BY LUCAS BAIRD
Council Amalgamations are set to cost independents their seats in local government, according to a Leichhardt councillor.
Independent Leichhardt Councillor John Stamolis, has voiced concerns that under the current amalgamation proposal councils will be dominated by the two major parties.
He claimed that this move by the government was the end of grassroot independents, citing that the increase in Council size would raise the stakes, leading to a likely increase in campaigning costs.
He said this would make things too expensive for the average person.
“This will be a big loss to local democracy,” Clr Stamolis told City Hub.
“Minor parties will be marginalised if amalgamations proceed while independents could be excluded entirely.”
“Labor and Liberal will dominate all three levels of government. Local community democracy and local representation will go backwards while control by the major parties will be overbearing,” he said
Cllr Stamolis found support from the nearby Ashfield Council, who Leichhardt and Marrickville will combine with if the amalgamations go ahead.
Independent Ashfield Councillor, Caroline Stott said that a council dominated by the Liberal and Labor parties would decrease accountability in local government.
“The important thing about local government is that you are close to your community,” Clr Stott said.
“If you’re in a situation where you don’t have to be accountable to your residents to get re-elected, some people may be liable not to listen so carefully to the residents.”
“I pride myself that I have always done that,” she said.
But not all independent councillors were supportive of Clr Stamolis.
As Independent Marrickville Councillor, Victor Macri, said that whether or not independents are elected in the new system is not up to them.
Clr Macri, a staunch supporter of amalgamations, indicated that it is not about making sure independents get elected but ensuring that communities get a better form of government.
“Whether I’m elected or whether I’m not isn’t important in the scheme of things. The most important thing is the local residents and getting the best value for them and the best representation is going to be achieved through elections,” Clr Macri said.
He refuted the notion that less councillors made it increasingly difficult for independents.
“It might be a bit more difficult for independents to get up if there are no wards, but if there are three wards or five councillors, independents will stand a good chance,” he said.
A spokesperson for the Minister for Local Government, Paul Toole, stated that there was no evidence to support the claim made by Clr Stamolis, and that previously merged councils still have independents in them.
The spokesperson also said that elected representation is “key factor” that the examining delegates will consider in their report to the Minister.
Forced amalgamations were cast into doubt last week, as Woollahra and Mosman councils considered legal challenges to the state government.