Facebook stoush erupts over new Inner West Council


NSW residents have swarmed onto the Facebook sites of newly merged councils to vent their frustration after being denied the opportunity to oppose mass council sackings and council mergers.

Some of the state’s 19 new councils have already created new Facebook pages, despite only coming into being on Monday this week.

Harmonised websites are a work in progress, presumably because there is more work involved but also because many transactions with councils, like paying rates and charges, go through them.

The Facebook page of the new Inner West Council – a mix of Ashfield, Leichhardt and Marrickville Councils in Sydney’s Inner West – has become a focal point for disenfranchised residents and already caused problems for Administrator Richard Pearson, a former Deputy Director General of Planning NSW.

Many residents were in no mood to join in with the upbeat Facebook posts from the new council.

In reply to one of the council’s first posts, which asked: “notice anything different?” one resident replied:  “Yes, we noticed the blatant disregard for democratically elected officials”, while another commented: “So weird, I have absolutely no memory of voting to elect this council.”

Today (Friday) the Greens accused ‘the administration’ of the new Inner West Council of expunging criticisms about the deeply unpopular WestConnex project from its Facebook page, following tip-offs at a public meeting on WestConnex in Balmain.

IWC_optGreens MP David Shoebridge said: “These three councils have been a thorn in the side of Baird’s plans to bulldoze WestConnex through the inner west, so it’s little wonder he wanted to censor them.

“All three former Inner West Councils have had strong opposition to the WestConnex project, that is championed by Planning NSW, and it is clear that this history of opposition to the unpopular WestConnex is now being silenced and erased.”

“Going back in time and removing posts that are critical of the Baird government has a terrible Orwellian feel to it. Political censorship should have no place in 21st century Australia.

“These Councils have been under Premier Baird’s new administration for less than a week and we are already seeing efforts to silence and erase local opposition to WestConnex.”

But it appears that the real explanation may be a little less scandalous and that idiosyncrasies of Facebook – and not dubious intervention from Mr Pearson or council staff – are to blame.

The Inner West Council posted a statement on its Facebook page earlier today which said it had been notified that some posts about WestConnex had been removed.

“Council officers did not remove these posts, and were not directed to do so by new Administrator Richard Pearson.

“On investigation it was discovered that Facebook routinely ‘hides’ posts from timelines after a certain period of time.”

The council said that many other posts from February were also no longer visible including posts about free events, ANZAC Day commemorations and a neighbourhood garage sale.

“Council is not aware of when this happened – whether recently or months ago. It is very easy to unhide posts on a Facebook profile, but harder to unhide posts on a page. Council officers have contacted Facebook to find out how to reinstate the posts.”

The negative WestConnex posts have now returned, with several going up in the last few hours.

Greens Member for Newtown and WestConnex spokesperson Jenny Leong said Mr Pearson should uphold the three former councils’ previous position on WestConnex and vocally oppose the development.

“When I met with the new Administrator yesterday he said that the position of the Inner West Council in relation to WestConnex was yet to be determined,” Ms Leong said.

“This is despite the fact that I made it very clear that the three former councils that make up the new council had a unanimous position opposing WestConnex.”

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