May 5 - 11, 2024: Issue 624


Failure of demerger poll vote shows problem with Labor proposal

Protect Pittwater members at the April 30, 2024 Council Meeting

The failure of Northern Beaches Council at this week’s meeting to support calls for a demerger poll shows Labor’s Bill for changes to deamalgamation pathways is unworkable.

Pittwater Greens Councillor Miranda Korzy said (May 4, 2024) she submitted a motion for a demerger poll to be held at the September 14 council election, the cheapest way to administer the vote. 

However, a Liberal Councillor, Cr. Gencher, seconded by another Liberal Councillor, Cr. Page, had amended the motion to remove the poll, replacing it with a set of steps that would not provide that vote.

These included:

  • Receive an urgent briefing prior to the May ordinary meeting on the outcome of an internal preliminary desktop analysis of the financial implications of a demerger of the three former council areas of Pittwater, Warringah and Manly.
  • Receive an urgent report at the May ordinary meeting setting out:
    • The details of the analysis; and
    • A strategy for gathering community feedback on the analysis and the cost of conducting a Poll at the local government elections via ‘Your Say’, including to receive community or other professional analysis undertaken on the Council’s analysis.
  • Receive a report, at the June ordinary meeting, summarising the outcome of the community feedback and implications of conducting a Poll.
  • Note that, if it so chooses, it can resolve at its June meeting to hold a Poll regarding de-amalgamation or any other matter.

The amendment ended with a statement of the obvious - that councillors could still vote for a poll at a later meeting.

“The crux of the issue was to provide the community with the vote denied to us when we were amalgamated in 2016,” Ms Korzy said.

“It is something that is fundamental to democracy.

“Here we have an example of a council not prepared to recognise this fact and instead voting for a grab bag of consolation prizes.  

The problem with Labor’s demerger proposals is that they require amalgamated councils to vote for a poll that threatens their own demise.

“As one resident said later, ‘Turkeys don’t vote for Christmas’.

“The council’s financial situation is already clear from the budget papers and it’s not rosy.

“However, my motion also called for: a desktop business analysis, giving staff the opportunity to put their best foot forward - but with a longer timeframe. 

“Additionally, I had called for the report to discuss geographic cohesion, communities of interest, and democratic representation.”  

Labor when in Opposition amended the Local Government Act (Section 218CC) to create a council led pathway for communities that could demonstrate a majority wished to de-amalgamate from their forcibly merged council. 

The amendment “218CC Proposals for de-amalgamations” specified (6) that the government would pay for the deamalgamation:

“(6) The Minister is, by making grants under section 620 or using money otherwise appropriated by Parliament for the purpose, to ensure that the cost of any de-amalgamation of the new area resulting from a business case submitted under this section is fully funded,” the amendment said.

Labor also promised at the previous two state elections that it would introduce amendments to the Local Government Act to give small communities a say, via a referendum.

Now, however, Labor’s Bill allows only amalgamated councils, rather than communities in the former council areas, to petition for a referendum.

Labor is expected to bring forward its Bill in Parliament this week, and has listed it for Tuesday May 7th on the Business Papers.

Simon Dunn, president of Protect Pittwater, in addressing the April 30 Council Meeting in support of Cr. Korzy’s Motion, stated:

Madam Mayor & Councillors, I am the president of Protect Pittwater.

After 8 years of an amalgamated council I think it is fair to say that the honeymoon is well and truly over and the myth that achieving ‘scale and capacity’ will solve the real problems facing NSW Councils is well and truly busted.

In tonight’s agenda you are presented with the touching euphemism of an “an emerging financial sustainability issue” – which is really a forecast deficit of $5.8M for 2025 – and more alarmingly a funding gap of $151 million for infrastructure over the coming years – all leading to the likelihood of a 7.7% special increase in rates.

Already in June 2023 Council approved borrowing of $4.6M from the Mona Vale Cemetery Reserve to overcome cash flow pressures and to the shock of many in the Pittwater Community.

More recently your CEO has seen fit to create a new Executive Role of Chief Operating Officer which appears to be in response to the inordinate volume of ‘back office’ operational work taking up the CEO’s time.  Clearly, trying to manage one of the largest Councils in NSW is proving to be a far more challenging and costly task than the well-paid consultants, expert accountants and former NSW Baird Government all anticipated when they set scale and capacity as the only real criteria for forcibly merging NSW Councils in 2016.

As Cr Korzy notes in her introduction to her motion, even former members of the NSW Government have conceded the policy was fundamentally flawed.

Let me be clear Councillors, none of this is a criticism of you or your CEO or your hard working staff who are trying to make the best of an impossible situation.

In fact, Councillors, I think most of you are all community minded people who give up your leisure time and want to do your best to serve your local communities.  But how can do that effectively when all 15 of you need to vote of each issue brought before this Council – not just those effecting your particular wards.  This means you each have to have a detailed background and be across community views in each of the other wards – you don’t just say; ‘well that’s in Curl Curl Ward – I don’t need to know or understand that issue – I ‘ll leave it to the Councillor from that ward’ - you have to know every issue.

And this bring us back to the fundamental problem with a Council set-up to serve 250,000 residents across more than 25,000 hectares.  No matter how hard you work, you cannot be across every important issue which occurs in this region and inevitably many important issues will not be properly addressed.  Pittwater Council had 9 Councillors serving a community of only 60,000 and the workload on each volunteer councillor was incredibly burdensome.  

