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NSW council amalgamations

By Bob Ryan - posted Friday, 27 January 2017


It was interesting that on the day following President Trump telling the people of the USA that they, the people, were taking back control, a mass turnout in Washington claimed they were taking back control. Yet President Trump and those in the mass turnout are on opposing sides. Because each side wants to improve the lot of their fellow Americans it would seem although the goal is common to both the means of achieving it differ. President Trump wants to do it his way and the protesters prefer the Democrats' way.

At the same time, in a very scaled-down version of a similar protest, representatives of the people in New South Wales demonstrated in favour of taking back control; in this instance, control of their local government areas. Here again, we have opposing sides seeking the same goal: i.e. better local government but, here again, the means of achieving it differ. The NSW government wants to do it one way and the protesters, another.

Looking to the historical records of democratic governments worldwide, we find many instances of governments acting within the law, but against the wishes and intentions of their people. (Going to war, nuclear power stations, requisitioning privately held real estate etc.) Governments are elected to make decisions, not all of which will please all their constituents. I think it's fair to say, like it or not, we accept that system of democratic government. What we rail against is the lack of consultation. And that is at the root of the NSW protests.

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Let's first go back to 1906 and NSW Premier Joseph Carruthers, who one might call the father of modern local government accountability to its ratepayers (which included both owners and tenants of properties). Carruthers' Bill proposed a freer, fairer and more open local government where all could be informed of their council's workings. Furthermore, he wanted interfering politicians out of local government administration. What he said then to the assembled mayors of municipalities, is worth repeating here, some 110 years later.

You should thank God that you are getting further and further away from political interference with regard to local government . . .there should be a spirit of self-reliance and self-help and that, with this power to govern yourselves you will rise to the occasion . . . that you will ask the government for power to govern yourselves and finance yourselves, and that the central government shall intermeddle with you as little as possible.

So what went wrong that central government intermeddling has resulted in so despotic a manner as to create so much unease among the locals?

Perhaps it all began in 1947 with the then government's "Eight Cities" plan for local government. In brief, local government areas in and around Sydney were to be reduced to eight by the creation of "cities", for example the City of Fairfield. From 1948 on, in one way and another, state governments of all colours have been determined to reduce the number of local government areas in NSW, some on the most spurious of excuses. It was said in the 1970s that Manly and Warringah should be amalgamated because everyone already thought they were; the Manly-Warringah Rugby league, proved this, as did a taxi service of the same name.

During the early 1980s public hearings were held at different locations around the sate to gather evidence in favour of amalgamations. This writer was allocated 30 minutes before one such hearing at 4.30pm. At the appointed time, the chairman of the meeting begged to be excused because he had a train to catch-and Sydney trains had to leave on time. My protest at his leaving was ignored until he was reminded that Mussolini placed a similar value of the punctuality of train movements.

Such was the interest in hearing individuals who had spent much time and effort in putting together an argument against amalgamations. Interestingly, the unity of Manly-Warringah was mentioned at that hearing, to which the response was made that it was difficult to see how the America-Australia Association makes both countries a unity. Such was the low level of argument; the committee into local government had no time for anti-amalgamationers.

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More recently, the NSW government claimed it wanted to hear from everyone on the subject and gave an email address for contact (Larissa.Mallinson@dpc.nsw.gov.au.) My second email of May 30 2016 included the following:

I wrote to you per email on January 21 2016 referring to an academic study I undertook in 1981.

Since I received no response whatsoever I can only conclude that: (1) you didn't draw the Minister's attention to my message or (2) you did do so but the Minister chose to ignore it or (3) not all views, mine among them are considered.

During all my researches I found no evidence whatsoever that amalgamations have given any real benefit to the affected communities.

I have yet to receive any acknowledgement of either email. Indeed, research disclosed that the bigger a local government area grew, the tendency for corruption increased. Some members oflarge local government areas were given prison terms for corrupt practices.

Now that NSW has a new premier perhaps, she, like President Trump, can give power back to the people, or await the inevitable hour when they take it back. (Protestors: via the ballot box, please!)

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About the Author

Bob Ryan is a PhD candidate at Macquarie University; his thesis is on Censorship.

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Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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