When I first heard about Mike Baird’s plan to amalgamate and improve NSW councils, I was vaguely interested and largely non-committal. Just like everyone else. But then the new year started and, in a transparent attempt at stealth, the proposed configuration for the amalgamation of councils in the Manly/Warringah area was pushed out in the traditional “taking out the trash” period of the holidays. On Twelfth Night, in fact.
If the proposers of the plan were hoping that this would help it slip under the radar, they couldn’t have been more wrong. The people of Warringah were not only paying attention – they were paying close attention. They read those parts of the KPMG report that were grudgingly drip fed to the public. And the Dollery report. And the IPART Assessment. And they’ve come to a conclusion that I wholeheartedly agree with. The splitting of Warringah LGA and the absorption of Mosman make no sense whatsoever.
Most of the people I’ve spoken to have declaimed bitterly about this being some sort of Liberal Party gaming – a way to ensure that local government is locked in for Liberal aligned Councillors. Now, the law teaches us that it’s very difficult to prove either collusion or coercion, so all I’ll say about that particular theory is that it seems to fit the facts. But one thing that is absolutely unequivocal is the opposition of the people of Warringah to this form of the scheme.
The first public meeting I went to was in North Curl Curl. It was a Friday night, the weather was atrocious and the hall was basically a sauna. And more than 200 people were there. Last night, I was at the Forestville RSL, where a conservative estimate for attendance would be 600 people. Some 200 attendees were forced to stand outside, which meant that part of the address ended up being al fresco. At the conclusion of the meeting, a unanimous vote was carried in favour of one Northern Beaches Council and against the splitting of Warringah LGA and the assorted silliness that goes with that.
There is only one conclusion that can be formed. The people of Warringah do not want the amalgamation in its current form. This has been made resoundingly, abundantly clear. So now we have a perfect test for the reigning political elites. Do they actually listen to the people? Are the wishes of the people who voted them in their most important consideration? Only time will tell.
One thing I can immediately say, however, is that if I were the Federal MP for Warringah, I would still be at these meetings, and still backing the will of the people of Warringah. As I understand it, that would be my job.