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Legal action against proposed merger

Posted Wednesday 27 April 2016

Last week Councillors resolved unanimously to commence legal proceedings in relation to the NSW Government’s Merger Proposals for Mosman, Manly and (part) Warringah (First Proposal) and Mosman, North Sydney and Willoughby (Second Proposal).

Council believes that the process has been legally defective and is asking the courts to stop the process.

I cannot discuss the legal issues here. But I can mention four (of many) ethical issues of concern.

First, unless forced by the courts, neither individual submissions to the Delegates nor the Delegates’ reports will be available to the public unless and until the Minister for Local Government so decides.

Second, the Delegates cannot possibly read several thousand submissions, some very lengthy ones, and write concurrently reports on two Government merger proposals in 3-4 weeks, as the Delegate for our first proposal was required to do, without very substantial assistance – in this case assistance from officers of the Department of Premier and Cabinet which is the lead Government agency behind the Proposals.

Third, the Boundaries Commission (BC) cannot reasonably review the Delegates’ reports without full access to, and examination of, the relevant public submissions. Even if the Commission is receiving the submissions (which is not clear), it cannot possibly review some tens of thousand submissions on 45 proposed mergers and comment knowledgeably and objectively on 45 Delegate reports within a few weeks.

Fourth, the NSW Government, from the highest level, has repeatedly said that councils must merge because we have operating budget deficits. This is false information. In 2014-15, the latest year financial information is available, 80 out of 152 councils in NSW were operating with a budget surplus and with a combined operating surplus of $196 million over the year.

Unless prevented by the courts, the Minister for Local Government is expected to announce the Government’s decisions on the merger proposals within a few weeks.

With the process described above, it is hard to have faith that the Government will make the fair and democratic decisions that our community, along with many others, is seeking.