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With the stroke of a pen…

The Inner West Council elections will take place on December 4. Photo: The Monty Python Partnership/Universal Pictures.

Opinion by PETER HEHIR

It was a toss-up whether this piece should be titled “Damned lies and statistics” or the one that I particularly liked, “The machine that goes ping!”

The latter is of course a reference to the delivery room scene in Monty Python’s brilliant 20th-century satire “The Meaning of Life”.

But then again it could also be called “Life imitates art”, but though it is right on the money, (no pun intended), it isn’t anywhere near as catchy.

But as you read on, you’ll see why I chose “With the stroke of a pen”.

In Python’s classic film, as the doctors in the delivery room are warned that the hospital administrator is on his way, all manner of equipment is rushed into the room and brought to bear, in order that he might be hugely impressed, especially when he sees the machine that goes ping!

The administrator enquires “What sort of thing are you doing this morning?” and he is informed that it is called a “birth.”

His response is “And what kind of procedure is that?”

Cleese replies “That’s when we take a new baby out of a lady’s tummy”. The administrator’s response is typically Python; “It’s wonderful what we can do nowadays”.

It’s what comes next however that is particularly illuminating.

This is what is germane to the situation with the actual deficit that the forcibly amalgamated Inner West Council (IWC) is weighed down under.

Coming to Council

The administrator goes on to explain in accounting speak how the cost of the machine that goes “ping” (his favourite), is written off because they lease it back from the company that they sold it to, that way it comes under the Monthly Current Budget as opposed to the Capital Account.

Bookkeeping and especially the double-entry system never made any sense at all to me in school and I’m certain there is no way it ever will. The Python write-down defies my kind of logic. Just like the IWC’s disappearing $6,000,000 or $20,000,000, depending on who you talk to.

The deficit has de-materialised overnight.

It’s vanished!

It’s clear the beauty of Python’s satirical logic has not been lost on those creative accountants at the Inner West Council and, so, as if by magic – presumably in response to adverse public reaction generated by the proponents of the YES vote in relation to de-amalgamation, the deficit has gone with the wind!

In a trick worthy of the world’s best conjuror, it’s been made to just disappear!

IWC Councillor John Stamolis recently stated, “we know that the IWC is currently producing annual chronic deficits”.

The ratepayers and residents of the IWC are also acutely aware that the Inner West Council is in deep financial trouble.

Money Moves

The forebodings have come to pass, so the IWC goes into damage control and all of a sudden, with the simple stroke of a pen, hey presto, we are now in surplus!

For those with a head for such matters, Save our Councils Coalition (SOCC) President, accountant and finance professional Brian Halstead, has drilled down into the IWC’s finances, lifted the fiscal veil and published a paper titled “A Sea of Red Ink”.

This is essential reading for those with a monetary mind or a belief in public accountability.

In that document, Brian Halstead said back in 2019, “There has been virtually no reporting of the savings, costs and results of amalgamations by the councils nor any demand by the Office of Local Government for any reporting.”

Mr Halstead also notes “that it is scandalous that merged councils are not delivering ongoing financial reports to show how and if they are meeting proposal results”.

Even the recent and what has been described by many as the somewhat biased pro-IWC Morrison Lowe report, clearly states that the IWC is in deficit and will continue to be in deficit for the next nine years!

In a Radio Skid Row interview with IWC Councillor Colin Hesse a few days ago Brian confirmed that the amalgamated IWC was supposed to be making a surplus of over $30,000,000 by 2021.

The reality is that we are in the red to the tune of some $20,000,000!

It is truly amazing just what can be achieved with the stroke of a pen – worth remembering that on the 4th of December.

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