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Election result reprieve for NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian. Pic: YouTube. 


The NSW Liberals held onto Manly and North Shore in the state by-elections, despite serious swings against it, while Paralympian basketball player Liesl Tesch won Gosford and extended Labor’s lead to become the state’s first MP in a wheelchair.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian will be relieved that she has made it through her first election test since former Premier Mike Baird quit in January and comforted that her party was able to hold on to what were previously considered safe seats.

Ms Berejiklian would have been haunted by fears of a repeat of the Orange by-election upset last November when the Shooters and Fishers toppled the Nationals candidate but in the end she was spared the indignity. The Premier had admitted she was braced for 'huge swings' against the government but added that sometimes voted just needed to vent.  

Liberal James Griffin retained Mike Baird’s old seat of Manly, albeit with a primary vote swing of 24.7 per cent swing against him, while Felicity Wilson took ex-NSW Health Minister Jillian Skinner’s former North Shore seat, where the swing was 15.4 per cent against the government.

Some pundits had been predicting that North Shore could fall to Independent Carolyn Corrigan and cause Ms Berejiklian a major embarrassment but it was never transpired.

Pressure had been mounting on the Liberals in the weeks leading up to the by-elections, with Mr Griffin and Ms Wilson both mired in controversy.

A company Mr Griffin co-founded was accused of trading while insolvent and Ms Wilson was caught exaggerating how long she had lived on the North on her statutory declaration and nomination form.

She later slipped up on social media, claiming that she had cast her first ever vote for John Howard in Bennelong in 2001. Fairfax countered her claim by saying she lived in Marrickville at the time, in the Grayndler electorate, and could not have done so.

Ms Berejiklian would have been expected a backlash against her government, at least partly made up of those disaffected by transport problems, overcrowded schools, forced council mergers, greyhound racing and NSW hospital scandals.

The Premier will be preparing in earnest for the next state elections in 2019 when voters may be more eager to punish the incumbent government after eight years in office. 

It was good news for Labor in the Central Coast seat of Gosford as Liesl Tesch and widened the party’s margin in what had been the state’s most precarious seat with a 14 per cent swing.

Labor MP Kathy Smith, who retired due to ill health earlier this year, beat Liberal state MP Chris Holstein in the 2015 Gosford election by only 203 votes.

NSW Opposition Leader Luke Foley said Ms Berejiklian should take responsibility for the major swings against the Liberals, which he said were more than 25 per cent in some polling booths.

“In November the voters in three seats said the Government should change – it changed Premier but it didn’t change direction. Today voters in three different seats told the Government again it needs to change direction – it is time for Ms Berejiklian to start listening," Mr Foley said. 

He praised Ms Tesch and said she had fought a strong campaign.

“This is a great victory for the Central Coast. Liesl is a fighter. She has been a success at everything she has attempted in life and I know she will be a great representative for the people of the Central Coast when she takes up her position in the State Parliament.”
                    [post_title] => Relief for Berejiklian in state by-elections despite serious swings
                    [post_excerpt] => Labor keeps Gosford, increases margin. 
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If the bookies are right, Independent candidate Carolyn Corrigan could cause a huge upset in tomorrow’s (Saturday) North Shore by-election and topple the Liberals right where it hurts: in its leafy Sydney heartland.

As the contest hots up in former NSW Health Minister Jillian Skinner’s North Shore seat, online bookmaker has revealed that a flurry of late bets on Ms Corrigan’s chances have made the Libs look wobbly in a seat they hold by a 30.4 per cent margin.

Will Byrne from said there was strong support for Ms Corrigan, whose odds had shortened significantly in the run-up to the election from $4.00 into $2.50, suggesting that Saturday’s state  by-election will be a close run thing.

“The Liberals looked safe in North Shore but there’s been some money in the past few days to suggest the race is not run there yet,” Mr Byrne said.

The North Shore electorate takes in the local government areas of Mosman and North Sydney and both councils have stridently resisted the state government’s attempts to merge them with their neighbours.

Ms Corrigan is a former president of anti-forced council amalgamation community group Save Our Councils and she will be hoping the community’s rebellious sentiment continues to the ballot box.

Independent candidate Carolyn Corrigan


But all is not lost for Liberal candidate Felicity Wilson, a former president of the NSW Liberal Women's Council, and she is still odds on to win at $1.50.

Ms Wilson came under fire earlier this week when Fairfax published a story rubbishing her claims that she had lived in the lower North Shore electorate – in Neutral Bay, Waverton and Wollstonecraft - for more than a decade.

Electoral records showed she had lived in several addresses outside the electorate at various points during five of those twelve years. Ms Wilson later apologised, calling it an ‘unintentional error’.

She was also criticised for claiming that the first ever vote she cast was for John Howard in Bennelong in 2001. Fairfax countered her claim by saying she lived in Marrickville, in the Grayndler electorate, at the time and could not have done so. She later admitted she had made a mistake.

But whether this controversy is serious enough to cruel Ms Wilson’s chances is another matter.

North Shore has been considered a very safe blue ribbon Liberal seat since 1991, although it has fallen to independents in the past, most notably to Independent North Sydney Mayor Ted Mack.

Interestingly, it is not a two horse race. In fact, the Greens have outpolled Labor to come second in the last three state elections. However, Sportsbet has Greens candidate Justin Alick at $34, with a Donald Trump-style shock needed for a payout.

Liberal candidate Felicity Wilson with NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian

Sportsbet will be hoping it makes a better fist of predicting the North Shore result than it did when Donald Trump scored a shock victory in the US election in November last year when the company reportedly paid out $11 million to 25,000 punters who picked Trump for POTUS.

This weekend also sees two other NSW by-elections, former NSW Premier Mike Baird’s seat of Manly and Gosford, which was vacated by Labor MP Kathy Smith when she retired due to ill health earlier this year.

The bookies have both seats as clear wins: one for Labor and one for the Liberals.

Manly is tipped to go to the Liberals ($1.10) and Gosford to Labor ($1.05), despite Gosford being the state’s most marginal seat and held by Labor by only 0.2 per cent. Ms Smith narrowly beat Liberal state MP Chris Holstein in 2015 by only 203 votes.

Gosford is another seat where council mergers could affect the result and the forced amalgamation between Gosford City and Wyong Shire Councils could tip the balance against the Liberals.

Labor’s candidate for Gosford is Liesl Tesch, an Australian wheelchair basketball player and sailor, while the Liberals are fielding organ donation campaigner and office manager Jilly Pilon.


What are the odds?

North Shore by-election

$1.50   Liberal             

$2.50   Independent (Carolyn Corrigan)

$16      Independent (Ian Mutton)     

$16      Independent (Harry Fine)      

$34      Green

$51      Animal Justice Party

$51      Voluntary Euthanasia

$101    Christian Democrats


Gosford by-election

$1.05   Labor   

$8.50   Liberal

$16      Shooters, Fishers and Farmers

$51      Animal Justice Party   

$51      Christian Democrats

$101    Green


Manly by-election

$1.10   Liberal   

$7.50   Independent (Ron Delezio)

$9.00   Independent (Kathryn Ridge)

$11      Green

$21      Independent (running for One Nation)         

$21      Independent (John Cook)

$21      Independent (Haris Jackman)            

$26      Independent (Brian Clare)     

$26      Independent (Victor Waterson)

$51      Voluntary Euthanasia (Kerry Bromson)         

$51      Animal Justice (Ellie Robertson)        

$51      Christian Democrats

$51      Independent (James Mathison)
                    [post_title] => Bookies shorten odds for independent to win North Shore by-election
                    [post_excerpt] => Will the Libs topple in leafy la-la land?
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Will the Liberals seize victory in Mike Baird's seat of Manly and Jillian Skinner's North Shore? Pic: Facebook.



Council anti-merger campaigners have vowed to inflict pain on the NSW Government in three upcoming by-elections, after North Shore MP and former Health Minister Jillian Skinner finally resigned officially this week.

Ms Skinner tendered her resignation to Speaker Shelley Hancock late on Monday, apparently after failing to score her beloved Health portfolio in NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s first Cabinet reshuffle at the end of January.

The NSW Electoral Commission will now set a date for three by-elections: Ms Skinner’s North Shore seat, Manly and Gosford. Manly was former NSW Premier Mike Baird’s seat and Labor MP Kathy Jackson recently quit her Gosford seat for health reasons.

All three seats have been flashpoints for local council forced merger tensions but it is debatable whether Manly and North Shore – both strong Liberal seats – will really slip from the party’s grasp.

However, the Orange by-election result in November, when Shooters Farmers and Fishers candidate Philip Donato seized the rock solid Nationals seat, will no doubt still be painfully fresh in NSW Premier Gladys Berejikilian’s mind.

Tom Sherlock from anti-merger community group Save Our Councils Coalition (SOCC) said council mergers were likely to have an influence on by-election results.

“I’ve seen some reports that say the Liberals will be massacred but I wouldn’t go quite that far. There are some people who will always vote Liberal,” Mr Sherlock said.

