June 25 - July 1, 2017: Issue 318

The Local Government Amendment (Amalgamation Referendums) Bill 2017 Passes Upper House

Bill to fix forced amalgamations passes Upper House

In a win for communities and councils across the state, the Upper House passed The Local Government Amendment (Amalgamation Referendums) Bill to end forced council amalgamations on Thursday, June 22nd.

All parties other than the government have voted to halt all outstanding forced amalgamation proposals until residents are given their say in a binding referendum. The bill also gives residents in councils that have been forcibly amalgamated the right to a binding vote on de-amalgamation.

The Greens also successfully moved an amendment to ensure that no council amalgamation can ever happen again without first holding a referendum in local communities. This protects local democracy in the future.

Robert Borsak MP stated on Thursday:
“Today I took the first steps into injecting democracy into the NSW Liberal Party / NSW Nationals forced council amalgamations process. The Upper House passed the Shooters Fishers and Farmers Party Local Government Bill to ensure voter plebiscites are conducted in already merged councils and in any future mergers. We need to put the LOCAL back in Local Government.

Why is the Coalition Government stopping local residents from having a say on their councils future?

It is now up to the NSW Nationals to cross the floor in the Lower House when our MP Philip Donato introduces this Bill when we return from the winter break.”

Greens MP and Justice Spokesperson David Shoebridge said:
“Communities had a great win today with the Upper House passing a bill to end forced council amalgamations.

“The Greens, the Shooters, Labor and the CDP have put their differences to one side and voted for a bill that will fix the forced amalgamation mess.

“This bill says that all outstanding forced amalgamation proposals must be halted until residents have their say at the ballot box.

“The bill also ensures that all the communities disenfranchised by the Coalition’s forced amalgamations in 2016 will be given the right to vote on de-amalgamating.

“The Greens successfully moved a crucial amendment to stop this or any future government from amalgamating councils without first holding a binding referendum of local residents. This protects local democracy in the future.

“This bill will now go down to the lower house, where the Coalition has one more chance to right a wrong on a failed and undemocratic policy.

“Premier Berejiklian must now listen to communities, councils, courts, the Upper House and abandon her failed forced amalgamation agenda.

This is an opportunity to pull back from her government’s deeply unpopular forced amalgamations and start to restore faith with communities from Tumbarumba and Leichhardt to Pittwater and Gundagai.” Mr Shoebridge said.

The Legislative Assembly next sits on Tuesday August 1st 2017.

On Friday proponents confirmed the bill will go to the Lower House in the first week of August and be introduced by S&F MP, Philip Donato.

David Shoebridge (The Greens), Robert Borsak (SF&F) and Phil Jenkyn (SOCC) after The Local Government Amendment (Amalgamation Referendums) Bill 2017 passed.

Reaction in Pittwater to the news has been positive, although many residents point out it is expected the incumbents with the numbers will simply ‘step on’ the Bill. However, the NSW Parliament’s Legislative process explained webpage lends insight into the processes that determine that ‘stepping on’ this bill may not quickly silence what this Bill contains:

Consideration by the other House - The Presiding Officer or Chair advises the House that a message has been received seeking concurrence with a bill. (This replaces the notice of motion stage in the House of origin.) The bill then proceeds through all remaining stages in the second House before being returned to the House of origin, either with the second House's agreement or with amendments for consideration by the House of origin.

Consideration of amendments by the House of origin - Bills that have been returned to the House of origin with amendments from the second House are considered in the consideration in detail stage (LA) or Committee of the Whole (LC). If the amendments are agreed to in the House of origin, the bill is sent to the Governor for assent. If, however, the amendments are not agreed to, both Houses exchange messages until agreement is reached or the bill is set aside.

Where agreement cannot be reached, and the House of origin does not wish to lay the bill aside, a conference and joint sitting of both Houses can be held to discuss the bill. If necessary, the Legislative Assembly can then submit the bill to the people of NSW by referendum, under section 5B of the Constitution Act 1902.

Bob Grace, Protect Pittwater community group, who are currently formulating a legal challenge to Pittwater’s forced amalgamation, stated:
“The passage of The Local Government Amendment (Amalgamation Referendums) Bill through the Upper House shows that the thought and feeling in communities regarding forced amalgamations has not abated and the fight to reinstate them is not going away. It is time for this government to own the mistake that has been made and address reinstating councils where they have been taken away, against the clearly expressed wishes of those residents these local government bodies represented.”

Long Title: An Act to amend the Local Government Act 1993 to require referendums to be held in relation to the amalgamation or proposed amalgamation of local councils.

Save Our Councils Coalition (SOCC)  forwarded the following media release on Friday June 23rd, 2017:

In a unique multi party initiative in the NSW Parliament’s Upper House Members of the Legislative Council (MLCs) led by the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers (SFF) Party Robert Borsak and the Greens David Shoebridge, have voted for a bill demanding the demolition of the Berejiklian Government’s Council Amalgamation Policy.

They were supported by the Labor Party and Christian Democrats and all other parties, except the Liberals and Nationals. The other supporting parties joined together to send the bill to the Lower House. All voted in favour of a number of key issues including a demand for plebiscites to be held in council areas already amalgamated. That will gauge a community’s rejection or support of the Coalition’s council amalgamation policy. The Upper House also voted for binding referendums in areas threatened by amalgamations and fighting forced mergers in court.

Save our Council Coalition (SOCC) said a vote for support of this bill in the Lower House would be difficult but that its passing showed the stature of the Upper House of the NSW State Parliament as the People’s House and this was a vote for restoration of democracy for local communities and the many councils already forcibly merged by the State Government.

“Thursday’s June 22 vote is an embarrassment for the Berejiklian Government that deceptively by passed the Parliament to ram through its despised forced council amalgamation agenda. The Upper House has shown it will not put up with Parliamentary action without the approval of their MLCs,” said SOCC spokesman Phil Jenkyn.

“We place a very high value on what the Upper House has done and it is now time for all those Liberals and National Party members who secretly oppose this forced merger agenda to stand up and vote with the other parties in the Lower House and pass this bill. Otherwise many of them stand to lose their seats at the next State election,” Jenkyn added.

“We will tell their communities that MPs that do not vote for this bill, that will restore democracy to local government, should not be supported in the next election. The result will be that, like the Orange by election the loss of government seats,” Jenkyn added.

Independant Local Government Review Community Forum Dee Why 4.6.2013