Bill to fix forced amalgamations passes Upper House

In a win for communities and councils across the state, the Upper House has today passed a bill to end forced council amalgamations.

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.

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.

From David Shoebridge’s website.

NSW councils fork out for forced mergers as government funding dries up

The NSW government has left some councils with hefty bills to pay since their forced amalgamations in May last year.

Government News understands that mergers have ended up costing some NSW councils more than the state government merger and transition funding they were given.

Rural and regional councils, in particular, are resentful because they received only half of what metropolitan councils were given to cover the process and yet they often receive much less from rates and have lower reserves.

Rural and regional councils received $5 million for each merger, while metropolitan councils were handed $10 million for their mergers under the state government’s New Council Implementation Fund (NCIF).

But there were caveats. The funding could only be used for certain things, such as getting expert advice and integrating IT systems, but not to pay ongoing staff costs or council administrators, who replace councillors and mayors until the local government elections in September.

Councils were also given between $10 to $15 million of Stronger Communities funding to go towards community projects and infrastructure.

Despite the funding, some councils are finding there is a reality gap.

Hilltops Council, a merger between Boorowa, Harden and Young Councils in the South West Slopes of the state, estimates that it will end up spending $6.5 million on its merger, a shortfall of $1.5 million.

Greens MP and Local Government Spokesperson David Shoebridge said residents of the three former council areas would be ‘shaking their heads’ at the figures and wondering where the $1.5 million extra would come from.

“Every independent expert said at the start of this process that amalgamations would be more expensive and more disruptive than the government pretended, and now we are seeing this come true,” Mr Shoebridge said.

“The incompetence of the Coalition is really staggering, and now they are expecting residents in the local councils they have destroyed to meet the cost of their failure.”

READ MORE at Government News

Inherited councils debacle hurts Gladys Berejiklian

From ANDREW CLENNELL, The Daily Telegraph, June 7, 2017

GLADYS Berejiklian may not have performed her last backflip, as I understand it, with serious talk in cabinet in recent weeks around some sort of windback on local council amalgamations.

Two ministers, Planning Minister Anthony Roberts and Better Regulation Minister Matt Kean, recently argued strongly in cabinet that the council amalgamations stood to hurt the government very badly in September local government elections.

Roberts actually argued for areas that have already amalgamated to be allowed to hold plebiscites to see if people still agreed with those amalgamations, according to my sources.

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Front of mind for Roberts, the member for Lane Cove, is controversy around the proposed amalgamation of Hunters Hill Council with Lane Cove Council, which is still before the courts.

Apparently Gladys Berejiklian shut down the discussion, which took place in the “political discussion” part of cabinet.

But the council rumour mill also holds suggestions the government is preparing for the eventuality of plebiscites in some areas.

One of the reasons the issue is back on the agenda is the fact that Woollahra Council has won special leave to appeal in the High Court against its amalgamation with Randwick and Waverley councils.

Should Woollahra ultimately triumph in the High Court, the government would be under great pressure to reverse all city council mergers still before the courts.

It is said that Baird was the one who was all the way with the levy and that Berejiklian as treasurer at the time was forced to carry on the policy.
Then there is concern — as several councils continue their appeals against the government’s wish to merge them — that there is the spectre of councils just mounting more and more challenges in the courts.

For example, Hunters Hill Council could no sooner lose its court battle then it would lodge another appeal on different grounds. And so it would go on and on, with all of us paying for it.

Kean and Roberts both raised concerns, I am told, in the cabinet meeting about a fortnight ago that Liberal council candidates are set to “get smashed” in the September local government elections by voters unhappy with their merger deals, with Hornsby having ceded some of its area to Parramatta council, for example.

Some ministers are saying this is another “mess that Mike Baird gifted Gladys” on top of continuing fallout over the failed greyhound racing ban and on top of the proposed introduction of the Emergency Services Levy, which Ms Berejiklian “deferred” (read: dumped) last week.

It is said that Baird was the one who was all the way with the levy and that Berejiklian as treasurer at the time was forced to carry on the policy.

Now, as premier, Berejiklian has been forced to dump it and embarrass herself.

And, again, there is a similar feeling around mergers.