“My hope is that there will be some really quality debate about what communities want and what the alternatives are [to mergers].”

He said SOCC would be making sure candidate forums occurred and the group would be asking the candidates questions at forums. The group is encouraging voters to put the Liberals last in protest over forced amalgamations.

Ms Skinner’s North Shore state electorate, which covers Lane Cove, Mosman and North Sydney, is overwhelmingly Liberal territory but council mergers here have been some of the most fiercely contested.

The NSW government said this month that it will still push ahead with Sydney mergers, despite halting regional mergers, and this includes one between Mosman, North Sydney and Willoughby Councils and another between Lane Cove, Hunters Hill and Ryde Councils, subject to the outcome of court cases.

The North Shore seat has a history of independents throughout the eighties and it is possible that a credible independent candidate could take the fight to the Liberals.

Mr Sherlock said Ms Skinner said she opposed local council amalgamations but ‘she never spoke out’ and that she ‘basically let the community down in a very big way’.

The Liberals could get a nasty surprise come election time, which is likely to be in late March or early April.

He said: “The Liberals have taken the North Shore for granted and they might get a big surprise. In that way it’s very similar to Orange. Orange was taken for granted by the Nationals. They brought in a candidate from outside the area and assumed people would vote National.”

Meanwhile, Manly could also give the Liberals a fright if there is a backlash against the newly created Northern Beaches Council.

Manly voters have a history of voting for independent candidates and focusing on local issues and personalities. Independents took the seat in all four elections between 1991 and 2003.

Mr Sherlock said that Pittwater residents in particular were angry over the loss of their council but he said that the majority of the electorate may still back the Liberals.

Warringah residents were more sanguine about council mergers because the former Warringah Council had a dominant role in the new council and some residents had wanted Manly Mayor Jean Hay deposed, said Mr Sherlock.

Manly residents might be more worried about other issues, such as the Western Harbour Tunnel and Northern Beaches Link.

But it is Gosford, one of state’s most marginal seats, where and the forced merger between Gosford City and Wyong Shire Councils could tip the balance against the Liberals.

Labor MP Kathy Smith narrowly beat Liberal state MP Chris Holstein in 2015 by only 203 votes. It is here where council mergers could be the difference between success or failure for the Libs. 

A spokesperson for the NSW Electoral Commission said the Commission was still waiting for the government to issue the writs for the by-elections adding that ‘there is no legislated timeframe for when a by-election has to occur’.
                    [post_title] => NSW council anti-merger campaigners plot revenge after Skinner's official resignation
                    [post_excerpt] => Third by-election triggered.
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Council mergers: A tale of two Premiers



NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s decision on Tuesday to dump six regional council mergers and push ahead with Sydney metropolitan mergers concludes another chapter in what has been a terribly managed process.

Forcibly merging local councils was never going to be easy but former NSW Premier Mike Baird and Local Government Minister Paul Toole set in motion a sequence of events that further tarnished the public’s view of politicians, irritated councils and angered councillors, all while swallowing a huge amount of time, effort and money.

The words dog’s and breakfast spring to mind.

“It’s a well-earned epithet in this case,” says Professor Graham Sansom, who led the Independent Local Government Review Panel’s (ILGRP) inquiry into NSW local government reform in 2013.

“I think you can say with some fairness that pretty much everything they could get wrong they did get wrong,” says Prof Sansom. “The merger process has unquestionably been a disaster.”

Council mergers are not inherently right or wrong – this is the fifth round of council mergers in NSW since the 1970s - but the way the government set about selling them to the public and its dealings with councils was chaotic, inconsistent and disrespectful. Devious even.

In the meantime, other important local government reforms – like reviewing the rates system; encouraging better council co-operation around strategic planning and service delivery; and updating the Local Government Act were pushed into the background as mergers sparked all-out war.

It seemed mergers were the only game in town.

Articulating the merger message

Mike Baird’s success in pushing through the poles and wires sell-off to fund that state’s new infrastructure was partly because he went into the 2015 state election saying he was going to do it and he outlined the benefits of doing so for ordinary Australians.

Contrast this with the flimflammery surrounding council mergers: another extremely emotive policy area.

The government downplayed the subject of council mergers before the 2015 State election, vaguely indicating it would proceed with voluntary mergers and saying that it might push others.  It didn’t help that some government MPs, including Mr Toole, had signed petitions and spoken publicly against forced amalgamations in the recent past.

Prof Sansom says the government should have been upfront and honest about what it wanted to do and clearly set out the benefits and objectives of wider local government reform.

But the government’s narrow focus, in public at least, was on the savings it said mergers would deliver - $2 billion over 20 years – opening it up to furious disagreement from academics like University of New England’s Professor Brian Dollery at the Centre for Local Government.

“By just carrying on constantly about saving a few million here and a few million there I think the government shot itself in the foot because cash savings are the hardest benefit to prove. The financial evidence base was weak,” Prof Sansom says.

“And you don’t throw everything into that much turmoil for just one or two per cent savings on total government expenditure.”

Instead, other community benefits should have been stressed, such as better quality services, improved metropolitan planning, more opportunities for regional development, stronger local governance, ‘tangible things that people care about’ says Sansom.

The government could have spoken about giving councils more scope and more political clout at state and federal level, rather than bypassing them with new agencies like Urban Growth and the Greater Sydney Commission.

“The state government is doing things that local government ought to be doing,” he says.

Roberta Ryan, Professor and Director of the Institute for Public Policy and Governance and the Centre for Local Government at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS), agrees that the NSW government got hung up on the possible cost savings of mergers, without properly articulating the advantages of broader local government reforms.

“It is important that other potential reforms are explored and progressed at the same time - amalgamation is only one tool - and the NSW Inquiry outlined 60 plus other recommendations, some of which are being progress as well, so it is useful not to have the argument just focus on this one aspect,” Prof Ryan says.

She says the emphasis on savings alone did not help the government’s case.

“The evidence is that rates rise to the higher value and services levels also rise from the lower level to the higher level following amalgamation - so this further reduces the potential for cost savings,” says Prof Ryan.

“There may well be long-run efficiencies and higher capacity for local government in the long run which can be beneficial - so the evidence of cost savings needs to be considered as part of short term and longer term arguments.”

Prof Ryan says people are ‘generally 50:50’ about mergers but their perspectives can shift. People in regional and rural areas are more concerned about the negative impact of mergers, she says.

2015-2016 UTS research, Why Local Government Matters, showed resistance to mergers dropped markedly when the public interest benefits of mergers were spelt out. Providing the research to back it up and showing evidence of good process was also critical.

“In the metro areas - the government has a good story to tell - it needs to get out and run the arguments - locality by locality - giving people good processes - access to evidence of the potential benefits - and explain their rationale for undertaking these reforms,” she says.

Producing the evidence and sharing it was also necessary when selling mergers to the public.

“This evidence then becomes part of the public debate that keeps everyone informed and prevents the exchange of ignorance on both sides - the NSW government has invested substantially in gathering this evidence - but it would benefit from communicating it more to the affected communities.”

Baird et al got themselves in a pickle because the evidence for cost saving was weak and they’d made mergers all about saving money.

The NSW Government was not overly forthcoming about supplying the evidence either. The KPMG report, that it says backs up its merger case, is yet to be released in its entirety.

The government’s over-reliance on savings to make its case also led to jarring inconsistencies during the Fit for the Future process when some councils that were strong financially were forced to merge, while other strugglers were left to stand alone.

It left the government open to charges of political opportunism and deepened public cynicism with the process.

Prof Sansom says: “You’ve got to be able to explain what your strategy is and why you’re doing it and you’ve got to be consistent from one place to another. If you treat areas for no good reason differently people lose faith,” he says.

Listening to ratepayers, allaying fears

The government failed to listen to residents’ concerns or to come up with a plan to do anything about them, as well as not communicating a consistent merger message.

The UTS survey found people were most worried about loss of local representation from creating larger councils. This came up repeatedly during merger debates but the NSW government ignored it.

Instead it held hasty public hearings, sacked councillors, appointed administrators and delayed elections for newly merged councils until September 2017.

Prof Sansom says Mr Baird could have considered other ideas, such as having Community Boards at ward level – as happened after the New Zealand council mergers.

Larger, merged councils could also have had more councillors and wards, at least as a transition measure to reassure people that effective local representation would be maintained.

“There’s this obsession with reducing the number of councillors. A notion that councillors get in the way and it’s going to be better if you have fewer of them,” he says.

“The government leapt into mergers without having had that conversation about how to deal with people’s concerns about local representation.”

He says: “It’s basic human psychology. You want to try to think of ways of sweetening the pill.”

He argues that keeping councillors on during the transition period and appointing a transition manager would also have been the sensible thing to do, as happened with the 2008 Queensland mergers.

“Instead: [the government said] we’re going to issue a proclamation and everybody is going to disappear overnight. To me, it’s hard to conceive of a process more likely to get people’s backs up than that.”