It is really an unfair ask to put this on you Councillors to vote for a poll that exposes you to the criticism, potentially, of your community. But unfortunately, the state government politicians have not passed legislation that gives us any other choice and Cr. Korzy’s Motion for a poll is the only option available.

Simon and Hannah Dunn, children of Pittwater's First Mayor, Robert Dunn

Protect Pittwater secretary Anna Ma=aria Monticelli also addressed the Meeting in support of the Motion, stating:

We all know, Pittwater residents never wanted to be amalgamated into a mega NBC.

The merger was forced upon them and they were never given a democratic choice.  

In fact, the process was done without their consent and with various deals behind the scenes.

The present situation to me is overwhelmingly obvious. 

Pittwater residents want their democratic rights to be restored and their destiny to be returned to the people who live in Pittwater.

In my experience, over the years the discontent has become enormous. 

You all know, Pittwater  residents are constantly in this chamber or emailing - complaining about council policies, DA’s- and the way their area is being governed. 

Yet they have NO REAL SAY - Which is a basic flaw in the way local government is supposed to work.

This issue is not going away, it is only going to become bigger and bigger as more people are thrust into a small area.

So, the discontent that you feel now, will turn into utter  rage – which you as a council, will have to deal with on a daily basis.   So will the state government’s back flip - on their promises before the last election. 

Surely, everyone here believes in democracy.

Surely you want the community to voice what they want. 

And surely you want to act on their wishes.

I urge the council to end this dispute – We’re not asking for a demerger. 

We’re asking for a Poll at the September election -  as to whether the majority of residents wish to demerge from the NBC.

I’m sure, if the results are  below 50%(only in Pittwater)  then the issue is settled and we will remain in the NBC.

If results are above 50% (only in Pittwater) then authorities and the political will from all parties must ensure Pittwater council is restored.

NSW Labor encourages councils to listen to their community who want  a Poll to solve the issue one way or another and be able to decide their own futures.

It is only fair and ethical because our rights were previously ignored and shanghaied into a council that we had no choice in.  

I’m sure everyone in Pittwater will respect the Poll result. 

Equally important  - It will give council a chance to test its sincerity in the eyes of the residents. And an opportunity to solve the issue and bring peace to the area.

Mr. Dunn further said afterwards;

‘’Pittwater Council was born from a community movement to establish a true community based council. In 1992 there was a real sense of ownership and pride in the Council which was built on the values of the community which established it.  Sadly, such a sense of community ownership is not possible across the entire Northern Beaches.

Inevitably, such an organisation has to be run more and more like big business and the possibility of Councillors being true local community representatives becomes more and more remote.

Then, what we end up with is at best a regional arm of the state government clashing with local communities and nothing like the model of Local Government which was intended to be the bridge between local communities and government.

Although not admitting it publicly, I think this underlying problem is recognised by many Councillors and staff who are struggling against the enormous size of the organisation they serve in.''

The Business papers for the lower house list for Tuesday May 7th:

Local Government Amendment (De-amalgamations) Bill; resumption of the adjourned debate, on the motion of Mr Ron Hoenig, “That this bill be now read a second time.” (Introduced 6 February 2024—Ms Steph Cooke*)

* Denotes Member who adjourned the debate

The upper house list for Tuesday May 7th: *365. Local Government Amendment (De-amalgamation Plebiscites) Bill 2023: resumption of the adjourned debate of the question on the motion of Dr Amanda Cohn: That this bill be now read a second time. 

In February this year the NSW Government’s announcement of the decision not to fund council de-amalgamations ''will make it virtually impossible for councils wishing to de-amalgamate'', according to Local Government NSW (LGNSW).

President of LGNSW Cr Darriea Turley said then it’s very disappointing that councils should have to carry the financial burden of unravelling amalgamated councils, which were forced on the community by the previous Coalition Government.

“Our communities did not want these amalgamations, which were foisted on them, yet now they are being expected to pay to return to the former status quo,” Cr Turley said.

“This is sleight of hand by the new State Government, which knows that councils do not have the tens of millions of dollars required to de-amalgamate.

“It’s a cunning public relations exercise by the State Government so that it looks good in the eyes of ratepayers by agreeing to allow de-amalgamations, while at the same time knowing councils cannot foot the bill to carry them out.”

She said de-amalgamating the larger councils may cost as much as $150 million, money which councils just do not have.

The former government amalgamated 44 councils across the state in 2016, mostly against the wishes of the local communities.

If councils choose to de-amalgamate, they will need to prepare a business case to be approved by the Minister for Local Government, and then hold a plebiscite of the local community.

Only then will the de-amalgamations be able to take place.

Earlier 2024 reports on this:
Former and sacked by the NSW Coalition Government Pittwater Council Councillor Sue Young and Cr. Miranda Korzy - making some noise at Macquarie Street on March 12 2024.
 Photo: Michael Mannington OAM

We consider the only future for this area and for the preservation of those ideals and policies for which we stand is to become an independent Shire … the need for this electoral reform has been clearly and sufficiently demonstrated to enable the Government to come to a decision and no longer forestall the issue. Put simply we call upon the Government to put the matter now to the people of A Riding to determine.

Warringah Shire Councillors Robert Dunn and Eric Green, representing A Riding 1990

Photo: 'Welcome to Pittwater signage at North Narrabeen, where the Pittwater Council LGA commences, in 2013