NSW Local Government Minister Paul Toole has publicly condemned protestors and politicians after wild scenes at the first meeting of the new Inner West Council last night (Tuesday).
Hundreds gathered to protest against the forced merger of three metropolitan Sydney councils, Ashfield, Leichhardt and Marrickville – announced on May 12 – and to voice their opposition to unpopular motorway project WestConnex.
Inner West Council Administrator Richard Pearson was booed, spat on, and his iPad and papers knocked to the ground as protestors jostled in the council chamber. The meeting was called off shortly after.
Mr Pearson, an Inner West resident and former Deputy Director General of NSW Planning, has been accused of being a Liberal government puppet and of capitulating to WestConnex, both of which he hotly denies.
Mr Toole held a press conference about the council meeting this morning and said he was horrified by the behaviour of some of the protestors. He also criticised MPs at the meeting, which included Balmain Greens MP Jamie Parker, saying: “They could have calmed it down.”
“What we saw last night was a mob mentality of trying to disrupt the democratic process,” Mr Toole said. “I don’t think there’s any place for people to protest by actions of spitting and physical intimidation. Staff should not have been subjected to it.”
But the Minister would not answer whether the state government’s relentless pursuit of forced council mergers was to blame for the tinderbox situation or if police would press assault charges against the two protestors.
Mr Toole said it was the community that suffered from the meeting being abandoned because service delivery and establishing the new council’s implementation advisory group and local representation committee had all been on the agenda.
Meanwhile, the three former council mayors, Lucille McKenna, Sam Iskander and Darcy Byrne, pleaded for calm and said they did not want future meetings to be unworkable or to “become a forum for abuse.”
“We greatly appreciate the strong display of public support for our reinstatement at last night’s meeting and also condemn the irresponsible actions of those individuals who appear to have assaulted the council’s Administrator,” said the mayors. “In particular, we call on all citizens to make sure that the Administrator of the council and the council’s officers are treated with respect.
“Our argument is with Mike Baird and the Liberal government for the authoritarian and undemocratic way that they have dismissed elected representatives.
It is understandable that their approach has angered many people in the Inner West but there is never any excuse for threatening and insulting behaviour.”
There is now a question mark over how next month’s council meeting will pan out. Mr Toole said he would take whatever action was need in order for the meeting to proceed unhindered.
The mayor’s said: “We have made clear to the council Administrator our willingness to participate constructively in a committee system to protect residents from having essential services disrupted and to ensure infrastructure projects proceed.”
However, they said they would push for the resumption of elected local representation, which has effectively been suspended until the local government elections in September 2017.
NSW Governor David Hurley proclaimed 19 new NSW councils earlier this month. There are 12 merger proposals pending, most due to legal challenges, and 14 have been dropped.
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