An independent body and an independent process

The ILGRP recommended in its 2013 Revitalising Local Government report that the merger process should be managed by a reconstituted, independent Boundaries Commission – with no current or former state politicians or councillors sitting on it - to increase the public’s faith in the decision making process.

The Commission would also periodically review local government boundaries.

In fact, says Prof Ryan, residents should also be involved in setting boundaries around ‘communities of interest’. This can involve looking at key factors like how people access services, schools and shopping; commuting patterns and demographic projections, combined with extensive, independent community consultation.

“Otherwise the boundaries are not accepted by the community and there are political and administrative impacts for many years to come,” she says.

Prof Sansom says the Panel warned the government about taking matters into its own hands in its report.

“I’m more than happy to remind your readers that the ILGRP was very definitely of the view that the current legislation and process embodied in it was not going to do the job.”

Another key recommendation by the ILGRP was to reduce the direct involvement of the Local Government Minister in the merger process.

Local Government NSW describes the Minister as having “unfettered decision-making power” in its 2015 report, Amalgamations: To Merge or Not to Merge?

Professor Sansom agrees that there is too much power vested in one person.

“The problem with the Local Government Minister’s role in NSW is that it’s all powerful at both ends of the process.

“You can’t get anything considered without the minister’s ticking it in the first place and you can’t get anything implemented without the minister ticking it again and having the right to tinker with the recommendations made by the Boundaries Commission.

“It just means that the whole process was politicised from go to woe.”

Professor Sansom says he cannot understand why politicians would want to place themselves at the centre of such a fraught process.

“If you want to overcome the inevitable angst around amalgamations you have got to convince people from day one that you’re fair dinkum about it.

“Being transparent and honest, being serious about exploring all the options, not just picking a few arbitrary mergers here and there. Taking councils and communities into your confidence with evidence.”

The government wrote the merger proposals submitted to the Boundaries Commission and the Minister had the final say on whether mergers should or should not proceed.

Prof Ryan sums it up: “If it is seen as a process of political opportunism by governments to strengthen their own political fortunes it then becomes difficult.”

