March 5 - 11 2023: Issue 574


Protect Pittwater on the streets again calling for council demerger poll

Protect Pittwater and Demerge NSW members at Avalon on Saturday March 4, 2023. Photo: supplied

Saturday March 4, 2023

Council demerger campaigners today began distributing a new “Bring Back Pittwater Council” sticker in the leadup to the NSW state election. The sticker, designed by retired Avalon art teacher Pru Wawn, depicts the Pittwater symbol of a Mangrove leaf, in royal blue.

The group, including members of Protect Pittwater, Save Our Councils and the Demerge NSW Alliance, were distributing the stickers and gathering signatures in Avalon for a demerger petition and Pittwater Conservation Zones petition.  

Former Pittwater councillor Sue Young was delighted by the support they received.

“It was very encouraging to see the number of people who would like to see Pittwater Council back again, and it was surprising the number of people who were still unaware of the proposed rezonings in Pittwater,” Ms Young said. 

“This wouldn’t be happening if we still had Pittwater Council. 

“Young Mums were very vocal about a lack of maintenance, particularly of our parks, and a loss of sense of community.

“And it appeared that many residents don’t know what’s going on with the Conservation Zones Review.

“The council should have notified everybody in the LGA whether they were directly impacted or not by the proposed changes.”

Northern Beaches Council conducted a Conservation Zones Review last year, that was publicly exhibited, proposing the former Pittwater Area would lose 3,613 Conservation Zones, compared to 54 in the former Manly and one in the former Warringah.

Staff received 935 public submissions regarding the review, 60 per cent of which were from residents of the former Pittwater area. 

Protect Pittwater stalwart Pip Rey said the stall had been very busy, with lots of residents collecting stickers and a queue to sign petitions on one of three clipboards at one stage.

“We were really pleased to see so many young women engaged in the issue,” Ms Rey said.  

Ms Young said the campaigners were providing information, rather than “telling people what to think”.  

“But it seemed pretty clear this morning what they want,” she said.

Protect Pittwater will hold stalls in coming weeks where residents will be able to find the stickers.

DNA this week released its six point strategy for council deamalgamations. It includes a call to candidates at the NSW election to support a binding demerger poll in any of the former council areas that have been amalgamated and can present a petition in support signed by 10 per cent of residents.

The details are being distributed in a flyer:


The flawed amalgamation process under the Liberal/National Coalition Government - by Demerge NSW Alliance

- The Coalition instigated a four year review of councils to which the community made submissions. They then ignored the recommendations in the review on the implementation of changes or the formation of joint organisations.

- Instead the Coalition undertook a process of 'Fit For the Future' analysis through IPART that set criteria that meant small councils although fit in every other way could not meet the population size criteria.

- The Coalition then ignored the recommendations of the Upper House inquiry to which the community made submissions.

- The Minister for Local Government proposed a set of forced amalgamations under Section 218E of the Local Government Act with reviews under Section 218F by the Departmental Chief Executive who delegated the examination to Coalition appointed Delegates.

- Submissions made by the community appeared in general to be ignored, often because of the grants being offered by the Coalition to councils that amalgamated.

- The Coalition failed to release the KPMG report which it used to justify the financial benefits in the proposals and thus denied the delegates and the community the ability to examine the financial justification for the amalgamations.

- No opportunity was provided by the delegates or the government for the community to vote on whether or not their council should merge.

- In the case of Tumbarumba Shire Council the Coalition ignored the recommendation of the delegate against amalgamation with Tumut Shire Council.

- A number of councils took the Coalition to court over the process; some cases were lost by the Coalition or under appeal.

- The Coalition on receipt of the delegates’ reports forced the amalgamations of councils not under court challenge.

- The Coalition announced that amalgamations under contest in court would be abandoned but said that the policy was right but only implementation was wrong.

- The Coalition continues to refuse to release the KPMG documents.

- Since amalgamation the impact of this flawed policy has become evident.

