By ALLISON HORE
Inner West residents will be polled in the upcoming local council elections asking if they would like to see the Inner West council split up.
Ever since the Leichhardt, Marrickville and Ashfield councils were forcibly amalgamated by the NSW Government in 2016, there has been controversy surrounding the decision. But with the local council elections in September fast approaching, the campaign for de-amalgamation has gained fresh momentum
Now, following a motion put forward at an extraordinary council meeting on Monday night, the community will be able to have their say.
A motion to investigate the possibility of de-amalgamation using new aspects of the Local Government Act was put forward by councillor Victor Macri, the former mayor of Marrickville, and independent councillor John Stamolis.
He said, in the Marrickville council, he was able to work effectively with councillors across party lines, despite disagreement. However, he says the mega-council created after amalgamation was much more politicised and less nuanced, and the community are noticing.
“The big beast is black and white,” he told the Inner West Independent.
“I’m a barber on Marrickville road, so I’m with the community every day, so I’m getting the direct feedback and there’s a huge dissatisfaction amongst the community. And a lot of it is directed to the politicisation of the council.”
Although councillor Macri was opposed to amalgamation, he hadn’t voted on previous motions for de-amalgamation as there was no clear pathway laid out for it, nor was their funding. But new amendments to the Local Government Act put in a place mechanism to allow council demergers funded by the NSW Government to take place.
The weight of a vote
Mr. Macri’s motion was passed with an amendment by Inner West Greens councillor Colin Hesse asking residents get the vote they “always should have” on amalgamation. Mr. Hesse said putting the proposal to the people would give it “teeth.”
“The Minister for Local Government can ignore your vote, just as it can ignore a submission, but in the scale of things a vote has a lot more weight,” he said.
In order for a demerger to happen, a proposal to split must be submitted to the local government minister within 10 years of the new area being declared. With the Inner West Council being proclaimed on the 12th May 2016, a proposal would need to be submitted before May 2026.
When the minister receives the proposal, they would refer it to the boundaries commission who will return to the minister with a publicly available recommendation. The minister would then make a decision on whether to allow a demerger, should it be allowed, the minister will ensure council receives appropriate funding or grants to make it happen.
Pip Hinman, Socialist Alliance candidate for Damun (Stanmore) ward, has been campaigning for a community vote on de-amalgamation for months. She was one of seven members of the public to speak at the extraordinary meeting addressing the de-amalgamation motion. All but one of the speakers supported the proposal.
Ms. Hinman welcomed the council’s move and said, throughout her time engaging with the public, she has received “strong community feedback” that the merged council did not appropriately represent the interests of the people.
“It was good to see a united front of Greens and independent councillors putting the community first — supporting our right to have a direct say in the forced amalgamations,” she said.
“This simple act of democracy is already starting to spark community discussions about how deamalgamation could still share community resources across councils while improving community representation and empowerment.”