Rant: Local communities dismissed

The Baird Government’s sack-and-dismiss approach to reform of local government has been harsh and careless. It has impacted on people’s lives, caused big costs for ratepayers and instability continues now into the fifth month since the merger. So, what has happened?

All councillors were dismissed in May with no notice. Important work that councillors were doing abruptly ceased. It was an emotional and publicly embarrassing experience for councillors whom had been dedicated to their local community for years.

All Council committees were dismissed including those made up of community volunteers. Hundreds of community members now feel disengaged and shocked at the way they have been treated. No explanation was given to them and many do not know when they can participate in Council life again.

There have been expensive redundancies and resignations at Councils’ executive level with the loss of a vast amount of experience, knowledge and commitment to our community. It will take years to replace the loss of all three General Managers and six Directors. The new GM is now putting in place the second overhaul of the executive team in four months. Let’s hope that things settle down from here on.

Lower-level staff are worried and confused about what the future holds as the new Council evolves. While their employment is protected for three years, they are concerned about what say they will have about their future.

The Administrator has been subject to personal abuse. He is trying, in the best way possible, to implement the merger but is hampered by the blunt approach that the Baird Government has forced him to use. Our entire community has had its vote dismissed by the Premier and the new Council has started under administration for an unprecedented period of 16 months.  This is not the way to excite and engage people about reform of local government. In fact, the dismissal of all Council committees was a direct statement to communities that engagement with them is not a priority!

Most notable, however, is that the merger is costing ratepayers millions of dollars which won’t be used for local parks, roads or services. The whole point of the merger fails to resonate with the public. No one is talking about new or better Council services as a result of the merger. Nor is anyone talking about reduction in costs, expenses nor even containment of rates and charges. Worse still, everyone is resigned to the fact that their access to councillors will decrease while the level of bureaucracy will increase as the size of councils gets much bigger.

Finally, the total handouts being given by the Baird Government to those 19 Councils which have merged are in the order of $500 million. Where did they find this sort of money in a very tight State budget?

John Stamolis – Ex-councillor and Member of Inner-West Local Representation Advisory Committee.