Checklist for state governments pursuing future council mergers 
  • Be clear and honest about your intentions from the start
  • Back them up with sufficient evidence and share this evidence
  • Engage closely with communities around what the benefits are to them
  • Listen to and act on residents’ concerns
  • Be consistent with your reasoning and apply it evenly and fairly
  • Build independence into the process, including drawing boundaries, engaging with communities and assessing proposals
[post_title] => Forced council mergers: How the NSW government got it so wrong [post_excerpt] => A litany of failures. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => forced-council-mergers-nsw-government-got-wrong [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2017-02-17 10:19:05 [post_modified_gmt] => 2017-02-16 23:19:05 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [4] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 26222 [post_author] => 659 [post_date] => 2017-02-13 15:02:42 [post_date_gmt] => 2017-02-13 04:02:42 [post_content] =>  At a crossroads: NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian. Pic: Facebook.      Newly-installed NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian is poised to make a final decision over whether or not to forge ahead with local council mergers and potentially wind back others on the eve of St Valentine’s Day. The departure of former Premier Mike Baird and NSW Local Government Minister Paul Toole; the shock Nationals loss at the Orange by-election and the ascension of Nationals Leader John Barilaro have provided strong incentives for Ms Berejiklian to distance herself from the old regime and style herself as a Premier who listens and acts on voters’ concerns. Ms Berejiklian has indicated that she will make her move early this week, possibly as early as tomorrow (Tuesday).  Stopping forced amalgamations in their tracks could also mean that her party avoids a whipping in two up-coming Sydney by-elections: former Health Minister Jillian Skinner’s North Shore seat and Mr Baird’s Manly electorate, both of which have been hotbeds of resistance to council mergers and are vulnerable to incursions by independent candidates. A third by-election where mergers may come into play is now on the cards with the resignation of Labor Gosford MP Kathy Smith resigned this week due to ill health. She won Gosford by 200 votes in 2015. Gosford City and Wyong Shire Councils merged to form Central Coast Council in May last year.  While Ms Berejiklian is likely to heed Deputy Premier John Barilaro’s calls in January for a select few regional councils to be allowed to stand alone – namely, Blayney Shire, Cabonne and Orange; Dungog and Maitland; Bathurst and Oberon; Uralla and Walcha- there are other regional and metropolitan councils embroiled in legal action to fight their mergers. The government will need to decide whether councils like Mosman, Strathfield, Hunters Hill, Oberon and Woollahra are rewarded for their ‘bad behaviour’ in rebelling against the government’s forced merger agenda. Another, even thornier decision is whether to hold costly plebiscites and run the risk of reversing the mergers of the 19 new councils created from 42 in May last year, should ratepayers vote that way. Council administrators, who took over from sacked councillors when the new councils were created, have already stated publicly that the integration of staff, systems and services is already well advanced and grant funding has been allocated to projects using the money for mergers promised by the state government and savings already chalked up. Also to consider are the redundancy packages handed out to senior staff and new staff hired. Holding such plebiscites for merged councils may be too much of a back down for the new Premier, who has publicly stated her support for mergers in the past. [post_title] => Valentine’s Day heartbreak for NSW councils over mergers or happily ever after? [post_excerpt] => Merged at first sight. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => valentines-day-heartbreak-nsw-councils-mergers-happily-ever [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2017-02-14 12:50:41 [post_modified_gmt] => 2017-02-14 01:50:41 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [5] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 26148 [post_author] => 659 [post_date] => 2017-02-02 11:52:54 [post_date_gmt] => 2017-02-02 00:52:54 [post_content] =>        Strong indications are emerging that NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian will halt mergers between local councils currently involved in legal stoushes and wind back mergers that have already happened, should ratepayers demand it. Eleven councils are embroiled in legal battles to resist mergers and 20 new councils have been created since May 2016. Keith Rhoades, President of Local Government NSW (LGNSW), the peak body for councils in the state, was upbeat about his meeting with Deputy Premier John Barilaro and new Local Government Minister Gabrielle Upon yesterday (Wednesday), providing a clue that the government’s merger agenda is on the verge of collapse. "It would be inappropriate to reveal the content of those discussions, but I can certainly say they were both constructive and productive,” Mr Rhoades said. "I have said all along that I was confident the Berejiklian/Barilaro Government and the new Local Government Minister would listen to the people and these reports appear to confirm that confidence." Ms Berejiklian has freely admitted that she will be “looking at council amalgamation policy” with a Cabinet meeting likely this week. Her comments after being sworn in as Premier also shed light on her intentions when she said “there’s no doubt that some communities would prefer they didn’t go through that process”. National Leader Mr Barilaro recently came out in support of halting three regional council mergers: Armidale Dumaresq, Guyra Shire, Uralla Shire and Walcha Councils; Orange, Cabonne and Blayney Councils; Bathurst and Oberon Councils. Government News reported on December 2 last year that Monaro MP Barilaro was taking up cudgels against the government’s merger plans, at least for some regional councils. However, he was silent about contentious mergers in other regions, such as the Hunter, the Illawarra and the Central Coast, where there has also been fierce opposition to mergers. Mergers between Shellharbour and Wollongong and Newcastle with Port Stephens have both led to strong local campaigns. The new Premier removed Local Government Minister Paul Toole in last week’s Cabinet reshuffle, perhaps another sign that she was intentionally distancing herself from her predecessor’s intransigence on council mergers. The choice of Ms Upton as Mr Toole's  replacement also appeared to be a clue that the political tide was turning against forced amalgamations.   The Vaucluse MP spoke at a Woollahra anti-merger rally in October last year, where she encouraged people to sign a petition against a merger with Randwick and Waverley Councils but she later appeared to reverse her position under pressure from her party.   While the government is likely to halt council mergers currently before the court, it may also allow plebiscites for those councils ordered to merge last year. Mr Rhoades said the government should hold plebiscites in the 20 new council areas this September and give voters the opportunity to vote on whether they wanted their council to deamalgamate. "I would urge the government to undertake these plebiscites this coming September when the residents and ratepayers of amalgamated councils go to the polls in local government elections and indeed to send all councils who missed out on elections last year to the polls at the same time,” he said. "It saves ratepayers money and it ensures that local democracy will truly be returned as quickly as possible." There is a history in Australia of plebiscites unpicking local council mergers. Four Queensland councils, Noosa, Douglas, Livingstone and Mareeba, voted to deamalgamate in 2013 following Labor Premier Anna Bligh’s 2008 local government reforms when 157 councils were slashed to 73.     By-election backlash Forced local council mergers became a thorn in the side of former NSW Premier Mike Baird and had begun to bite at the ballot box. Nationals candidate Scott Barrett spectacularly lost to the Shooters Fishers and Farmers Party’s Philip Donato at the Orange by-election in November last year with many blaming his loss on the unpopular merger proposed between Orange, Cabonne and Blayney Councils. But there is more to come. The government will be fearing a further hammering in two Sydney by-elections: Former Health Minister Jillian Skinner’s North Shore seat and the Manly by-election to find Mr Baird’s replacement. Ms Skinner’s electorate takes in parts of North Sydney, Mosman and Lane Cove Councils, all of whom are all fighting mergers. A groundswell of dissent occurred in Mike Baird’s Manly electorate, when the new Northern Beaches council was created from Manly, Pittwater and Warringah Councils in May last year.   Council mergers that may never happen Armidale Dumaresq, Guyra Shire, Uralla Shire and Walcha councils Bathurst Regional and Oberon councils Blayney Shire, Cabonne and Orange City councils Burwood, City of Canada Bay and Strathfield Municipal councils Dungog Shire and Maitland City councils Hornsby Shire* and Ku-ring-gai councils Hunter’s Hill, Lane Cove and City of Ryde councils Mosman Municipal, North Sydney and Willoughby City councils Newcastle City and Port Stephens councils Randwick City, Waverley and Woollahra Municipal councils Shellharbour City and Wollongong City councils   New councils that could hold plebiscites  Armidale Regional Council Bayside Council Canterbury-Bankstown Council Central Coast Council City of Parramatta Council Cumberland Council Edward River Council Federation Council Georges River Council Cootamundra-Gundagai Regional Council Hilltops Council Inner West Council Mid-Coast Council Murray River Council Murrumbidgee Council Northern Beaches Council Queanbeyan-Palerang Regional Council Snowy Monaro Regional Council Snowy Valleys Council Dubbo Regional Council [post_title] => Mike Baird’s forced council merger project on the verge of collapse [post_excerpt] => Possible plebiscites for deamalgamation. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => mike-bairds-forced-council-merger-project-verge-collapse [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2017-02-08 13:03:06 [post_modified_gmt] => 2017-02-08 02:03:06 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 3 [filter] => raw ) [6] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 26040 [post_author] => 659 [post_date] => 2017-01-20 11:05:25 [post_date_gmt] => 2017-01-20 00:05:25 [post_content] => Mike Baird resigns_opt     NSW Premier Mike Baird’s shock resignation and his retirement from politics yesterday (Thursday) has engendered tributes from admirers and condemnation from opponents of some of his more unpopular policies, as they come forward to demand early meetings with his replacement. Once the state’s golden boy - his approval rating famously hit 61 per cent in December 2015 - Mr Baird’s popularity had been waning of late. Sydney’s lockout laws; the greyhound industry ban; forced council amalgamations; the West Connex motorway and watering down NSW’s environmental legislation all took the shine off his leadership of the state as some accused him of being arrogant and not listening. President of the Save Our Councils Coalition (SOCC), Carolyn Corrigan, claimed Mr Baird resigned because he was feeling the heat over council mergers. “The real reason for Mike Baird’s resignation as NSW Premier is the overwhelming rejection by local communities across NSW of the government’s attack on local democracy and local councils with council amalgamations a key ingredient,” Ms Corrigan said. “Voters felt deeply betrayed by Mike Baird as he never listened to their concerns and never had a mandate for such fundamental and far reaching change.” SOCC spokesperson Phil Jenkyn said the incoming Premier would lose the 2019 state election unless they reversed forced mergers. Whoever is elected Premier, Mr Baird said they would “complete the work that we started”, a clear sign that the government will not back down on issues such as council mergers. The Nature and Conservation Council of NSW said Mr Baird would be remembered as the premier who repealed some of the state’s most important conservation laws: the Native Vegetation Act and the Threatened Species Conservation Act. NCC CEO Kate Smolski said he had weakened environmental protections and overseen the expansion of coal mines while neglecting renewables, although she praised his target of net zero carbon emissions.  “Mike Baird might hope to be remembered as a builder, but the NSW conservation movement will remember him as a great destroyer,” Ms Smolski said. “His legacy is a system of laws that will accelerate land clearing and habitat destruction, and add extinction pressure to the state’s 1000 threatened species.  “We sincerely hope the incoming premier takes a genuine interest in the protection of the astonishing natural beauty and wildlife that is the common legacy of all people in NSW.” Groups including Keep Sydney Open, which protested strongly against the lockout laws, and WestConnex Action Group have both indicated they will petition the new premier to hear their concerns. Tyson Koh from Keep Sydney Open told the ABC: "If the next Premier wants to enjoy a honeymoon period, than I think they would be very wise to consult. "Young people are passionate people and so if you overlook these issues, then I think that what we've seen is that it could eventually be a ticking time bomb that blows up in your face.” Meanwhile, at his last press conference, Mr Baird listed his achievements and said he was proud of his team. He said his party had rescued NSW from being an economic basket case and had presided over strong economic growth, job creation and low unemployment. He said there was “billions of dollars in budget surplus” and the state’s net debt had been reduced to ‘close to zero’. He also mentioned his commitment to a major infrastructure program, developing the NSW container deposit scheme, building infrastructure such as regional roads and light rail; leasing poles and wires and being the first state to sign up to Gonski. But Mr Baird said he had been frustrated by the lack of tax reform in Australia, such as that on negative gearing. The 48-year-old NSW Premier, who has always made it clear he was no career politician, said that public life had come at “strong personal cost” as his family faced “very serious health challenges”. His father has recently had open heart surgery, his mother needs round-the-clock care for muscular dystrophy and his sister, TV media commentator Julia Baird, has seen her cancer return.  He said he also wanted to spend more time with his wife, Kerryn and children Kate, Luke and Lauren and that he had only made the decision “in the last couple of weeks”.  “I wanted to go as hard as I could for as long as I could and then step aside,” Mr Baird said. “I’ve given my best, I’ve given my all. There’s nothing left. I’ve worked as hard as I possibly could for the people of this state.” He denied that political challenges and questions about his credibility, for example, on ICAC reform and the greyhound industry ban in 2016 had led to his decision and said he was not cutting and running on the state. “I reflect on the entire journey. Yes, there were some tough things last year but every government goes through tough things,” he said. “Ultimately you have to deal with what’s thrown at you but at the same time you need to make sure that you have the vision … and that’s what you fight for.” He said he resigned to give the new Premier time to “put their mark on government” and set their agenda before the 2019 state elections. Frontrunner for the job is NSW Treasurer Gladys Berijiklian, who had a number of successes as previous Transport Minister, with Transport Minister Andrew Constance and Planning Minister Rob Stokes also possible contenders. Whoever replaces him is expected to do a cabinet reshuffle in early February. Mr Baird and Ms Berejiklian are close allies but Mr Baird said there was not a ‘Kirribilli-style agreement’ in place guaranteeing her succession. Ms Berejiklian called her colleague 'an inspiring leader and a man of enormous integrity' and said he had left 'an outstanding and indelible mark on the state of NSW'. Mike’s leadership has made NSW the economic and infrastructure powerhouse of the nation. His compassion has also ensured a better quality of life for those most vulnerable. Deputy Premier candidates are likely to include Finance Minister Dominic Perrottet and Energy Minister Anthony Roberts.   Mr Baird became Premier in April 2014. He also spent three years as NSW Treasurer.    [post_title] => Bye, bye Baird: Community groups pledge to fight on [post_excerpt] => Tributes and condemnations. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => bye-bye-baird-community-groups-pledge-fight [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2017-01-20 11:46:44 [post_modified_gmt] => 2017-01-20 00:46:44 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 2 [filter] => raw ) [7] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 25986 [post_author] => 658 [post_date] => 2017-01-13 12:48:53 [post_date_gmt] => 2017-01-13 01:48:53 [post_content] =>