- A Study by Professor Joseph Drew, a Professor of Local Government Economics, showed that costs have not fallen as projected in the proposals but risen 11 %, when comparing amalgamated councils with those that were not amalgamated (due to the Coalition abandoning the policy for those councils in court at the time of proclamation).

- A number of amalgamated councils have had massive Special Rate Variations to cover increased costs. SRV were meant to be avoided by amalgamation. 

- Tumbarumba electors submitted a petition to demerge under Section 215(1) of the Local Government Act, which the Boundaries Commission recommended. The proposal was rejected by the Coalition minister.

- Gundagai electors submitted a petition to demerge under Section 215(1) and the Boundaries Commission was split on the recommendation. The Coalition rejected the demerger proposal.

- Pittwater electors submitted a petition under Section 215(1) to restore Pittwater Council but the petition was ignored for more than twelve months and then rejected under Section 215(2) (a).The Office of Local Government determined that the number of electors had to be 10 % of the electors of the whole now amalgamated Northern Beaches Council not just the former Pittwater Council. 

The approval by the Northern Beaches Council and the State appointed Planning Panels of DA's and rezonings that ignore the Pittwater community vision for the area, and what is in place to guide that, is fuelling a growing anger. Along with the numerous calls last week to get Pittwater Council back have been requests to include in the Questions for 2023 Candidates for the Seat of Pittwater in the upcoming State Election whether each candidate will support the community in getting its council back.

Due to NSW Labor party members attending and voicing support at so many of the anti-amalgamation and de-merger protests that have taken place since 2016, Pittwater Online recently sought comment from the current opposition spokesperson. Greg Warren MP, Shadow Minister for Local Government, confirmed in January 2023 through his policy advisor that:

''a NSW Labor Government will not support the forced merger of local councils, nor will it support any forced demerger. Rather, this must be done voluntarily with the clear support of local residents as confirmed through a local plebiscite. 

To this effect, a NSW Labor Government will legislate to put into place independent mechanisms to enable this to occur.''

This still does not clarify whether the same mechanism applied to the earlier proposal by residents and the Protect Pittwater association to get the council back would be applied. Then, after a protracted response time of almost two years where the proposal was seemingly 'misplaced', the group was told they would have to get signatures across the whole of the newly created Council area, not just from 10% of those within the former LGA area of Pittwater to commence a broader community discussion and process. 

The Office of Local Government wrote to the group saying that: 

“… the proposal … does not meet the legal requirement of being certain, nor is it supported by an appropriate minimum number of electors as required by the Act”.    

“Given that our proposal was composed with the help of two barristers, Protect Pittwater will now take advice to consider our next course of action,” the group said in a statement. 

However, Chapter 9 How are councils established? of the Local Government Act states:

Part 1 Areas

Division 2 What must be done before areas can be constituted?

215   Who may initiate a proposal?

(1)  A proposal may be made by the Minister or it may be made to the Minister by a council affected by the proposal or by an appropriate minimum number of electors.

(2)  An appropriate minimum number of electors is

(a)  if a proposal applies to the whole of an area or the proposal is that part of an area be constituted as a new area—250 of the enrolled electors for the existing area or 10 per cent of them, whichever is the greater, or

(b)  if a proposal applies only to part of an area—250 of the enrolled electors for that part or 10 per cent of them, whichever is the lesser.

Nearly 3,500 signatures had been collected - 10% of the proposal applying to 'only part of an area' electors, and certainly not 'whichever is the lesser' but a demonstration of much more considering the short amount of time the group and its volunteers took to gather these.

On May 13th, 2021 the NSW government wrote a new opportunity for fully funded council demergers, updating local government laws to allow for council-initiated proposals within a fixed time frame. 

Save Our Councils Coalition vice president Sue Young said then that under changes passed by both Houses of the NSW Parliament in the Local Government Amendment Bill 2021, councils amalgamated in 2016 would be able to launch demerger bids within 10 years of their establishment. 

