Thursday, 9 June 2016

Australian Federal Election 2016: are Baird's forced council amalgamations hurting Team Turnbull's chances in NSW?

About 27% of the NSW population lives in one of the nineteen new councils created yesterday. Another 21% lives in the nine proposed councils which will be created once the current court action is resolved. If Newcastle is also merged and its council sacked, that will be a majority of the NSW population living in an area with no elected local representation. [The Tally Room, 13 May 2016]

Google Images March 2016

NSW Premier Mike Baird has been careful over the years to position himself as being in sympathy with the aims and major policies of the Abbott-Turnbull Government and, in its turn this federal government has supported his slashing of the number of local government areas which will see an est. 48 per cent of the state’s population being without elected councillors for at least twelve months.

That's up to 3.66 million individuals living in households who may be more than a little cranky with the Lib-Nats for what has happened to their local council and approximately another 3.97 million people living in local government areas that are in the firing line the next time Premier Baird decides to whittle away at the most immediate tier of democracy in Australia.

Coalition MPs hoping to retain their seats come 2 July must be hoping that none of them read the newspaper over breakfast (or click onto social media) between now and then.

How the NSW council amalgamation issue played out in mainstream media thus far......

The Sydney Morning Herald, 18 March 2016:

At Liberal party functions in his seat of Wentworth in Sydney's east, Malcolm Turnbull is fond of introducing his staff member, Sally Betts as the most powerful person in Sydney's east. It usually gets a chuckle, particularly since he became Prime Minister.

Ms Betts is the grandmotherly figure who works two days a week in his electorate office while also serving as Waverley Council's mayor……

If Betts had not got on board with the Baird government's amalgamations push, the state government would have faced a solid wall of opposition from Liberal councils. Instead Betts and her Liberal counterpart in Randwick offered the first chink in council resistance, giving the state government cause to claim the councils were divided on the issue……
Daily Telegraph, 9 May 2016:

Tony Abbott has thrown his support behind the formation of one northern beaches council under Premier Mike Baird’s amalgamation reforms.
“I can see the arguments both ways. I would probably lean towards a whole of peninsula council if we are going down the amalgamation path,” he said.
“It’s a question of balancing out the local attachment with the need for efficient service delivery.”….

However once Malcolm Turnbull called the double dissolution election for 2 July this year matters became more complicated and federal influence on the Baird Government more obvious.

The Australian

The state government initially put forward 35 amalgamations in what would have been the biggest reform of local government in NSW since 1948.

But it is likely that cabinet will drop some of the proposals, with suggestions that the process has been influenced by political considerations, including opposition from local MPs and concerns about whether they will affect the chances of federal MPs.

After state cabinet considers the mergers, a special partyroom meeting will be held to endorse them…..

But the state government has placed a potential bomb under the Coalition’s campaign by proceeding with mergers in a number of marginal seats, including the bellwether Eden-Monaro, and ­Dobell and Robertson on the NSW Central Coast.

In Eden-Monaro, held by the Liberals’ Peter Hendy on a narrow margin, the government has, among other mergers, approved the joining of the rural Palerang council with the Queanbeyan town council.

Former Palerang mayor Peter Harrison says his former council is a poor fit with Queanbeyan given the different demography. He says locals fear their rates will be consumed by Queanbeyan and that there will be less money for maintenance of local roads.

“Palerang is quite unique. The majority of people live in rural residential areas. It does not have urban centres,” Mr Harrison said.

The Baird government dumped a proposal to merge the Kiama and Shoalhaven councils, affecting the marginal seat of Gilmore, held by the Liberals’ Ann Sudmalis, and another affecting the seat of Macquarie, held by the Liberals’ Louise Markus, after a government-appointed delegate recommended against it.

It ignored its own proposal to merge Tamworth and Walcha councils in New England, where Mr Joyce is battling former independent MP Tony Windsor.

Deputy Premier Troy Grant said he had two calls from Mr Joyce about the amalgamations, but denied he had an influence.

Delegate Amanda Chadwick recommended Walcha and Tamworth councils merge, and the proposal was supported by the Boundaries Commission.

Mr Baird denied that the decision not to proceed with some of the mergers was driven by political considerations, saying it was purely a matter of what was in the interest of ratepayers.

The mergers will reduce the number of councils in NSW by 37. The number of councils in Sydney is to be slashed from 43 to 25. Yesterday the government sacked all councillors in merged councils, appointing ­administrators in their place, and delayed local elections in ­affected areas until September next year.

Mr Baird said he had “absolute confidence” the mergers would result in better outcomes for ratepayers.

But the Baird government limited the financial benefits of the mergers by demanding the new councils not sack any workers, except executives. Employees in towns smaller than 5000 are permanently protected….., 17 May 2016:

A few months ago people were talking up Mike Baird’s personal popularity, saying it could soften any swing towards Labor in NSW including in the eight marginal seats of Barton, Eden-Monaro, Dobell, Reid, Banks, Page, Gilmore and Lindsay.

But that was until the NSW government announced plans on Thursday to sack councils across the state and create 19 new ones……

Then the ugly underbelly of Mike Baird’s governance style was exposed for all to see.

The Sydney Morning Herald

In a potentially explosive development for the Baird government, the Land and Environment Court has ordered it to provide documents about the role KPMG played in implementing the council amalgamation agenda.

Strathfield Council and others are alleging a serious misrepresentation by the Baird government after discovering that KPMG has been involved in devising the merger proposals as early as July 2015 – before the government announced it was proceeding with forced amalgamations – yet it was deemed the independent arbiter of the financial benefits of the mergers.

A document seen by The Sydney Morning Herald entitled "Options Analysis: Local Reform" and marked cabinet-in-confidence was dated July 8, 2015.

"OLG [Office of Local Government] has commissioned KPMG to support development of a robust evidence base to support the NSW government's Fit for the Future agenda," the document says.

This was well before the government announced the results of the Fit for the Future review by the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal, which assessed the health of councils to either stand alone or merge. It was also before the government announced its plans to force mergers.

In a press release issued on the day the government announced its preferred mergers in January 2016, Premier Mike Baird and the Minister for Local Government Paul Toole described the role of KPMG, which calculated the savings of each merger, as "independent"……

The state government has defended the independence of the consulting firm whose sums were the basis for its controversial push to slash Sydney councils.

Accounting and consulting giant KPMG, whose figures have been used to justify the government's controversial merger policies, donated about $100,000 to the NSW Liberal Party shortly before the elections that brought the Coalition to power in 2011.

The firm was also paid about $870,000 to audit Liberal Party accounts in 2015…..

"How can you claim KPMG's report on your forced council mergers is independent," asked the opposition spokesman on Planning and Infrastructure, Michael Daley, in question time in the NSW Parliament on Thursday.
The attack comes a day after the Land and Environment Court demanded the government produce documents relating to KPMG's modelling, which has been central to making the case for the government's council merger policies.
That resulted from a legal challenge to the merger of Strathfield Council and two others in the inner west, which revealed KPMG had been working on merger proposals before the government announced it was proceeding with the policy.
"The lack of independence of KPMG has always been a central part of our case," said the lawyer for Strathfield Council, Tim Robertson.

No comments: