Community Cabinet minister telethon hots up over NSW council mergers



NSW ratepayers are being encouraged to work their way down a hit list of eight Cabinet ministers and protest against forced council amalgamations ahead of tomorrow’s (Thursday) expected Cabinet vote on the issue.

Last week, the Save Our Councils Coalition (SOCC) published the electorate office phone numbers of key NSW Cabinet ministers and the telephone campaign is intensifying with the last Cabinet meeting of the year about to take place.

Many ministers on the list are from Sydney’s north shore or northern beaches, home to a hotbed of resistance to council mergers and also traditional Liberal heartland. It includes: Planning Minister Rob Stokes (Pittwater), Treasurer Gladys Berejiklian (Willoughby), Attorney-General Gabrielle Upton (Vaucluse), Health Minister Jillian Skinner (North Sydney) and Premier Mike Baird (Manly).

The link from SOCC’s Facebook page says: “Phone one or all eight MPs – whatever time allows. Every call helps. Please tell them you don’t want them to proceed with forced council amalgamations.”

The document helpfully includes a list of possible talking points, including the suggested drawbacks of council amalgamations and criticisms of the “flawed” Fit for the Future process.

“You can help them come to the right decision and take forced council amalgamations off the table by phoning some of the key Cabinet members on either Wednesday 16 December or Thursday 17 December (however the sooner the better).”

Mosman councillor and SOCC founder member Tom Sherlock said Cabinet ministers had received “a couple of hundred” phone calls opposing forced council amalgamation over the course of the short campaign.

“They’ve been courteous, they’ve listened and they’ve called people back,” Mr Sherlock said.

He said the eight ministers had been chosen because they were “likely to lead the debate within Cabinet” on council mergers and they were also ministers whose constituents generally had strong anti-amalgamation views.

“Following the North Sydney by-election result [Where Liberal Trent Zimmerman was elected with a 13 per cent swing against his party] I think that the government is keen to understand what people think and they’re certainly aware there are a lot of concerns about this issue,” he said.

Mr Sherlock, who is part of the Serving Mosman Independents, said local government issues often affected the federal election, which is due at the end of 2016.

“There is a precedent,” he said. “Howard lost his seat with a concerted campaign. I think Baird and the rest of the Cabinet will certainly be considering that.

“I’m not expecting the government to back down and walk away from local government reform but I would like to think that the government listens to the community, as well as the councillors.”
One Manly resident contacted Mr Baird’s office last week and said: “They are getting too many phone calls today to be able to meet.”

“Three phone calls done! The PAs all seem very friendly! The Premier’s PA assured me that the Premier is taking the calls very seriously. I, like others received a very courteous response,” said the Manly resident.

“I’m expecting Premier Baird and Minister Toole to return my calls any minute now. What if they both ring at the same time? I called them both today to talk about the lack of logic behind their government policy of forced council amalgamations.

“I said Mike was my local member and I have been trying to see him as I cannot understand how an apparently intelligent person could get it so wrong on the impact of amalgamation of councils both financial and on local democracy.”

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