Sue Wynn, former Greens Councillor at Wyong, writes about council amalgamation:
Here are my thoughts re the amalgamation of Wyong and Gosford Councils and the effect on the communities they are supposed to serve both from my experience as a Councillor from 2008-12 and as a member of the broader community on the Central Coast.
Firstly, the only reason WSC was in the red during my time on Council was entirely due to the cost shifting by State Government. In round figures, we were $10 million in debt and that amounted to the cost shifting by the State Government. Hence this has always been a manufactured crisis.
During my term of office, our Mayor, Doug Eaton, was always in favour of a single Central Coast Council, so his reluctant entry in to a voluntary amalgamation is completely hypocritical. This is exactly what he, and his cronies, wanted.
After the restructure and IPART decision, WSC has not been in financial difficulty and has consulted for an expanded program of works for the Shire which it has been implementing.
Most people really don’t care about who is representing them, they just want justice for their ratepayer dollar in the form of good roads, shared pathways and footpaths, a decent sewerage system, easy planning approvals, safe water quality and secure supply, good social programs via Councils libraries, tidy towns, community gardens, graffiti removal and the now defunct Landcare as examples. In general, they value the environment of the lakes, beaches and bush but don’t want to be stymied if they want to alter or make use of their local environment. The environment for most ratepayers is ‘out there’ – someone else will care for it or it just doesn’t matter to them – they really don’t see the connection between their actions and the resulting harm it may cause or the ecosystem it may affect.
They want Councils to be accountable to their ratepayers, be transparent in their dealings especially economic and in development and meet their perceived needs which vary considerably across age and social demographic lines. They want their representatives to stand up for their communities against any adverse policy initiatives at the State and Federal level of politics.
Councils are powerless as they are at the bottom of the pile and other tiers of governments feed or starve them at will. If the Federal government limits funding for certain services at the State level, suddenly the local government – the poorest – has to pick up the economic burden. This has been the greatest source of discontent in council that we exist at the whim of the State Government of the day.
So, what would a combined Greater Central Coast Council mean to the average ratepayer.
Decision making would be further removed from the people. People on the extremities would feel even more disenfranchised. Ability to contact and maintain a relationship with either Council or Councillors would become even more difficult as they would be even more removed as their constituency doubles. This ‘Super’ Council would now cover 4 entire State seats, Wyong, The Entrance, Gosford and Terrigal and two partial Swansea and Peats(?). So, one Council area needs to be effectively represented by 6 State members and their staff but by only one Council? This would seem to be wrong in all respects.
Ratepayers will only act when they are directly affected such as by decisions taken by councillors which impinge on their services or some other measure that is important to them. Such events have already happened regularly during this term of WSC. Decisions such as those that tried to sell off public park land and open space under the guise of ‘affordable’ housing and other ruses raised the ire of local residents and forced back downs. Will a larger bureaucracy respond in a similar fashion or will the people be easier to fool with decisions made before they can react, organise and respond?
Both Gosford and WSC were deemed fit on all measures of a fiscal manner and only failed the State Government’s arbitrary ‘scale and capacity’ criteria, both vague terms, so had to be deemed ‘unfit’. What is the rationale and science behind the scale and capacity? No-one knows.
A single council of over 300 000 people – large enough for whole territory governments in other jurisdictions – will not deliver better services, more efficiency nor closer community ties. In fact it will create the reverse with many feeling they are the ‘haves’ – generally The Entrance up north (another $3 million in this budget) and Gosford, Terrigal/Wamberal down south and the ‘have nots’ – the rest picking up the crumbs of largesse.
The cry of the ‘forgotten’ north/south will be ever louder. Why anyone in this madness would not have re-drawn the boundaries to have all of Lake Macquarie under one Council is ridiculous, and the Brisbane Waters will compete with the Tuggerah Lakes for attention and funding.
Of course, the real reason for all of these shenanigans is obvious – more power concentrated in the big parties of Labor and Liberals. Since the Liberals discovered the community value and power of Local government they have been seeking ways to amass more positions on councils state wide and this is their final desperate attempt to make all three tiers of government belong to themselves or Labor. Less diversity and pesky representatives to question and demand answers is always much easier for governments of the day.
Certainly this council will see the demise of the true independent and minor parties or at least a great reduction so less people will feel represented at the local level leading to even further disenfranchisement at the ballot box.
In summary, WSC and Gosford are in fact ‘fit for the future’. WSC ratepayers do not feel they are part of Gosford, the creation of this huge council will leading to further political disengagement, everyone will think things are being done ‘to them’ not for them by a remote unaccountable bureaucracy with whom they have no connection, there will be no improvement in services nor efficiencies, people at the extremities will fail to be heard and in general our social cohesion, society and environment will suffer as decisions are made to appease a State Government’s agenda not the local one. The word ‘local’ will come to mean fragmented communities fighting to save their identities and places but no overall big picture being framed in ratepayer’s minds.
In short, it will be a looming disaster that will sadly only be apparent when it is too late. The only fair response by the State Government would be to give the ratepayers the facts with no political bias and then put it to a referendum. In my opinion, only then will the outcome be more fully accepted, but, why would the State government want to ask its citizens what they really want? They might not like the answer.