City News

Sydney councillors slam local government conference

Sydney Town Hall

The first annual Local Government NSW (LGNSW) Conference, hosted in Sydney from October 1-3, has been branded a disappointment by City of Sydney councillors of various political hues.

Criticisms of the content and calibre of the conference were expressed, with complaints about sexism looming especially large.

In a statement released late last week, Greens Councillor Irene Doutney criticised what she saw as “a return to the old boys’ club”.

“In a weak local government conference, the ‘old boys’ have been returned to the main office bearer positions,” said Ms Doutney. “No women have been elected to office bearer positions.”

Ms Doutney went on to attack the conference’s procedural structure, expressing concerns about the lack of opportunities to ask questions.

“It is extremely concerning that the standing orders … prevent any delegate raising any business from the floor,” she said.

“It is further concerning that the conference has not allowed questions on the financial reports [or] following speeches from State Opposition Leader John Robertson and Local Government Minister Don Page.

“The conference was confused and lacked structure and accountability,” she said.

At the other end of the political spectrum, Liberal Councillor Christine Forster also noted the lack of female representation.

“There’s a lack of women representatives in local government generally – that is reflected in the make-up of the board and the delegates. It’s certainly a problem in local government – though not at the City of Sydney, where seven of the ten councillors are women.”

Ms Forster, sister of Prime Minister Tony Abbott, had been considered a favourite in the LGNSW presidential election held during the conference, with commentators noting her high-level links to the O’Farrell and Abbott Governments – but Coffs Harbour councillor Keith Rhoades won the role of LGNSW President.

Labor Councillor Linda Scott said she was “incredibly disappointed” by the lack of women elected to the LGNSW executive board, noting that of 24 people elected to the executive, just seven were female.

But Ms Scott said some good came out of the conference, and was pleased delegates upheld her concerns about changes to state planning laws.

“I moved an amendment in the planning debate, which was accepted, to express very strong concern about the State Government’s proposed changes to planning laws,” she said.

Ms Scott’s amendment called on the State Government to ensure community consultation, and said planning decisions must be made with infrastructure provisions in mind.

Living Sydney Councillor Angela Vithoulkas also voiced criticisms of the conference, and said she found the opening night at Town Hall “offensive”.

“I really think that in this day and age, we could have done without the drinks dollies dressed in burlesque outfits,” she said. “You had all these male councillors leering, being served drinks by scantily-clad girls – it was very derogatory and degrading.

“I don’t know what the point of the conference was,” she added. “There seemed to be more emphasis on the correct placement of semi-colons than anything substantial.”

By contrast, Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore refused to comment on the conference. A spokesperson for the Lord Mayor said all questions should be directed to LGNSW.

Keith Rhoades, in his capacity as LGNSW President, said: “To date, LGNSW has not received a single complaint from City of Sydney councillors or any other council. Delegates will soon receive a survey on the first LGNSW Conference to obtain their feedback, both positive and negative, so that we can make improvements to future conferences.”

Mr Rhoades said elections for the LGNSW board were conducted by the Australian Electoral Commission “in a democratic and fair manner” with “no impediments to women being nominated for board positions”.

 

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