CDS label

South Australia has been running a successful CDS since 1977. Pic: Adelaide Hills Recycling Centre.
By Ben Hagemann 
With the upcoming introduction of a new Container Deposit Scheme (CDS) in NSW due for in June 2017, a peak body for the convenience industry has voiced concerns over the timeframe of the rollout.Australasian Association of Convenience Stores (AACS) CEO Jeff Rogut urged the government to “consider a staged implementation of the CDS”.With the state Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) due to appoint a CDS scheme co-ordinator and collection network operator in April 2017, Mr Rogut said this would leave only a short time for implementation of the scheme.   Read more here. This story first appeared in C&I Week. 
[post_title] => EPA defends new drinks deposit scheme in NSW [post_excerpt] => Retailers call for 'staged implementation'. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => epa-defends-new-drinks-deposit-scheme-nsw [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2017-01-13 12:57:07 [post_modified_gmt] => 2017-01-13 01:57:07 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 4 [filter] => raw ) [8] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 25947 [post_author] => 659 [post_date] => 2017-01-09 16:14:28 [post_date_gmt] => 2017-01-09 05:14:28 [post_content] => gladys-berejiklian-and-mike-baird2_opt Berejiklian and Baird: Free marketeers or affordable housing warriors? Pic: Facebook.      The NSW Opposition has accused Premier Mike Baird and Treasurer Gladys Berejiklian of being ‘free marketeers’ who don’t care about affordable housing after proposals to overhaul the state’s planning laws were announced yesterday (Sunday). NSW Planning Minister Rob Stokes put a raft of proposals out to public consultation, which he said would help speed up development applications (DAs) and tackle the state’s serious housing shortage. But NSW Labor says the changes represent only minor tinkering with the planning system and ignore the major policy levers that need to be pulled to address housing affordability. The changes put forward for public consultation involve amending the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act 1979. Changes include: • New powers for the Planning Minister to impose independent planning panels on councils that stall on big DAs • Widening the definition of ‘complying development’ to include greenfield development and terrace housing, not just one or two-storey dwellings • New powers for the Planning Department to intervene if a government agency is dithering over residential approvals • Standardising the format of councils’ development control plans so they’re easier to read and navigate • Giving developers incentives to address objections from communities before lodging DAs • Simplifying building provisions for developers • Making planning agreements between developers and councils more consistent and transparent • Council planning staff or local planning panels to decide more DAs, councillors to concentrate more on strategic planning • Making community participation plans compulsory for planning authorities   Shadow Planning Minister Michael Daley disparaged the proposed planning amendments today as “modest measures” dressed up as help for first home buyers and called them inoffensive but bland. “There’s nothing in these provisions that will ease the housing affordability crisis,” Mr Daley said. “There’s no provision in any of these amendments that will give joy or hope to first home buyers in NSW. What they aim to do is to ease some of the red tape.” He said the amendments would not help developers convert development approvals into completions and the Baird government should concentrate instead on agitating for negative gearing to be wound back federally while introducing rezoning and affordable housing targets at state level to prevent first home buyers from being consistently outgunned by cashed-up investors. “Malcolm Turnbull is wrong when he says that it’s red tape at the council level that’s holding housing affordability up,” Mr Daley said. He also accused Premier Mike Baird and Treasurer Gladys Berejiklian of being “free marketeers” and not genuinely caring about affordable housing. “We’re calling on Mike Baird to get on the phone today and to scream at Malcolm Turnbull and demand some reform to negative gearing,” Mr Daley said. “It’s the big lever at the federal level and at the state level inclusion rezoning [targets] and affordable rental housing targets. They’re the things we’re screaming about.” He said that last year 75,000 DAs were approved but just over 30,000 were built and quoted Mr Stokes as saying that 40,000 new homes needed to be built every year, just to keep up with domestic demand. The NSW government’s planning law shake-up has also drawn fire from the peak body for the state’s local councils, Local Government NSW (LGNSW), which said that widening the definition of complying development could clear the way for medium density development without community input, leaving it in the hands of private certifiers. LGNSW President Keith Rhoades said the state was “crying out for major planning reform” but feared some of the government’s reforms would give developers carte blanche to replace single houses with multiple townhouses. “Local government is concerned about the proposal to expand complying development to riskier, larger-scale development which could completely change the character of a local area,” Mr Rhoades said. “We welcome the government’s plans to address some existing issues with complying development, like requiring developers to pay a compliance levy and strengthening enforcement powers to manage illegal work, but we don’t support expanding this model to larger-scale development.” Mr Rhoades said there would be too much power concentrated in the hands of private certifiers. “We’re concerned because certification doesn’t allow neighbours to have any real say. They find out the hard way: they get two letters before the bulldozers turn up next door,” he said. The NSW government was originally intending to mandate local planning panels, a move vociferously opposed by NSW councils. Although, the government has backed away from this, it wants to retain the power to impose local panels on councils where necessary, something LGNSW is concerned about because it views the criteria for intervention as unclear. Mr Rhoades said councils supported having more community consultation at the front end of strategic planning but cautioned that this should not come at the cost of community input on a practical level, where local developments affected neighbours. “We would like to see an independent process that respects the importance of local plans in giving life to the community and government’s big picture, with less interference on local details that are so important to communities, such as the protection of local amenity and character,” he said. “The Planning Minister has been very good on the consultation front with councils so far, and we welcome his commitment to work with us on the details.” Meanwhile Mr Stokes said the proposed amendments would increase local participation in planning and make it easier to build new homes. He said NSW Treasury had estimated that there was pent up demand for up to 100,000 new homes. The NSW government has forecast that 725,000 new homes will be needed by 2036 to house an extra 1.7 million residents. “The NSW government is determined to do everything it can, including making the planning system more efficient to ensure housing supply gets to homebuyers fast,” Mr Stokes said. The proposals are on public exhibition until March 10. [post_title] => Baird and Berejiklian: ‘Free marketeers who don’t care about affordable housing’? [post_excerpt] => Rebuilding the NSW planning system. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => baird-berejiklian-free-marketeers-dont-care-affordable-housing [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2017-01-10 11:42:31 [post_modified_gmt] => 2017-01-10 00:42:31 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 1 [filter] => raw ) [9] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 25916 [post_author] => 659 [post_date] => 2016-12-21 09:42:21 [post_date_gmt] => 2016-12-20 22:42:21 [post_content] => emu-plains-correctional-centre-supplied Emu Plains Correctional Centre.    The Baird government has backed down on building a pop-up prison for maximum security inmates in Western Sydney, after strong local opposition to the plans. NSW Corrections Minister David Elliott announced today (Wednesday) that the new quick-build prison for 400 inmates, which was to be built next to the 200-bed women’s prison at Emu Plains Correctional Centre, would not be going ahead. The NSW prison population is at record levels and the government is scrambling to deal with the crisis. A spokesperson for Mr Elliott said the NSW government had received a hydrologist’s report which indicated that the site, which is on a flood plain, was at risk of flooding. Mr Elliott said: “I have heard community concerns about the proposed expansion and updated flood modelling provided to Justice Infrastructure shows that the flooding risk with the proposed increase in capacity could not be fully addressed at the site. “We are continuing to look at additional sites to increase capacity in the NSW correctional system.” He said Emu Plains was chosen for expansion because it was a large open site within the Sydney metropolitan region and would have brought more than 400 new jobs to the local economy. Mr Elliott said the NSW Government would invest $3.8 billion over four years to provide about 7,000 additional beds across the state to cope with NSW’s increasing prisoner population. Shadow Minister for Corrections Guy Zangari said the government had been forced into an “embarrassing backflip” because it had failed to consult properly with residents or with its own planning department. Mr Zangari said the prison would have been built close to an area surrounded by houses, schools and a train station. “The community is outraged that they were never consulted about this pop-up prison. Now Minister Elliott has been forced into back-flipping on a flimsy plan that lacked detail about keeping nearby residents safe,” Mr Zangari said. “It took a community backlash to make the minister see sense and ditch this idea. It just goes to show how out of touch he is.” Mr Zangari blamed the Baird Government for creating “the worst prison bed crisis” in the state's history. He said 1700 inmates were expected to come into prison corrections next year but only 900 new beds.   [post_title] => NSW government shelves pop-up prison after community backlash [post_excerpt] => Emu Plains site a no-go. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => nsw-government-shelves-pop-prison-community-backlash [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2017-05-02 15:11:08 [post_modified_gmt] => 2017-05-02 05:11:08 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [10] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 23907 [post_author] => 659 [post_date] => 2016-12-20 16:29:07 [post_date_gmt] => 2016-12-20 05:29:07 [post_content] => Baird_Hospital_construction   There are some giant question marks hanging over NSW newly-created councils; one of the biggest unknowns is what happens to development applications and planning while administrators are running the show. NSW Local Government Minister Paul Toole has insisted it's business as usual for council planners and that administrators will be able to decide any development applications (DAs) that can't be dealt with by council officers. Will planning rules change? Mr Toole has promised that administrators at the state’s 19 new councils will not tinker with local environment plans (LEPs), leaving them static until mayors and councillors are elected at the September 2017 local government elections. LEPs are critical to guiding planning decisions and because they regulate land use and development, for example land zonings. The plans are written by local councils but subject to state government approval. However, there is no specific mention of not touching LEPs in the Local Government (Council Amalgamations) Proclamation 2016 that accompanied the announcement of new councils last week. The Proclamation says former council areas will keep their development control and contributions plans but adds: “To avoid doubt, nothing in this clause prevents the new council from amending a development control plan or contributions plan.” Development control plans provide detailed planning and design guidelines to support LEP planning controls. Associate Professor Roberta Ryan, from the Centre for Local Government at the University of Technology Sydney, said the Proclamation Amalgamation was silent on LEPs, other than to say all plans, strategies and codes of former councils remained in force as they were prior to amalgamation. But she said that although the technical documents informing decisions, such as LEPs, DCPs and the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act, would not change administrators might interpret them differently from councillors. “All planning instruments of the pre-amalgamated entities remain in force until they are repealed (i.e. new ones prepared by the post-merger entities),” Dr Ryan said. “However, nothing in the Amalgamation Proclamation prohibits the Council (i.e. the administrator until new elections are held) from amending DCPs or development contribution plans.” She said experience had shown that one of the biggest challenges ahead for councils that merge was developing land use planning instruments for entirely new councils. This had taken a substantial amount of time to update following the 2008 Queensland mergers. “NSW’s recent lengthy experience with the standard instrument process (which took about seven years to transition all councils) underscores just how extensive and time consuming this task will be,” A/Prof Ryan said. Councils would also need to wrestle with integration of computer systems development application which allocate application numbers. There is also a question of whether planning officers would stick to DAs from their former council areas because they know the LEP/DCP provisions or if they would also make decisions on other locations too. Planning during the administrator phase: different camps, different worries Property developers Parts of the property industry are fearful that administrators will be gun-shy and either disallow DAs, or put them on ice for 16 months. Chris Johnson from Urban Taskforce said: “We’re very concerned that the administrators may well feel as though they need to be very community sensitive under the circumstances of councils being sacked and in a caretaker mode and not be willing to make big decisions.” Mr Johnson said this could exacerbate housing shortages, particularly in Metropolitan Sydney, and hold up the voluntary planning agreements and rezoning needed for bigger developments to go ahead. He said: “A lot depends on what instructions are given to administrators in relation to planning matters.” Some council LEPs are four or five years out-of-date and did not include new rail lines and metros, where more density is now expected to occur. He suggested the Department of Planning and Environment or the Greater Sydney Commission could make final decisions on larger developments. “We need some confidence that the administrators are not going to be too risk averse.” NSW Executive Director of the Property Council, Jane Fitzgerald, said she was not panicking about planning under the new councils, but was keeping a watchful eye. “We would be concerned if there is evidence of delays in the DA process, for instance, but given that this was announced a week ago and administrators are just getting their feet under their desks I think it’s a little early to get hysterical about it." She said there were DA timelines in place and administrators would be applying the same rules as councillors used. “We need to keep in mind the broader objectives in what we’re dealing [and] what’s intended: less red tape, larger council areas being able to deliver more and better services because of economies of scale.” Community groups, councillors and residents While the property industry is worried the planning process will be held up by having administrators in charge, some mayors, councillors and community groups are worried that the reverse is true and that unpopular developments could be rubber stamped. There is also anxiety that there will be no community voice at the table during discussions on major projects such as WestConnex, the Bays Precinct or North Parramatta Urban Renewal Project. Former Leichhardt Mayor Darcy Byrne – whose inner-west Sydney council merged with Ashfield and Marrickville to create Inner West Council last week – said he feared that sacking councillors and mayors would give NSW Planning Minister Rob Stokes carte blanche to push through controversial developments like WestConnex. “[They could] rush through high-rise development in the Bays Precinct, Parramatta Road and the Sydenham to Bankstown rail line corridor without any opposition,” Mr Byrne said. “I expect that these things will be speeded up. The administrators were handpicked by Mike Baird and won’t properly investigate state government proposals. They will just take the view of Mike Baird at face value.” He said sacking councillors and appointing administrators was “an extreme concentration of power that’s ripe for improper decision making". “Local residents and former councillors are all feeling fearful and I think they’re right to be.” The new City of Parramatta Council is the consent authority for some state significant developments, including the proposal to build around 3,000 apartments on a large heritage site in North Parramatta, which contains the Parramatta Female Factory and Roman Catholic Orphan School. North Parramatta Residents Action Group President Suzette Meade, who is also on the Parramatta City Council Heritage Advisory Committee, said council sackings meant residents had “lost the ability to lobby councillors". “We are extremely concerned that local residents will not be heard or listened to,” she said. “We’re saying, just slow down and let the site form the development into a tourism and culture site. It’s a bit of a faux tourism and culture site at the moment.” Ms Meade said the state government had pursued forced amalgamations in order to “administer key development programs in key areas” and that Parramatta was becoming a super council along the key urban growth development corridor. Meanwhile, UrbanGrowth NSW, the lead government agency on the Parramatta North Urban Renewal Program, said it would work with the new council to ensure further consultation on the site. “We held three community information sessions this year where we sought feedback from the local community,” an agency spokesperson said. “Our development applications will be subject to statutory exhibition periods where the community can examine the plans and make formal submissions. In addition, we are looking forward to working with the local community on ensuring the significant heritage buildings have an ongoing, viable use.” “It has always been the intention of UrbanGrowth NSW to lodge future development applications with Parramatta Council.” Parramatta North was rezoned by the planning minister in November 2015.   A statement provided to Government News by the NSW Department of Planning and Environment said: The Department of Planning and Environment is developing a guide for new councils to help transition their planning processes. The Department will provide support to new councils during this period so that they can continue to provide key planning and assessment services to their communities. New Councils will continue to process development applications and other planning activities. Joint Regional Planning Panels will continue to make decisions based on council assessment planning reports. Individuals and businesses should continue to deal with their councils and submit applications for assessment as they would normally. This is an opportunity for new councils to improve their delivery of planning services and the Department will support them to make these improvements.   [post_title] => Best of 2016: Planning under NSW forced council mergers, confusion reigns [post_excerpt] => Administrators to decide development applications. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => planning-nsw-forced-council-mergers-confusion-reigns [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2016-12-20 16:32:46 [post_modified_gmt] => 2016-12-20 05:32:46 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 3 [filter] => raw ) [11] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 24232 [post_author] => 671 [post_date] => 2016-12-20 15:50:00 [post_date_gmt] => 2016-12-20 04:50:00 [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_24233" align="alignnone" width="300"]Baird Maroons jersey_opt Commitments... he's made a few. pic: Facebook[/caption]   The Baird Government has moved to seize direct financial control of councils across New South Wales under sweeping new laws that hand ultimate power over local government spending to specially appointed “controllers”, with oversight duties handed to the State Auditor General. Revealed in the immediate wake of this week’s NSW Budget, the new legislation — the Local Government Amendment (Governance and Planning) 2016 — proposes to impose the tightest controls yet on how elected representatives and council staff spend money and includes the right to shut out general managers from financial probes of expenditure and governance. The new laws could also hand State Government appointed administrators the power to make ‘opt-in’ decisions on behalf of electors and elected representatives on controversial issues like the use of postal voting at merged councils thanks to the delay of polls until September 2017. Rushed into the Legislative Assembly this week, the new controls won’t be debated until the August sitting of State Parliament but have already sent shockwaves across a sector still reeling from the sacking of 37 councils in May. [quote]One of the legislative changes sure to raise hackles is a bid to “remove procedural requirements relating to the community strategic plan, community engagement strategy, resource ng strategy, delivery program and operational plan.”[/quote] Local Government Minister Paul Toole is making no apologies and said the new laws make “important changes to ensure councils are always putting the interests of local communities first.” That includes far greater powers for direct ministerial intervention. “It will enable the Government to appoint a financial controller to councils that have a consistent record of poor financial performance and get those councils back on track,” Mr Toole said. The hotly contested financial state and sustainability of local governments across NSW was the main trigger for forcing council amalgamations across the state, premised on the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal’s heavily disputed ‘Fit of the Future’ report card. But many councils – amalgamated or otherwise – have attacked the financial assessments made of them in the run-up to mergers as flawed, particularly smaller and more buoyant local governments amalgamated with fiscally challenged neighbours.  

