NSW local councils that have not merged by 1 August 2017 may have to wait until September 2020 to elect their councillors.
The Office of Local Government (OLG) quietly issued a local government circular last Friday evening outlining four different possible election dates for local councils.
The circular said:
- The 19 new (merged) NSW councils created in May 2016 will hold elections on 9 September 2017 and again in 2020 (a three-year term)
- Councils that have not merged by the end of November 2016 will hold elections after March 2018
- Councils that have not merged by 10 April 2017 will (probably) conduct elections on 9 September 2017
- Any councils created after 1 August 2017 cannot hold their elections until September 2019 and possibly not until September 2020 to avoid a clash with the March 2019 state election
- Councils that held elections in September 2016, i.e. those that have not merged, will hold elections again in 2020 (a four-year term)
Eleven merger proposals involving 29 councils are still up in the air, with the vast majority still battling it out with the NSW government in court.
President of Local Government NSW Keith Rhoades said some councils were appealing Land Environment Court decisions and had indicated they may push on to the High Court if their appeals failed, further delaying mergers and local council elections.
Mr Rhoades said the OLG circular had been slipped through after sundown last Friday and was evidence the forced merger process was becoming “more shambolic” by the minute.
”It’s another clumsy attempt to slip this further denial of democracy through quietly, but the people of NSW are awake to the Government’s tricks,” he said.
He called it a “three-year denial” of local democracy and added: “I just can’t believe that following the Orange by-election we have got a minster that’s come out and said “we’re going ahead with our plans”.
“They’ve just lost a seat, for goodness sake. They’re not listening to these communities. If councils have to go into administration, it should be for the shortest period possible.”
Mr Rhoades speculated that holding some elections back until September 2020 could be an attempt to avoid voters’ anger coming out at the March 2019 state election.
But Mr Rhoades said simmering community resentment over mergers and election setbacks could come back to bite NSW Premier Mike Baird sooner than he thought.
“They need to be very careful, if Orange is any indication. They better hope in the interim that none of their MPs gets crook or has to stand down from Parliament.”
Greens MP and Local Government spokesman David Shoebridge called the multiple election date timetable “chaotic and confusing” for ratepayers and councils.
“Some councils have had their election in September 2016, some will be in September 2017, some may be in March 2018 and others not be held until September 2019 or even September 2020. That’s meant to clear things up?
“There are a series of factors at play here. Communities and councils have resisted forced mergers in the courts, the Minister has failed to make decisions on existing merger and counter-merger proposals and the electoral commission has now said it needs extra time.”
Mr Shoebridge said the government’s forced merger process was an “amateur job” and a “case study in how not to reform a sector”.
Opposition Leader Luke Foley also piled into the fray saying “democracy delayed is democracy denied”.
“Communities across the state should not have to suffer through Mike Baird’s administrators for any longer and certainly not for years to come,” Mr Foley said. “In Orange, constituents have demonstrated how unpopular forced mergers are. The government needs to listen – not delay local elections.”
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