But while ever the premier defends the decisions Mike Baird took, saying she was in cabinet at the time and supported them, the more she suffers for them.

I’ve always been a supporter of there being fewer councils in Sydney. But Baird really needed to go to the Upper House to pass the legislation to make it so, not just push it through the Boundaries Commission. Thanks to this, he created a process which has allowed the court challenges to occur.

But Fred Nile opposing the amalgamations ruined the original plan.

Baird appeared in a hurry to get the mergers through, come hell or high water, when he could have negotiated further with the Upper House.

Now we know why he was in such a rush. He wanted to get all his ­reforms done and get the hell out of there, to the job at the bank.

In February, shortly after becoming premier, Berejiklian announced that she would walk away from country council mergers currently before the courts but continue with city mergers still in limbo and have the government fight for them to continue in the courts.

Those mergers still in limbo ­include Strathfield, Burwood and Canada Bay councils; Hornsby and Ku-ring-gai; Hunters Hill, Lane Cove and Ryde; Mosman, North Sydney and Willoughby, and Randwick, Waverley and Woollahra.

Botany Bay and Rockdale councils decided to merge after losing in the Court of Appeal.

The problem with just turning around and dumping those city mergers before the courts — apart from it being another backflip — is that it would lead to protests from those councils which did the right thing and merged, such as the Northern Beaches Council.

But at some point, the Premier has to make the decision as to whether she wants the council amalgamation issue carrying on into the second half of next year, with a state election by then just around the corner, as councils continue to fight in the courts against it.

A message from the group ‘Protect Pittwater’ RE: Crowd-Funding to help Bring Back Pittwater Council

From Protect Pittwater:

As you might know, former Pittwater councillor Bob Grace has been working on a community campaign to protect the area into the future.

We are getting in touch to let you know about our crowd-funding campaign, which goes live at 1pm today Tuesday 31 May.

The campaign, run by the community association Protect Pittwater, aims to raise money for legal action to restore Pittwater Council. We are asking you to help us by donating whatever you can.

Our initial goal is to raise $10,000. Any amount donated – however large or small – will help.  Bob – a retired barrister – says that’s enough for legal advice and a statement of claim to get us into court.

Any money not used for legal costs will be put towards an ongoing campaign to protect the environment and character of the Pittwater area.

Please take a look at our crowd-funding page now, read the information and help us preserve Pittwater: https://www.chuffed.org/project/protect-pittwater

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Pittwater Forever supports the new association Protect Pittwater and what it is doing in regards to this crowd-funding campaign and the Bring Back Pittwater Council petition.

Pittwater Community Forum Supports Legal Action to Restore Council

From Pittwater Online News

A community meeting in a packed auditorium at Mona Vale has endorsed the formation of a new coalition to campaign for the return of Pittwater Council.

Residents at the meeting endorsed the strategy for a two-pronged approach involving possible legal action and a petition. Print the petition by clicking Proposal to bring back pittwater.

Former Pittwater Councillor Bob Grace said he and a group of community members had formed a new association, Protect Pittwater, with the idea of litigating to restore the council.

Its members include another former Pittwater councillor Sue Young, businessman David Wenden, Northern Beaches Greens Convenor Pip Rey and a former Pittwater Mayor Lynne Czinner.

Mr Grace estimated that to seek legal advice and prepare a statement of claim would cost between $5,000 and $10,000 – so the group was setting up crowd-funding page to finance it.

“I urge you, if you want Pittwater back, we have to fight now,” Mr Grace told the meeting, asking residents to contribute generously.

“ … I hope that when we get the advice from the (legal) counsel, we will institute not only legal action but an interim mandatory injunction – to restrain the Northern Beaches Council from acting as if Pittwater is part of it.”

In response to Mr Grace’s call: “Are you prepared to fight for this?”, residents responded with a resounding “Yes.”

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Please print this form out from the .pdf file here, get as many people to sign and send back to David Shoebridge.

When speaking to Mr. Grace on Friday he stated, “When you look at the recent decisions regarding Ku-Ring-Gai and Woollhara council, we believe we have a good case and can win. We would certainly not require so much (funding) of what they have had to do to get to this stage – we would only have to fit within the decisions made there, and we do.”

