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Residents ‘don’t want secrecy’: Motion to install Inner West de-amalgamation timeline defeated

Demerger

Independent councillor John Stamolis has said the decision to schedule an extraordinary council meeting for 10:30pm is 'ridiculous'. Photo: Peter Boyle.

By PATRICK MCKENZIE

A Greens motion to develop a timeline for the demerger of Inner West Council into its former three local government areas has been defeated behind the resistance of the eight-seat Labor bloc, with councillor Philippa Scott calling the item “redundant.”

At a meeting on Tuesday night, councillor Justine Langford moved to develop a timeline for preparation of the business case for demerger, following council’s decision to commence preparation at its February meeting. 

The demerger process, which would split Inner West Council into its former three local government areas of Ashfield, Leichhardt and Marrickville, was approved following a residents’ poll at the December local elections last year, where Inner West residents were asked if they would support a move back to the three previous councils. 

Over 62 per cent of residents voted in favour of de-amalgamation, despite Labor and Liberal councillors opposing the demerger poll when it was put at a meeting last May.

The Local Government Act was amended last year to streamline the de-amalgamation process. Councils may submit proposals to the Minister for Local Government which, if approved, would receive funding from the NSW government for associated demerger costs.

Labor, which now holds a one-seat majority in the Inner West, supported preparing a business case for demerger during February’s meeting but defeated a previous motion by Cr Langford to develop a timeline, transparency standards, and assure staff that no forced redundancies would take place.

“I hope that we will show the community that we actually are genuine in our development of a solid business case and we are transparent in sharing information about the case,” Cr Langford said at Tuesday’s meeting.

Independent John Stamolis, who seconded the motion, commended Cr Langford’s efforts to “put some structure” behind the demerger process.

“There’s expectations out there in the community that we will keep them informed as to what’s going on with this huge poll … speaking to residents on a day to day basis, this is the first question that comes up,” he said.

Cr Scott spoke against the motion.

“I am confident that the staff we have are capable of getting on with the job of making a case for splitting up this council in a documentary way, while also getting on with their jobs and ours of running the Inner West Council,” she said.

“As adopted at the last meeting, the business case will be prepared thoroughly, the community will be included and kept informed … this motion is redundant.”

In response, Cr Langford said that the motion was not redundant, and that it was about “giving the community confidence”. 

“I don’t think it’s good enough to say that ‘yes, it will be done’, we need some structure and frameworks to show that we are actually professional and we have a plan, so I don’t think that’s too much to ask,” she said.

As at February’s meeting, the motion was defeated, with all Labor councillors voting against it.

Transparency, services and representation

Speaking to City Hub, Cr Langford said that residents “don’t want secrecy”. 

“In order to build trust with the community, information needs to be shared. Residents’ wishes were not respected with the forced amalgamation by the state government. Council must respect residents by providing a project timeline and opportunities for input,” she said. 

Resident Alice Kershaw had spoken in support of the motion earlier in the meeting. Noting that while council staff had been pleasant to deal with, many of her inquiries had gone unanswered.

“The services in my ward [Balmain] have declined, I have had to do a lot of my contact with council via phone and email. Council offices have never bothered to either ring me back or send me an email saying where my request is at … I support the demerger motion, but we need a guideline of the time to see how fast it can be done,” she said.

Cr Langford said “good governance dictates that this project follow best practice project management principles, that would include milestones, budget and timelines”. 

“Staff are the backbone of council. Since the forced merger staff have been through much instability, with restructures and loss of three general managers. Staff need to be treated with dignity and respect.”

Cr Langford added that the quality of services had declined since the amalgamation and that residents’ voices had been “silenced” in the larger council.

“Each councillor currently represents approximately 14,000 people, an impossibly large number. In a de-amalgamated council, this would reduce to 4,000-8,000 people per councillor. All of the councillors I’ve spoken to are sinking under the weight of the volumes of emails that they are receiving from Council and residents. It’s just too much!”

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