December 16, 2018 - January 12, 2019: Issue 388


NSW Government on Protect Pittwater Association Christmas Card List

The Protect Pittwater Association is sending Christmas cards to the NSW government to remind it that seven months have passed without any response to its proposal to demerge from Northern Beaches Council. 

Protect Pittwater president Bob Grace said the group had submitted the proposal to NSW Local Government Minister Gabrielle Upton in May calling for the demerger of Pittwater. 

The proposal followed the provisions of the Local Government Act and was accompanied by nearly 3,500 signatures – 10 times the number required under the act, Mr Grace said. 

However, despite numerous phone calls and Protect Pittwater having written to her twice asking for an urgent response, the Minister had failed to make contact. 

“Perhaps we will capture her attention and that of NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian if we send them our best wishes for Christmas with a reminder that we are still waiting to hear from the minister,” he said in a statement. 

“We are following the process laid out in the Local Government Act for a demerger but have not heard anything from the Local Government Minister in reply.” 

Protect Pittwater has also continued to monitor the performance of the Northern Beaches this year and refutes recent claims by Mayor Michael Regan about its performance in the 2017/2018 financial year. 

Save our Councils Coalition president Brian Halstead, who has studied the claims, said this week that headlines about savings and the success of amalgamation were misleading. 

“The Northern Beaches Council (NBC) has never provided the community with budgets for expenditure by service area (eg parks maintenance) in the 2017-18 year,” Mr Halstead said in a statement. 

“Here we have a situation where the council has run for a year without any comparisons able to be properly made. 

“So the community has no idea if the surplus for the year claimed as a success has been generated just by cutting services. 

“All that can be determined from the published results is that of the $25 million surplus, $7 million came from waste management, $4 million from Kimbriki and $4 million from a bookkeeping change in depreciation. 

“This $15 mill cannot be used to fund additional infrastructure as claimed.”

Looking forward to the current year 2018/2019 Mr Halstead points out that: “The NBC budgeted surplus falls to $8.7 million, which is $7 million behind the surplus promised in the proposal justifying the amalgamation.  

“It is also $5 million behind the surpluses delivered by the individual councils four years earlier in 2014/2015 before amalgamation.” 

“So much for the amalgamation success: it looks like failure to deliver financially to me.” 

Anecdotal evidence suggests that services have been cut since the amalgamation in May 2016 and Mr Grace said he thinks claims of financial success are illusory.

“In fact, we now have assets that are rundown and neglected that appear to be casualties of the cuts,” he said.

“Pittwater residents are only too aware of potholes in our roads, weeds growing in our reserves and ocean pools that need cleaning. 

“And to call staff cuts ‘efficiencies’ shows the greatest disrespect for our community when the staff who have lost their jobs are our mums and dads, friends and neighbours. 

“Projects such as the Church Point carpark and the Macpherson Street bridge in Warriewood - that the Mayor would like to take credit for - were initiated and funding arranged by Pittwater Council before the merger.” 

All parties except those in the current NSW government have continued to support the demerger campaign, promising legislation to bring on binding plebiscites in amalgamated council areas. 

Local Government NSW – the association of councils from around the state – in October also passed a motion agreeing to support “communities that seek to demerge from a forcibly amalgamated council” with overwhelming support at its AGM in Albury.  

The motion also promised LGNSW would lobby for a change to the Local Government Act to prevent the forced amalgamation of councils or significant boundary alterations without the support of a plebiscite. 

SOCC has been developing a strategy in the lead up to the 2019 state election to ensure that deamalgamations are a prominent issue. 

The council coalition would like to see provision for a community group to collect a petition from 10 per cent of enrolled electors within a former local government area whose residents want to demerge and get their former council back.

That would be followed by a binding referendum in the area of the original council, and if a majority of electors in that area vote for a demerger, “a new council must be proclaimed for the former area within six months”, SOCC said in a statement.

Costs for the demerger were expected to be met by the state government, which would also enact new legislation to cover the new arrangements. 

“The NSW Government’s policy and process of forced council mergers was flawed,” a SOCC spokesman said. 

“Communities forced to merge in 2016 against their will are entitled to get their councils back if that is their choice.” 

Protect Pittwater presented its proposal to Ms Upton’s office after a colourful rally outside Parliament House in May, calling for the deamalgamation of Pittwater.  

It also sought further legal advice earlier in the year regarding the merger before turning to other issues – such as reigniting the fight for Mona Vale Hospital with a public forum in July.

Pittwater resident Phil Walker has also persevered with freedom of information claims over the NSW government’s planning for the mergers. 

Miranda Korzy - The Greens candidate for Pittwater 

Protect Pittwater president Bob Grace collecting signatures for the de-merge petition.