Greens MLC and local government spokesperson David Shoebridge recommended a second strategy for the new association’s campaign, with a petition to the state government.

“There is a process where, if you get 250 residents or 10 per cent of the former Pittwater area to sign on to a lawful petition, you can actually (go to) the minister and demand a public inquiry about de-amalgamation,” Mr Shoebridge said.

However, Mr Shoebridge agreed Pittwater residents had a good basis to commence legal proceedings, following the success of the Kur-ring-gai action and Woolhahra winning the right to appeal in the High Court.

“There’s a lesson there about the reality of power in NSW,” he told the forum hosted by Northern beaches Greens.

“They won’t listen to you unless you have something to actually make them listen to you.

“That’s what court proceedings do.”

Founding convenor of the independent Better Planning Network, Corinne Fisher, told residents that by banding together to campaign for the restoration of Pittwater they would have a lot of power.

“I’ve learned that you generally don’t convince politicians with rational argument,” she said.

“You mostly convince politicians because power is on your side.

“Any politician cares about keeping their position and if you can present a threat to them securing their position again … then that means you have power on your side and can achieve the win you’re after.”

Craig Boaden, President of Pittwater Forever – a coalition of 18 residents’ groups – said his members had agreed to support the new association.

And Friends of Mona Vale spokesman Mark Edwards kicked off fundraising for Protect Pittwater with a $200 donation from the group, along with Mr Shoebridge who donated $100.

To contact or find out how to donate to Protect Pittwater email info@protectpittwater.org.au

Report by Miranda Korzy

AS said in the article – Pittwater Forever supports the new association Protect Pittwater.

Residents clamour for NSW council deamalgamation after recent court wins

Residents Encouraged to Unite to Protect Pittwater at Community Forum

The Pittwater community should unite to protect the area’s environment and character from massive development, speakers will say at a forum this month.

Former Pittwater Councillor Bob Grace, Better Planning Network founding convenor Corinne Fisher and Greens MLC David Shoebridge have confirmed they will address the forum, “Protecting Pittwater: Where to From Here?” at Pittwater RSL on Tuesday May 16, at 7pm.

Protect-Pittwater-Forum

The forum follows a number of recent rallies concerned about the B-Line bus, its role as a catalyst for development and calls for Pittwater Council to be demerged.

Mr Grace will invite residents at the forum to support his plans for a crowd-funding page to finance legal action aiming to restore the council.

“The crowd funding page is progressing. Clareville local Pip Rey is putting it together and we hope to have it ready and circulating by mid-May,” Mr Grace said.

“This will be very exciting because it will enable the community to understand  what we’re trying to do and how they can help so we can get our Pittwater back.”

Another major issue to be discussed on the night is the impact on the Pittwater area of the new government planning body, the Greater Sydney Commission (GSC).

Its plans for massive development include a commercial centre at the new hospital at Frenchs Forest, the Ingleside housing estate and a ramped up Mona Vale town centre

Submissions on the plan – which must be implemented by local governments – closed last month without an elected council in place on the Northern Beaches.

Ms Fisher – whose network is not affiliated with any political party – will give insights at the forum into how the community can fight inappropriate development.

She encouraged the Pittwater community to band together in a grassroots campaign to protect the area.

“By growing community awareness of the impacts of development, encouraging media coverage and putting pressure on local politicians, residents can work together to protect what they love about their neighbourhood,” Ms Fisher said.

The network, with a membership of more than 460 community groups, was founded in 2012 over concerns about NSW government planning reforms. Its members believe planning should centre on community well-being and environmental protection.

Mr Shoebridge, who will speak about his bill for council demergers and problems with the GSC, said it was heartening to see the community standing up for local democracy.

“The Ku-ring-gai Court of Appeal decision [which found that the plan to merge that council with Hornsby could not proceed in the current form] could have an impact on every forced amalgamation that has either happened or been threatened to date,” Mr Shoebridge said.

Residents attending the forum will have an opportunity to join in the discussion and a number of other community representatives have been invited to speak.

from Miranda Korzy

Pittwater Forever is distributing this information for the information of members and others. This is not a PFE initiative