BY BENEDICT BRUNKER
A motion rejecting the amalgamation of Waverley, Woollahra and Randwick councils was put to an extraordinary meeting of Waverley Council last Tuesday, only for the debate to be quashed by what Labor Councillor John Wakefield described as “procedural gag motion”.
The resignation of NSW Premier Mike Baird and his succession by Gladys Berejiklian cast doubt over the inevitability of forced amalgamations in the state, however the NSW government announced on Tuesday that the amalgamations in urban areas of NSW would go ahead as planned.
The motion put to the council last Tuesday by Waverley’s three Labor councillors, John Wakefield, Paula Masselos and Ingrid Stewe, sought to capitalise on that doubt by proclaiming the council’s opposition to the merger, and recalling three preceding motions of the council which had also opposed it.
A procedural motion aimed at preventing a debate and final vote was supported by six Liberal Party councillors and passed on the strength of Mayor of Waverley and Chairwoman Councillor Sally Betts’ casting vote.
“We spent two hours arguing the procedural motion to quash the debate. [The motion] wasn’t even debated, they weren’t even prepared to discuss it,” Cr Wakefield told City Hub.
Cr Wakefield described the use of the procedural motion as “unprecedented on Waverley Council” in the decades that he has been there.
“We used every technique we could muster to try and bring them back to simply debate the item on the agenda. But it was never debated. They attempted to defer it indefinitely but they ended up only deferring it until a decision was taken by the State Liberal Party.”
That decision was taken on Tuesday, as the NSW government announced that all pending amalgamations in urban areas of NSW would proceed quickly once any ongoing legal battles had been won, while amalgamations in rural areas would be scrapped.
It therefore remains possible that the motion will be debated by the council at a later date.
The motion called on NSW MP for Vaucluse and recently appointed NSW Minister for Local Government Gabrielle Upton to oppose the merger, citing comments she made in opposition to the merger in a speech delivered to Vaucluse residents last October.
In that speech Ms. Upton criticised the idea of a merger, saying “local is local…my position is that Woollahra Council should not be merged with other councils if it has the community’s support and the [financial] numbers stack up”.
Not only does Ms. Upton’s new portfolio as Minister for Local Government include council amalgamations, but her seat of Vaucluse encompasses both Woollahra and Waverley councils, two of the three set to be merged along with Randwick under the State Government’s plans.
However, any serious opposition to the amalgamation on the part of Ms. Upton now looks unlikely, following the State Government’s announcement that forced amalgamations would go ahead.
The mayor of Waverly Council, Sally Betts was unavailable for comment.