November 26 - December 2, 2023: Issue 607


Plebiscite bill opens new pathway to Pittwater demerger 

Simon Dunn (left) with Dr Amanda Cohn (centre) and members of the Demerge NSW Alliance, including Cr Miranda Korzy (right).

A new pathway for a Pittwater council demerger has opened up following presentation of a bill to the NSW Parliament on Wednesday.

Pittwater council demerger campaigners joined others from across Sydney to hear Greens MP Amanda Cohn present the bill for deamalgamation plebiscites to the Upper House.

Pittwater Greens Councillor Miranda Korzy, a founder of the Protect Pittwater demerger group, attended the launch and later said:

“Pittwater residents have spent years fighting the amalgamation of Pittwater, Warringah and Manly Councils, but legal action after the event has so far proved impractical and the hurdles to a demerger via current legislation are sizable.

“The significance of this development for Pittwater is that it would create a clear pathway to a demerger via a plebiscite if passed into law,” Ms Korzy said.

“The plebiscite would not force a demerger if the community voted against it, however, it would automatically bind the government to re-establishing Pittwater as a standalone council if the majority want it.

“We would need to collect signatures from just over 10 per cent of electors from the former Pittwater Council area  - whose total population was around 60,000 at the time of the merger in 2016. This would be totally achievable.

“It would then automatically trigger a plebiscite where residents vote for or against a demerger.

“Residents were never given a say on the merger into Northern Beaches Council, despite a Pittwater Council survey showing 89 per cent of us wanted to remain in a standalone council.

“The legislation would ensure that democracy is restored to local government.

“I therefore call on our Pittwater MP Rory Amon, who along with Dr Cohn co-chairs the NSW Parliamentary Friends of Local Government, to advocate for this bill amongst his Liberal colleagues in Parliament.” 

Ms Korzy said the bill also provides for plebiscites for residents from the other two former council areas merged into a three-into-one council like Northern Beaches Council to be held simultaneously. 

Other deamalgamation campaigners in the public gallery on Wednesday included: Protect Pittwater President Simon Dunn; DNA member Brian Halstead; Canterbury Bankstown Councillor Barbara Coorey; and a number of Inner West residents. 

Dr Cohn consulted closely with DNA members, especially Mr Halstead, and Protect Pittwater in developing the bill to ensure the different circumstances in which former councils now find themselves are covered. 

Protect Pittwater has stated it is delighted that the Local Government Amendment (De-amalgamation Plebiscites) Bill 2023 was tabled in NSW Parliament this morning (22 November 2023). Upper House Member, Dr Amanda Cohn, tabled the private member’s Bill and referenced the plight of the Pittwater Community, together with 9 other disenfranchised NSW communities, in her passionate 2nd reading speech. 

Dr Cohn noted the closure of the Avalon Customer Service Centre as just one example of the reduction in services to Pittwater Community and echoed the concerns of many Pittwater Residents in relation to local issues being ignored by the amalgamated council as well as the significant loss of representation for the Pittwater Community. 

In her Second Reading Speech Dr Cohn stated:

‘’ Northern Beaches Council recently voted to close the council customer service centre at Avalon. One Pittwater resident said, "We went from our own council with nine councillors that represented the Pittwater area to three councillors in a council of 15. The concerns which are Pittwater specific are now basically ignored because of the numbers game. When we were amalgamated, 63,000 Pittwater residents were immediately disenfranchised. Local government is supposed to be a democratic system which provides a forum for citizens to vent their concerns on issues that directly affect them."

Protect Pittwater President, Simon Dunn, joined representatives of Demerge NSW Alliance (DNA) at NSW Parliament to welcome the tabling of the ground breaking legislation calling it “the missing piece of the Local Government Act.” 

Mr Dunn noted that “for the first time NSW communities have a potential pathway for binding plebiscites to be held instead of the next scheduled local government elections in September 2024 and thereby provide a mechanism for true local government to be restored.” 

He said “We express our sincere thanks to both Dr Cohn and to the Demerge NSW Alliance, in particular Brian Halstead for his tireless efforts to see this vital legislation finally tabled in Parliament.” 

Mr Dunn reiterated “The people of Pittwater were overwhelming opposed to amalgamation of their successful Council and outraged that the decision to do so was made arbitrarily by the then Minister for Local Government. This bill promises to take back the power to restore a Council from the desk of one minister and place it squarely in the hands of local communities, where democratically it must reside.” 

Protect Pittwater remains hopeful that both major parties will support Dr Cohn’s push to restore local democracy, so that the precious natural environment of Pittwater can be protected for generations to come.

Representatives of the Demerge NSW Alliance (DNA), made up of community advocacy groups from local government areas across New South Wales welcomed the tabling on November 22 of a series of amendments aiming to put democracy back into the Local Government Act.

Dr Amanda Cohn, Greens spokesperson for Local Government, introduced a bill to enable communities to have their say on demerging the forced amalgamation of councils in 2016 through binding plebiscites.

The proposed changes would bind the Local Government Minister to proceed with deamalgamations in former council areas which have returned a majority vote in a plebiscite.

The bill also addresses so-called “road blocks” to the deamalgamation of Cootamundra Gundagai Council.

“Cross bench Members of Parliament have indicated their support for communities’ views on deamalgamation to be respected,” DNA spokesperson Grantley Ingram said.

“The 2016 amalgamation of councils has been a failure,” Mr Ingram said.

“Communities have had seven years to weigh it up: we are suffering a loss of representation, a loss of accountability and our rates have gone up — sometimes exponentially.

“The Minister must take democracy seriously: if a majority votes in a plebiscite to deamalgamate their council, the Minister must direct the Office of Local Government to prepare a road-map to deamalgamate.”

Dr Cohn in her Second Reading Speech said:

“Local government plays a crucial role in shaping the places that we call home. It manages the best parts of community life, from public libraries and community centres to parks and open spaces, sporting facilities, and swimming pools. Councils take seriously their responsibility to make decisions that influence our built and natural environments That is why it is so critical that communities have a say in the local democracies that represent and serve them.”

“Communities across our State have weathered a loss of representation, a lack of accountability, diminished local services and the serious burden of significantly increased rates amid a cost-of-living crisis. Amalgamated councils have not allowed effective representation.“

Ingram is calling on NSW Labor to support the amendments, which are in line with the policy it took to the March elections and said

“Liberals and Nationals should support this Bill to enable the deamalgamation in Cootamundra Gundagai to proceed after It was agreed to by their former Minister and enable restoration of democracy to forcibly amalgamated councils.”

Dr Cohn finished by saying:

“I hope that through the Bill, communities across our State can be empowered, have a voice about their local representation in the future and have the level of local democracy that they deserve. It is something that I hope every member of this Parliament can support. Let's put the Local back into Local government.“

Avalon Beach Council Customer Service Centre to be closed by the end of November 2023