PM’s sister tilts for Local Government NSW presidency

By Julian Bajkowski

New South Wales Premier Barry O’Farrell and his Local Government minister Don Page could soon have the most formidable of internal opponents to deal with when it comes to trying to push through contentious and controversial council mergers.

Christine Forster, a Liberal councillor on the City of Sydney and the high-profile and outspoken sister of Prime Minister Tony Abbott is making an all-out bid for the presidency of the state’s so-called ‘council of councils’ better known as Local Government New South Wales.

With solid support from a record number of Liberal and conservative-leaning independents, Ms Forster is rated as a strong opponent to incumbent president and independent Coff’s Harbour City councillor, Keith Rhoades, who is recontesting.

Doing the numbers on which way councils and their councillors vote during the process is notoriously difficult because many candidates with links to established political parties often stand as independents. Even party insiders quietly admit they only ever have a partial picture of party links and leanings.

Part of Ms Forster’s presidential appeal among her supporters is that she would be able to draw on her strong, high-level relationships with both the O’Farrell government and the new federal government.

Although her opponents privately dismiss the effectiveness of such party connections as overstated, there is a grudging recognition that frequent criticisms of local government not being representative of the mainstream community could be partly neutralised by electing a conservative head who could lobby from the inside.

Part of that sentiment appears to emanate from the Independent Local Government Review Panel process that is most likely to influence whether the O’Farrell government will seek to instigate the kind of forced council mergers that helped tip-out the Labor state government in Queensland.

Ms Forster told Government News that the local government sector was now facing “a once in a generation reform process.”

“I am standing because I think that local government needs the strongest possible voice to achieve the best outcomes,” Ms Forster said.

“I believe I am a political fighter. I am a Liberal, but I will take the fight up to state government. Being a Liberal, I do have established relationships with senior ministers.”

“I’m not shy about opposing things that our sector don’t want and don’t support. I’ll be very firm in my discussions with state government to represent all of my stakeholders – every council, every shire every councillor, regardless of political persuasion,” Ms Forster said.

While both the NSW state arm and the federal branch of the Liberal Party have maintained a ultra-tight control over public messages and statements from their ministers and members while in government, there are still a number of highly divergent views on issues burning away internally that Ms Forster may have to take up the cudgels over.

One core national local government issue is the push for Constitutional recognition of the sector to head off a based projects, where Liberals support is flaky at best – despite strong advocacy from Nationals who fear for the level regional support without intervention from Canberra.

That scenario could put Ms Forster in the interesting position of trying to sell and muscle Constitutional reform to it most trenchant opponents.
If that fight needs to be had, Ms Forster says she is up for it.

“If I was to be successful in becoming the president I would represent my stakeholders’ view,” Ms Forster said.

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0 thoughts on “PM’s sister tilts for Local Government NSW presidency

  1. Having read this article it needs to be stated that this was the first Local Government NSW conference and therefore the first time the position of President as such was contested, as up until the 2013 conference two separate organisations represented local government in NSW. What disturbs me about this article is the continued reference to political parties and the suggestions that should Ms Forster have been successful (and she wasn’t) then because of her family connections she may have been able do deals and have more authority or influence. Local government should not be dragged into ‘political party’ politics as Local Government is more about communities than toeing party lines. The fact that out of all the candidates who contested the various positions the ‘cover’ story was based on the fact that Ms Forster is Mr Abbott’s sister is a sad reflection on lack of respect for the many people who work tirelessly for local government but don’t have enough connections to be spotlight as Ms Forster has been. It says nothing about how long she has been an elected councillor, what committees she has a particular interest in, how she has been involved with local government or even her own local government area. This is exactly the reason politics should be kept out of local government, it becomes a distraction from the real and very important issues at local community level. It may be cynical to say that it appears nothing more than a stepping stone for people with greater political aspirations. Local Government is about local communities, not just in metro areas but indeed across rural and regional NSW, well beyond Sydney, Newcastle and Wollongong…….we count too and work incredibly hard for our communities, often with little renumeration. All of us in local government represent our stakeholders’ views and those stakeholders are our communities.

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