Inner West Independent

Inner West candidates pledge to put residents first on next term of Council

Pauline Lockie (left) and Philippa Scott (right) both discussed the importance of putting residents first. Photo: Mark Dickson.

By DANIEL LO SURDO

Nine select Inner West candidates discussed their desire to work for the community after a tumultuous inaugural Inner West Council term. 

At City Hub’s Inner West Candidates’ Forum earlier this month, those contesting local office at the December 4 elections were quizzed on their desire to either continue in or enter the Inner West Council environment, which has gained a disruptive, combative reputation during its four years of existence. 

“It’s really depressing how much I’ve heard from my fellow colleagues and myself that we’ve experienced anxiety, depression and mental health issues,” Deputy Mayor Pauline Lockie said at the forum. 

“It’s ridiculous because what we should actually be here for is doing good for the community … you should be focused on the council and working well here.”

In 2019, Cr Lockie publicly apologised to Cr Darcy Byrne in response to allegations made by others on a ten-month-old Facebook post published by Lockie, who said they were “false and defamatory of his good character”.

Cr Byrne reposted the apology on his Facebook and Twitter with additional comments directed at Cr Lockie, resulting in Cr Lockie filing a code of conduct complaint. The NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal upheld six allegations of misconduct by Cr Byrne around conflict of interest issues that arose from motions tabled related to his defamation claim. 

This term has also been marred by the turnover of council staff, whereby three general managers have taken office in the past four years. 

“I don’t want to see a situation where general managers are walking out and it’s in the paper that they’ve done that because they’ve fallen out with particular people on council, that is an absurd situation for any council to find itself in,” Cr Lockie said. 

In March, acting Inner West General Manager Brian Barrett announced he would be leaving the posting three weeks earlier than expected following difficulties dealing with the then Mayor Byrne. 

Just weeks prior to Barrett’s resignation, Cr Byrne referred Inner West Council to the Auditor General’s office for investigation over the repeated delays of the Dawn Fraser Bath’s reopening, in a move that Barrett labelled an ‘enormous betrayal’

Working Together

With a tumultuous term concluding, there is hope among candidates that the elections can bring a renewed focus to council. 

“What residents want from us is a council that is focused on them,” Labor candidate Philippa Scott said. 

“I can’t tell you the number of times that people have said to me that they’d like council to stop talking about the council, when I’m out on the street people want to hear about what we’re doing, about services and infrastructure, they want to know about planting trees and cycleways. 

“They just want us to be dedicated to them, I really hope that this is the last time we do have a conversation that is about the council, and the only conversations going forward are about what we can deliver for residents.” 

Cr Lockie pledged to work “across different party lines” in a collective fashion should she be reelected on December 4. 

“Council isn’t our plaything, it is there to service our local community and work collaboratively with council staff as well,” she said. 

“What I would want to see happen in the next term of council [is] that we work together, that doesn’t mean that we have to agree all the time, there’s a reason why there’s 15 of us … but we shouldn’t be destroying each other as a result of it.” 

Fellow Independent candidate Vera-Ann Hannaford echoed Lockie’s sentiment.

“I would like to think that councillors go into council to represent residents,” she said. 

“They shouldn’t be standing up saying their own views, they should be talking to you, finding out what you want, and carrying out your instructions.” 

Socialist Alliance candidate Pip Hinman thought that there could be “more structures to help residents play a much bigger role” on council’s decision-making processes, and called for more transparency and accountability following the elections. 

Talking De-Amalgamation 

Candidates were also quizzed on the amalgamation poll that will accompany the ballot papers early next month. 

Councillors resolved in June to hold a poll that would ask residents on whether Inner West Council should de-amalgamate after Ashfield, Leichhardt and Marrickville Councils were forcibly combined by the NSW Government in May 2016. 

“To think that this is a key topic for our community five and a half years after the merger took place means we are in serious problems and means that our community are concerned about it,” Cr John Stamolis told the forum. 

“This was put together in the wrong way, it was a very flawed approach to intergenerational reform of local government.”

Labor councillor Mark Drury thought that it was “too late to unscramble the egg” of amalgamation, yet promised to take action should residents decide to de-amalgamate. 

“If the people vote strongly in favour of [de-amalgamation], obviously then we as elected representatives will prosecute that with the State Government,” he said. 

“We would argue to not support doing that, but we are having that vote.”

Under three Labor mayors, council previously lobbied for residents to have a “right to vote and a say” about the forced amalgamation but failed to gain any traction. 

The NSW Government has said that costs associated with a de-amalgamation would be fully funded by the State. 

“The most important thing is that the community is being given the chance to have a say,” Greens candidate Liz Atkins said. 

“We’ve lost our local, we’ve lost the number of councillors who understand the area that we live in, not that councillors don’t try to understand other wards and the issues there, but I think the community feels that we’ve lost that.”

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