However this is applying a 'across the whole LGA' mark once again. Considering the former Warringah Council had advocated and campaigned for the amalgamation, and with a larger population, this too would be a fruitless exercise of ever shifting goal posts and ever changing applying of some sections of the Act while ignoring applicable sections.

In the past several weeks renewed calls by residents for a return of Pittwater Council state the government's policies, modified Acts and requirements have disenfranchised residents participation in shaping their community, or ignore their 'feedback' as it does not fit in with what is planned. Approved developments, whether by the council or state appointed panels, that raze once green areas, fill the whole block with bulky buildings that breach height restrictions are cited as 'a deliberate destruction or 'uglification' of Pittwater'.

- The amendment made to the Section 218 of the Local Government Act to include Section 218CC - that amalgamated councils could within 10 years of being merged in 2016 submit a business case to the minister to deamalgamate. A key part of this legislation was that the State Government would pay the costs of deamalgamation. 

- Communities across the state continue to suffer from the impact of amalgamation and groups formed to fight for demergers. DNA was formed to represent those groups, especially those in smaller communities where it would be unlikely their larger merged councils would make a proposal under the new Section 218CC.

- Therefore additional legislation as proposed by the DNA Six Steps to Put the Local back into Local Government is required to give these communities a say.

- Cootamundra Gundagai Council submitted a proposal to the minister and after examination the Boundaries Commission recommended a demerger. The Boundaries Commission conducted its own survey showing that 65% overall (across the entire Snowy Valleys LGA) agreed or strongly agreed with the demerger Proposal.

- The minister agreed and the first demerger is proceeding.

- The Cootamundra Gundagai public enquiry exposed the impact of amalgamations on communities and should be read by all those who are refusing to give the community a say in a binding plebiscite. The Office of Local Government in a media release of February 2023 proposed a demerger pathway for Cootamundra Gundagai that does not involve the appointment of an administrator. DNA supports this process which coincides with its Six Steps.

- The Inner West Council held a demerger poll at the same time as the Local Government Elections in 2021. For and Against cases were prepared. Even though the Council told the community costs would increase after a deamalgamation, the community voted 62.5 % to deamalgamate.

- The Inner West Council then proceeded to prepare a business case under Section 218CC. DNA believes the Council has used a flawed methodology which does not provide a transition plan; mitigate the risks; consider shared services in the transition; or plan to give staff any sense of security. The proposal has been sent to the minister with demands for the State to pay additional costs for 10 years.

- Acknowledging the community desire to demerge, the Snowy Valleys Council is preparing a business case to submit to the minister under Section 218CC. The council has engaged an independent academic to prepare the case.

- Central Coast Council was put in administration and a public inquiry demonstrated the difficulties a council the size of the Central Coast had when the merger process increased costs, the initial Administrator did not brief the incoming councillors on the financial situation and the reporting to the councillors was often lacking. The second Administrator’s claims of substantial debts above that normal needed for water and sewerage councils could not be substantiated. The inquiry recommended that council elections be held in 2022 but the Coalition ignored that and proposed 2024. In the meantime the administrator is continuing to make changes without any community representation. He has now resolved to hold a referendum to reduce the number of elected representatives from 15 to 9 Councillors for an area with a population projected to increase to approx. 410,000 people by 2041. This is why DNA Six Steps aims to return democracy to the Central Coast as soon as possible and at the same time have a plebiscite on demerger.

- Canterbury Bankstown Council also is preparing a business case under Section 218CC using the same methodology believed to be flawed as with the Inner West. To date no survey or poll of the residents has been taken and some councillors say that the residents are strong supporters of deamalgamation. The council is also demanding the State pay additional costs for ten years. The business case has not been sent to the minister.

- Councillors representing residents from smaller communities from Bombala, Guyra, Hilltops and Palerang have attempted to push for demerger proposals but have been outvoted in the respective councils. This shows the inability of residents of former smaller councils to have a way of obtaining a demerger.

DNA is campaigning for legislative change to enable binding polls in forcibly merged councils to give communities a say and recommend support for candidates who support this position.