” he said.
Clr Wy Kanak said that further community consultation was needed as the council’s survey figures were “contrived, connived and concocted”.
Council business papers reveal it undertook community engagement, in which it claimed 36.6 percent of people supported Waverley standing alone, and thus concluded around 60 percent of those surveyed wanted some form of merger.
Labor councillor John Wakefield said that the Council needed to allow a referendum of residents to get accurate community consultation.
“Does a group of councillors have the right to move amalgamations without conducting a referendum? My opinion is no,” he said.
“They’re not willing to ask the community, who they’re supposed to represent, to vote on it. It’s an outrageous undermining of democracy.”
Clr Wakefield said that larger councils have not been proven to be better at delivering services.
Former Greens councillor and Waverley resident Nicola Grieves agreed. saying the government had not made a business case to prove the advantage of larger councils.
“Residents access to councillors is going to be diminished. It’s removing the local out of local government,” she said.
But Waverley Mayor Sally Betts said she believes the council has no other choice but to propose an option.
“The issue as far as I’m concerned is not about amalgamation or no amalgamation. The government has made their position quite clear,” she said.
Clr Betts said the government model for Waverley is a global city merge between Waverley, Woollahra, Randwick, Botany Bay and the City of Sydney, which she believes would be a “really bad outcome” for residents.
She said that proposing a merge with Randwick and potentially Woollahra, who have adamantly rejected the proposal, is the only way to avoid the government’s default merge.
“I don’t think we have a choice, so I’m making the best choice for the residents of Waverley,” she said.
Yet, Ms Grieves said under law, the government cannot force amalgamation without a boundary change or legislative reform.
“The whole premise of the argument is false, no council has to do anything. The government cannot forcefully amalgamate,” she said.
Mill Hill and Bondi Junction Precinct spokesperson Marcella McAdams said Council had ignored the combined precinct vote against amalgamation last November.
“The Council uses the precincts on many occasions to consult, to engage them in projects… but if they don’t like what they hear, they just ignore it,” she said.
Liberal councillor Andrew Cusack said that while his first preference was Waverley standing alone, the council needed to propose an amalgamation to be sustainable.
“At the moment we are not fit for the future, we can’t sustain our infrastructure,” he said.
“If they put a gun to my head and say do you want to go with the City of Sydney or with someone else, I’d rather go with Randwick,” he said.
The decision was put to a rescission motion by Labor, Greens and Independent councillors, which was scheduled for last Sunday June 14.
Residents and community representatives, such as Marcella McAdam, were disappointed the meeting was scheduled on a Sunday, as this was an unsuitable time for many concerned residents who wished to attend.
But the meeting was quickly adjourned, after a planned walkout by Greens and Labor, led by Independent councillor Miriam Guttman-Jones.
The meeting has been rescheduled for Sunday June 28.