Councils hit back

Local Government NSW (LGNSW), the peak representative body for councils in the state, is suspicious of the bid to parachute-in financial controllers as the Minister sees fit, cautioning some of the state government’s financial assessment methods simply lack credibility. “Many of these moves seem designed to establish new avenues for central oversight and control, rather than recognising that local government is an autonomous, elected sphere of government,” said LGNSW President Keith Rhoades. “There needs to be agreed parameters around the Government appointing a financial controller, and objective measures of "poorly performing" or "high financial sustainability risk" need to be established. Lack of specificity could allow the Government to apply the same discredited methods used to declare many NSW councils "not fit for the future," Cllr Rhoades said. City of Sydney Councillor Ed Mandla, a Liberal, also had reservations as the the efficacy of the new laws. "Surely the best oversight for council books is the ballot box," Cllr Mandla told Government News. [quote]"The real problem for for Councillors is if they have a problem with the GM (general manager) they have to tell the mayor and if they have a problem with the mayor they have to tell the GM — what if they are in cahoots?"[/quote]  

Questionable Timing

The latest laws are the second major tranche of legislation to hit this week, with another bill dealing with the donations and the pecuniary interests of councillors – the Local Government and Elections Legislation Amendment Integrity Bill – introduced on Budget night. The timing of the new legislation prompted Labor Opposition Leader Luke Foley to accuse Mr Toole and Premier Baird of trying to sneak through the new laws and of reneging on a promise to introduce limits on donations, especially from property developers. “Mr Baird has broken a clear and unequivocal commitment to introduce spending and donation caps for council elections,” Mr Foley said. [quote]“Caps on donations are not much use without limits on election spending. Predatory interests will be able to spend as much as they like to capture control of a local council.”[/quote] Shadow Local Government Minister Peter Primrose said while it was still too early to give a definitive assessment of the latest laws, people needed to remember that decisions at amalgamated councils – including ones that could flow from the new laws –were being made by government appointed administrators rather than councillors answerable to electors until September 2017. Mr Primrose also questioned whether the Baird Government was really committed to ensuring integrity in council decisions given Budget cuts meted out to the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) that had persistently uncovered graft and dodgy decisions. “The Premier who is behind this bill is also responsible for slashing staff at ICAC – one of the most important institutions that that maintains integrity in local government,” Mr Primrose told Parliament on Wednesday. Referencing State Budget papers, Mr Primrose said ICAC’s “corruption prevention presentations will drop from 160 to 100” and that the average time to deal with complaints would rise from 30 days to 42 days. "So much for promoting integrity measures,” Mr Primrose said.  

