Council mergers blamed for 13% by-election backlash in NSW Coalition heartland

Concedes council mergers a difficulty 6 Dec 2015

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There has been a huge swing against the Liberal Government in the North-Sydney By-Election of 13.5% on primary votes.

This swing was even more dramatic in Hunters Hill, with a massive 17% of voters switching their votes away from the Liberal Candidate – Something unprecedented in this normally safe Liberal seat.

As Trent Zimmerman has identified, the predominant issue  driving this switch, has nothing to do with Malcolm Turnbull, or Joe Hockey – and everything to do with dissatisfaction with the NSW Liberal Party (of which Trent Zimmerman is President) and it’s forced council amalgamation agenda.

A pre-poll survey commissioned by Save Our Councils revealed that some 27% of voters in this electorate would consider changing their vote based on this issue alone. It now appears that many of them did.

The opposition to forced mergers is not a matter of conservative voters sticking their heads in the sand. This is a matter of highly educated and aware local residents examining the issue and coming to the conclusion that the forced amalgamation agenda that the NSW Liberal Government is driving, is destructive to local communities, unnecessarily wasteful of money and resources, and strategically mis-directed in terms of delivering needed reforms.

Hunters Hill residents have voted overwhelmingly against forced council amalgamations. Instead, they have voted overwhelmingly in favor of a Joint Regional Alliance with neighbouring councils Ryde and Lanecove. The “Regional Alliance” Model is a more progressive response to local government reform that builds on the existing, proven and successful ROC (Regional Organisation of Councils) Model, to deliver shared services and efficiencies and scale, without dis-empowering local communities, without loss of local representation and accountability, and without the costs, disruption and dis-economies of scale involved with forced amalgamations.

This approach, unlike the forced amalgamation approach – has the support of leading academics, as well as the bi-partisan Upper House Standing Committee into Local Government reform. It also has the overwhelming majority support not only of the Hunters Hill community but also the communities of Ryde and LaneCove.

However, the bullish, intimidating, undemocratic attitude of the State Liberal Government, which appears to be pushing ahead with it’s forced amalgamation agenda, against all publicly available expert advice -and against the expressed wishes of many local communities – has seen trust in, and respect for the NSW State Liberal Government plummet to an all time low in Hunters Hill.

This lack of trust and respect, has been further compounded by the  blantantly flawed and biased IPART “Fit for the Future” process, which the Government has mis-used to justify its bullish approach. This process has been rubbished, not only by Hunters Hill Councils expert advisors, but also by highly respected academics and the Bi-partisan Upper House Inquiry into the Fit For The Future process, and Local Government reform.

The serendipitous timing of the North Sydney By-Election provided an opportunity for residents of this electorate to express their views on the amalgamation issue at the ballot box ahead of the NSW Governments planned “final determination” on the fate of councils, due later this week.

This is an opportunity that has been denied to all other communities throughout NSW. It serves as a major wake-up call to the NSW Liberal Government that in continuing to force this agenda it is exceeding it’s mandate.

With many communities, such as Mosman, Woollahra, Holroyd and Strathfield in the city, and Oberon, Cabonne, Gundagai, and many others in regional NSW – loudly expressing the same attitude and concerns as Hunters Hill, it can be anticipated that the NSW Liberal Governments council merger  agenda is driving a similar, if not even more profound crash in Liberal / National support, not only in marginal seats – but also in many previously safe liberal seats throughout Sydney and NSW.

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