Inner West Independent

De-amalgamate or perish?

Still from a video of a recent community bicycle ride event calling for the de-amalgamation of the Inner West Council. Photo: Youtube/Isaac Nellist

Opinion by PETER HEHIR

Those of you who have been following my opinion pieces in City Hub over the last two or three years are well aware of my attitude towards politicians in general; and the major political parties in particular.

I was an avid supporter, and still am, of the Open Council concept first established here in the Leichhardt Municipality by those working class champions Nick Orriglass and Issy Wyner way back in the 1970s and early ’80s. 

By and large, local residents own the area in which they live. Their idea was simple. Those residents have, at the very least, a moral, if not a legal right to the sort of representation that accurately reflects the wishes, hopes and aspirations of their local communities.

People who rent in an area have these same rights; to ensure, demand even, that the amenity that they possess, in concert with their owner occupier neighbours, isn’t diminished by the actions of either the local, State or Federal Governments.

Local government isn’t just about the three R’s; rates, roads and rubbish. 

Local Government must be truly local. Local representatives have a huge workload and an equally big responsibility. But, above all, their primary function is to ensure the protection of the amenity of those who elected them.

The further away you are, the more difficult it is to see. This is particularly true of local government.

Councillors are not elected to further their own political careers, to make decisions solely with an eye on winning the approval of their political masters, in either of the Liberal or Labor Parties. They are there to do a job for their constituents.

Pure and simple…

Whichever way you look at it, the Inner West Council amalgamation has been a debacle from its inception.

It was urged by the State Government, with all the spin that went with it; suggesting that “bigger is better”, “it will be more cost effective”, “rates will be reduced”, “services can be provided much more cheaply due to economies of scale”, and “we can draw on the collective expertise of those senior employees in all three councils” etc.. 

On and on it went; this spiel touted in a similar vein by those whose agenda it is to deride and swat like flies, those annoying residents who dare to stand up against the might of the formidable political machines massing against them; and to fight against them for the good of their communities.

The amalgamation reality however is so very, very different. It’s the total antithesis of the Minerva that was promised. The Council is massively in debt. Almost $7 million now! 

We are a long, long way from the Promised Land!

It’s much more difficult now to contact your local councillor. The mayor lost me when he brokered a deal with the Liberals to keep the more community-minded majority on the new mega council out of power, thus ensuring that he held the reins. 

This unholy alliance simply beggars belief!

The wholesale dissatisfaction with the Inner West Council by residents right throughout the many suburbs who now find themselves all lumped in together, is widespread and continues to grow. Council meetings are never completed. The agenda is so huge as to prevent reasoned debate on the really important issues. At the May meeting there were 54 items on the agenda – when the meeting was closed after 11p.m. just seven had been dealt with!

It’s so much more difficult to get the time to express opinions on purely local matters.

There are many who feel that neither of the major parties have any business fielding representatives in local council elections. It appears this demonstrably undemocratic and aberrant behaviour is by no means nationwide. There are a number of States where this practice is unheard of and where NSW is looked upon with some bemusement.

However we do have a glimmer of hope. 

If the elected members of the IWC can be persuaded to act in the interests of the residents of the Inner West and vote to de-amalgamate this unworkable mega monster, then hopefully local representation can be restored.

The problem is we have just 10 days in which to do this. The IWC can vote to apply to have a poll included on the ballot paper at the Council elections on September 4th. But the application MUST be lodged before the end of May… 

This will only happen if you contact your local council representative as soon as you finish reading this and plead calmly and rationally that she or he vote according to their conscience and not blindly fall in step with a pre-meeting, party-caucused position.

A conscience vote to reflect the de-amalgamation wishes of the vast majority is the only just, fair and democratic way to put this right. 

And have the State Government foot the bill!

So little time. So much to do…

A community vigil will be held before the extraordinary meeting on Monday May 24, 5.30pm at the Ashfield Service Centre, 260 Liverpool Road, Ashfield.

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