Massive Audit Office Workload

While the new legislation is yet to pass, a clear intention of the new laws is to remove the ability of councillors to appoint their own auditors and hand oversight power to the directly Auditor General. [quote]The changes mean that while the government will get a centralised and consistent view of local government finances, the Audit Office of NSW will need to compile literally hundreds of new council reports a year to perform its new duty.[/quote] A spokesperson for Mr Toole said changes brought NSW “into line with most other Australian jurisdictions and New Zealand and will provide greater consistency and certainty across the sector.” “It will also ensure that reliable financial information is available that can be used to assess councils’ performance and for benchmarking. Mr Toole’s Office also confirmed that the Auditor-General will have powers to “conduct sector-wide performance audits to identify trends and opportunities for improvement across the sector” in line with similar powers in relation to state agencies. The total cost of the audits – which are typically charged back to agencies – is still yet to be determined. A state public service source suggested that putting councils under the watch of the Auditor General was “unquestionably” the right move, but one that may not work in Macquarie Street’s favour if ministers relied on rubbery numbers. Premier Baird in February 2016 announced that Margaret Crawford,  who has been Deputy Secretary at the state’s Department of Family and Community Services, would become the new Auditor General of NSW.

Key changes as flagged by the Minister for Local Government

  • Appoint the Auditor-General as the auditor of all councils;
  • clarify roles and responsibilities of councillors, mayors, administrators and general managers;
  • introduce new guiding principles for local government;
  • improve governance of councils and professional development for councillors;
  • consolidate the ethical conduct obligations of councillors;
  • establish the framework for strategic business planning and reporting; and
  • streamline council administrative processes.
[post_title] => Best of 2016: Baird seizes financial control of NSW councils [post_excerpt] => Oversight powers sent to Auditor General. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => baird-seizes-financial-control-of-nsw-councils-under-new-laws [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2016-12-20 15:51:27 [post_modified_gmt] => 2016-12-20 04:51:27 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 12 [filter] => raw ) [12] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 23674 [post_author] => 658 [post_date] => 2016-12-20 14:06:42 [post_date_gmt] => 2016-12-20 03:06:42 [post_content] => KPMG By Martin Bass Tuning in to the news recently it was hard to avoid the barrage of media attention regarding management consultants BIS Shrapnel’s economic modelling of Labor's proposed changes to negative gearing policy. Across radio and television reports, much time and attention was given to criticism of the ‘dark art’ of economic modelling and its apparent capacity to deliver whatever results or findings are required by those commissioning it. In NSW at present, economic modelling is providing strong support and justification for the Baird Government’s plans for council amalgamations. Consulting company KPMG was contracted to perform the economic modelling and prepare the 45 amalgamation proposals currently under consideration at a reported cost of $400,000. Reading through the proposals, two characteristics stand out. The first is KPMG’s modelling that indicates the consistently positive economic impacts that will flow to NSW communities as a result of the amalgamations. The second is the absence of any account of the assumptions or detailed data underpinning this modelling. Some disturbing insights into the ‘variability’ of this economic modelling are evident in examining the three-into-one amalgamation proposal for Cooma Monaro, Snowy River and Bombala Councils in the State’s south-east. According to introductory statements in the document, “The proposal .... is supported by independent analysis and modelling by KPMG.”  The proposal provides a strong rationale for the amalgamation of these councils, citing numerous financial and other benefits to both the new council and its communities. With amalgamations on the horizon in early 2015, these three councils commissioned KPMG, for a total cost of $80,000, to do some economic modelling for them and prepare a ‘Merger Business Case Analysis’. In light of the recent criticisms of economic modelling and in a quick game of ‘spot the contradictions’, a comparative assessment of the two reports makes interesting reading. Consider the following statements from the reports: State Government amalgamation proposal: "The efficiencies and savings generated by the merger will allow the new council to invest in improved service levels and/or a greater range of services and address the current infrastructure backlog across the three councils." Council merger business case analysis: "... a merged council is likely to materially underperform against benchmarks relating to asset renewal and infrastructure backlog." or: State Government amalgamation proposal: "This merger proposal will provide the new council with the opportunity to strengthen its balance sheet and provide a more consistent level of financial performance. Overall, the proposed merger is expected to enhance the financial sustainability of the new council." Council merger business case analysis: "The assumptions adopted in the financial analysis are conservative and acknowledge the likely difficulties in generating efficiencies and economies of scale from the proposed merger." or: State Government amalgamation proposal: "These communities are bound by their sense of place as an alpine region. Box 2 provides examples of community organisations, services and facilities that have a presence across the region, which indicate the existence of strong existing connections between the communities in the existing council areas." Council merger business case analysis: "... a merged council entity may also encounter challenges in tailoring programs and initiatives to diverse community interests and profiles across a region spanning more than 15,000 km2." Think about these statements - they are some of the outcomes of two economic modelling exercises performed by one consultant [KPMG] focusing on the same amalgamation scenario. Total public money expended - $480,000. Yet reading these statements, it’s hard to believe that the two reports came from one single source. The apparent contradictions are alarming. What makes this more concerning is that whilst the full KPMG report prepared for the councils is freely available, that prepared for the State Government, along with any supporting analysis and assumptions, has not been publicly released despite numerous requests from councils, communities, the State Opposition and others. In his essay in The Monthly in April 2015 titled Spreadsheets of power - How economic modelling is used to circumvent democracy and shut down debate’, Australian economist Richard Denniss observed that “Economic models are at their most powerful when only the powerful are aware of what they contain: thousands of assumptions that range from the immoral and implausible to the well-meaning but estimated. However they are made, the conclusions of a model are only as reliable as its assumptions.” In the end, the economic modellers may get these NSW amalgamations over the line. But these reports should sound warning bells for the State Government, that if they’re about to introduce sweeping changes across the State that may have far-reaching impacts on communities, modelling only for the outcomes they want is probably not good practice. There are risks and costs involved in amalgamations – any council that has been through the process will say the same. If the State Government’s own consultants found them in one case, they can probably find them in the other 44.   Martin Bass is a Sydney-based, independent local government consultant. [post_title] => Best of 2016: Cash for contradictions: KPMG's model for council mergers [post_excerpt] => Model behaviour for $480k. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => cash-for-contradictions-kpmg-council-merger-reports [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2016-12-20 15:38:06 [post_modified_gmt] => 2016-12-20 04:38:06 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 5 [filter] => raw ) [13] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 24142 [post_author] => 671 [post_date] => 2016-12-20 14:00:15 [post_date_gmt] => 2016-12-20 03:00:15 [post_content] => dd-buses-web_opt  

Double decker buses will soon become a common sight on Sydney’s streets once more after the New South Wales Government revealed it will commission a proper fleet of the high capacity vehicles to boost capacity on crowded runs as part of a $108 million service boost and refresh in the 2016-17 NSW Budget

Exact details on who will manufacture and how many of the new 80-seat beasts will be deployed are still to be finalised, but the firm commitment to reinstate double deckers into mainstream route service in Sydney cements major turnaround in public transport thinking 30-years after the last Leyland Atlantean made its from Wynyard to Avalon in May 1986.

While the Baird Government started trialling Bustech double deckers North-West T-Way at the end of August 2012, the pre-Budget essentially embeds the top deck vehicles as part of the city’s core fleet for the foreseeable future.

The announcement is also the second major public transport ‘back to the future’ flip for Transport for NSW after the commitment to reinstate light rail services (or heavy trams) in the city and eastern suburbs, with deployments in the West also highly likely to be commissioned.

Heavy crowding and more demand than capacity during peak-hour services for Sydney buses has been a serious and persistent problem for at least the last decade, as urban renewal and residential infill push more commuters onto the bus system. The biggest headaches for authorities and commuters alike include passengers who are closer to a bus route destination often missing out on scheduled morning trips because vehicles are filled to capacity well before they get near their terminus. Efforts to deploy more, larger single decker and articulated or ‘bendy’ busses have also created knock-on effects as busses get stuck long queues to unload passengers on approaches to the city and other major centres. A big benefit of double decker buses is that even though they carry 65 per cent more passengers than regular buses – 130 people when completely full on seated and standing capacity – they only occupy the space of a single bus making it easier to cram more services into smaller areas and tighter streets. leyland atlantean_optWith major residential developments now replacing industrial real estate on the city fringe, authorities are looking to boost both capacity and frequency. “Thousands of Sydneysiders rely on bus travel every day to get from A to B and we know demand for services is continually increasing, particularly in growth centres in the North West and South West, as well as in inner city areas like Green Square,” said NSW Transport Minister Andrew Constance.

