By Michael Forno
On Tuesday August 23, the unelected Inner West Council met for the third time since its appointment by the Baird government.
The published meeting agenda ran to over 600 pages, yet failed to include WestConnex or urban growth as agenda items.
The exclusion of these issues was met with ire, most strongly from Rochelle Porteous, former Leichhardt Mayor.
“It’s important our message is loud and clear, that this is unacceptable. We don’t want an Inner West Council, we want our councils back because they were all strong advocates. They were all effective in the research and campaigning work they were doing against WestConnex,” she said.
“We want the community to have a voice and it doesn’t at the moment. What little voice it had in this forcibly amalgamated council has been completely shut down now. So it’s important that we get WestConnex and urban growth put up as standing items on the agenda.”
Prior to the meeting aggrieved residents and the No WestConnex community group gathered outside the old Ashfield Council Chambers.
Addressing the crowd, Pauline Jenson of Balmain questioned the legitimacy and effectiveness of the Inner West Council meetings.
“Back in April we had the sham meeting of submissions at the Ashfield League Club and as we know ninety five per cent of people who spoke were against WestConnex. So what happened?” she said.
“They didn’t listen, and the same thing is happening here tonight. We register, we go up and talk for a few minutes, but that’s all it is, it’s just a sham process. Tick a box, we are listening to the community, and nothing comes from it.”
The chant of ‘Stop WestConnex’ was repeated as residents filed into the chambers where the discontent continued.
Richard Pearson, the temporary Administrator of the Inner West Council, opened the meeting with a late addition to the meeting agenda.
“There is a late administrator’s agenda item being circulated in relation to WestConnex but there are a whole host of other items on the agenda as well,” he said.
Speaking on the minutes of the previous meeting Ms Porteous took the floor.
“I don’t acknowledge the legitimacy of the Administrator who has been appointed by the Baird Government,” she said.
“This Administrator has made comments in the past about the fact that he finds WestConnex rather tiresome to have in council meetings because it’s so time consuming.”
“We apologise for the fact that it is time consuming but it happens to be consuming us. It’s consuming us because it is the most relevant, most important and most devastating issue for us.”
“This is not something that can be arbitrarily kicked off the agenda. So I would ask that the Administrator assure that WestConnex be a standing item on every council agenda and that urban growth is also a standing item on every agenda. To not do this is to acknowledge that you are simply playing the agenda of the state government, and you are wantonly ignoring the community.”
Mr Pearson was reluctant to concede that these standing items appear on every future agenda.
“We do need to work out whether WestConnex is a standing item on the agenda moving forward. Rochelle, it’s not off the agenda, it’s been on the agenda for the last three meetings, and it’s on the agenda tonight,” he said.
John Lozano of Haberfield made an impassioned appeal to the Mr Pearson, that he act on the issue of WestConnex or resign as Administrator.
“Barely six weeks ago I stood here and cautiously welcomed your comments. ‘This council opposes WestConnex in the strongest possible terms’. I thought we had a champion in our midst,” he said.
“Since then I have asked, what have you done? Today I ask that same question, but it’s rhetorical. Your replies have been skimpish at best and you don’t even record comments in your minutes.”
“If you intend to do nothing then I ask that you please step aside and let someone who can do something to fill your spot. If you continue to do nothing and refuse to step aside then I’d like to remind you of the number 13, an unlucky number for some. But 13 is the number of months that you and your magnificent seven have left before you are removed from our sights.”
Mr Peason was adamant that the council was taking appropriate measures to reflecting community sentiment on WestConnex.
“I have obtained legal advise, there is further advise to come, unfortunately our SC has been detained by local council merger matters, but that will hopefully be something that can be reported to future council meetings.”
“I do appreciate your contributions and I’m not going to change my recommendation but I will give consideration to the request that it be a standing item.”
Like previous council meetings pre-registration was mandatory and a private strong security firm was present, however no police were involved.
Other items on the agenda included the redevelopment of Summer Hill’s Flour Mill, Ashfield Aquatic Centre, and Balmain’s Fenwick Building.