“Since coming to office, the NSW Government has delivered more than 15,800 extra weekly public transport services for customers and today’s announcement is further proof that we’re committed to putting on even more where and when they’re needed most.

“This is all about staying ahead of the curve to ensure customers have sufficient levels of service well into the future.”

sydney-bus-museum-vintage-bus-sydney-comedy-festiv1_optFor people that remember Sydney’s original double decker bus fleet, it’s actually more like replacing something many feel, like trams, should never have been taken away in the first place. Treasurer Gladys Berejiklian – who spearheaded many of the key public transit reforms when she held the Transport portfolio – said the upcoming NSW Budget would continue to fund more services and infrastructure. “These double decker buses have allowed us to deliver good customer outcomes and we are pleased to be rolling out more of them across Sydney,” Ms Berejiklian said before cataloguing where new money was going to be spent. The Treasurer said that under the NSW Budget 2016-16 commitment, 12 new or extended routes will come online. They include a new cross suburban link between the Inner West and Lower North Shore, all night services seven days a week for Green Square and Zetland as well as Abbotsford, Five Dock and Rouse Hill on weekends. The addition of new all-night services has long been called for by groups representing essential services and the hospitality sector where the availability and cost of labour have been hit by the shortage of car spaces and a lack of alternative transport options. Fleet renewal and replacement is also a strong focus, with older non-air conditioned buses finally dropped from service in favour of climate controlled accessible (or ‘kneeling’) busses that allow wheelchair users to roll-on and roll-off regular services – an important addition given many older Sydney railway stations still don’t have lifts.   Specifics for the 2016/17 Growth Bus Services Program Western Sydney (including Hills District and South West) More than 1,350 new weekly trips, including 5 new or extended routes.
  • New route 605 (North Kellyville to Rouse Hill Town Centre)
  • Extended route 751 (Marsden Park to Blacktown via Colebee)
  • Extended route T72 (Blacktown to Rouse Hill Town Centre via Alex Avenue)
  • Extended route T74 (Blacktown to Riverstone via Hambledon Road)
  • Extended route 783 (Penrith to Jordan Springs)
Enhanced services:
  • 607X (Rouse Hill to City via M2)
  • 610X/M61 (Rouse Hill and Castle Hill to City M2)
  • 611 (Blacktown to Macquarie Park via M2)
  • 615X (North Kellyville to City via M2)
  • 619 (Rouse Hill to Macquarie Park via Kellyville and M2)
  • 620X-621 (Castle Hill and Cherrybrook to Macquarie Park and City via M2)
  • 700 (Blacktown to Parramatta via Prospect)
  • 740 (Plumpton to Macquarie Park via M2)
  • 841 (Narellan to Leppington)
  • T65 (Rouse Hill to Parramatta via Westmead)
  • T80 (Liverpool to Parramatta via Bonnyrigg)
Sydney Metropolitan More than 1,950 new weekly trips, including 2 new routes.
  • New route 530 (Burwood to Chatswood via Five Dock, Hunters Hill and Lane Cove)
  • New route 985 (Miranda to Cronulla via Woolooware Shores)
Enhanced services on the following routes:
  • Various Northern Beaches routes between Mona Vale and the City
  • 197 (Mona Vale to Macquarie Park via Terrey Hills)
  • 270-274 (Frenchs Forest District to City)
  • 343 (Kingsford to City)
  • 370 (Leichhardt to Coogee)
  • 433 (Balmain to Railway Square via Harold Park)
  • 477 (Miranda to Rockdale via Sans Souci)
  • 506 (Macquarie University and East Ryde to City via Hunters Hill)
  • 518 (Macquarie University to City via Ryde)
  • M20 (Zetland to Wynyard via Central Station)
  • M41 (Burwood to Macquarie Park via Ryde)
New all-night services on the following routes:
  • 301 (Zetland to City via Surry Hills) – seven days
  • 438 (Abbotsford to City via Five Dock and Leichhardt) – Friday and Saturday only
  • 607X (Rouse Hill to City via M2) – Friday and Saturday only
Lower Hunter – More than 170 new weekly trips, including 2 new or extended routes:
  • New route 178 (Anambah to Rutherford)
  • Extended routes 260 and 261 (Minmi and Fletcher to Jesmond and University)
Central Coast – 45 new weekly trips, including 1 extended route:
  • Extended route 40 (Gosford – Wyoming)
  • Enhanced services on routes 67 and 68 between Terrigal and Gosford
  • Enhanced services on route 33 between Gosford and Mangrove Mountain
Blue Mountains – More than 30 new weekly trips on route 686 between Katoomba, Echo Point and Scenic World Illawarra – More than 240 new weekly trips, including 2 new or extended routes:
  • New route 75 (Tullimbar to Stockland Shellharbour)
  • Extended route 32 (Dapto to Brooks Reach)
  • Enhanced services on route 1 between Austinmer and Wollongong
  • Enhanced services on routes 31-33 between Wollongong and Dapto District
  • Enhanced services on route 34 between Warrawong and Wollongong
[post_title] => Best of 2016: High & mighty: double decker buses return to mainstream Sydney route service [post_excerpt] => Back to the Future II [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => double-decker-buses-return-to-mainstream-sydney-route-service [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2016-12-20 15:26:34 [post_modified_gmt] => 2016-12-20 04:26:34 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 3 [filter] => raw ) ) [post_count] => 14 [current_post] => -1 [in_the_loop] => [post] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 26875 [post_author] => 659 [post_date] => 2017-04-11 10:29:17 [post_date_gmt] => 2017-04-11 00:29:17 [post_content] =>   Election result reprieve for NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian. Pic: YouTube.    The NSW Liberals held onto Manly and North Shore in the state by-elections, despite serious swings against it, while Paralympian basketball player Liesl Tesch won Gosford and extended Labor’s lead to become the state’s first MP in a wheelchair. NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian will be relieved that she has made it through her first election test since former Premier Mike Baird quit in January and comforted that her party was able to hold on to what were previously considered safe seats. Ms Berejiklian would have been haunted by fears of a repeat of the Orange by-election upset last November when the Shooters and Fishers toppled the Nationals candidate but in the end she was spared the indignity. The Premier had admitted she was braced for 'huge swings' against the government but added that sometimes voted just needed to vent.   Liberal James Griffin retained Mike Baird’s old seat of Manly, albeit with a primary vote swing of 24.7 per cent swing against him, while Felicity Wilson took ex-NSW Health Minister Jillian Skinner’s former North Shore seat, where the swing was 15.4 per cent against the government. Some pundits had been predicting that North Shore could fall to Independent Carolyn Corrigan and cause Ms Berejiklian a major embarrassment but it was never transpired. Pressure had been mounting on the Liberals in the weeks leading up to the by-elections, with Mr Griffin and Ms Wilson both mired in controversy. A company Mr Griffin co-founded was accused of trading while insolvent and Ms Wilson was caught exaggerating how long she had lived on the North on her statutory declaration and nomination form. She later slipped up on social media, claiming that she had cast her first ever vote for John Howard in Bennelong in 2001. Fairfax countered her claim by saying she lived in Marrickville at the time, in the Grayndler electorate, and could not have done so. Ms Berejiklian would have been expected a backlash against her government, at least partly made up of those disaffected by transport problems, overcrowded schools, forced council mergers, greyhound racing and NSW hospital scandals. The Premier will be preparing in earnest for the next state elections in 2019 when voters may be more eager to punish the incumbent government after eight years in office.  It was good news for Labor in the Central Coast seat of Gosford as Liesl Tesch and widened the party’s margin in what had been the state’s most precarious seat with a 14 per cent swing. Labor MP Kathy Smith, who retired due to ill health earlier this year, beat Liberal state MP Chris Holstein in the 2015 Gosford election by only 203 votes. NSW Opposition Leader Luke Foley said Ms Berejiklian should take responsibility for the major swings against the Liberals, which he said were more than 25 per cent in some polling booths. “In November the voters in three seats said the Government should change – it changed Premier but it didn’t change direction. Today voters in three different seats told the Government again it needs to change direction – it is time for Ms Berejiklian to start listening," Mr Foley said.  He praised Ms Tesch and said she had fought a strong campaign. “This is a great victory for the Central Coast. Liesl is a fighter. She has been a success at everything she has attempted in life and I know she will be a great representative for the people of the Central Coast when she takes up her position in the State Parliament.” [post_title] => Relief for Berejiklian in state by-elections despite serious swings [post_excerpt] => Labor keeps Gosford, increases margin. 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