Merged Central Coast Council is here to stay despite calls for a plebiscite

Scott MacDonald Scott MacDonaldScott MacDonald

The amalgamation of Gosford and Wyong Councils will stay in place, according to NSW Parliamentary Secretary for the Central Coast, Mr Scot MacDonald.

Ms MacDonald was responding to calls from the NSW Labor Opposition for the new Premier, Ms Gladys Berejiklian, to give residents in merged local government areas the opportunity to vote on whether or not they wanted to remain in an amalgamated Council.
Mr MacDonald said he would be prepared to help micro-communities argue for changes to the five wards used to divide the new mega-local government area, but not for another four years.
“Central Coast Council will stay,” Mr MacDonald said.
“It is viewed as being one of the successful mergers,” he said.
“Yes there is still a lot of work to be done, and we don’t dispute that, but it is fair to say the NSW Government is committed to this one and I see no prospect of plebiscites or de-mergers.”
Mr MacDonald said he believed the Central Coast Council was held up as the model merger because “it was a good geographic fit and a good cultural fit.
“It had been looked at for a long time, over 20 years, by different governments.
“I think by and large, people didn’t use it as a political plaything and it came together well.”
He said he believed any attempt at a de-merger would be “a retrograde step, create a lot of uncertainty, something we don’t need.”
The ward structure within the new Council was something that could be reviewed, Mr MacDonald said.
“There is always scope in the legislation to relook at wards and, if particular communities feel they have been disenfranchised, I am happy to take that forward, but it would be four years after the September election before it would have any effect.”
The size of the Central Coast Council, as one of the state’s largest, meant it was up to staff and councillors to rise to the challenge of making sure they were engaged with all communities across the area through good communication and consultation.
Mr MacDonald said he believed that the community would be satisfied that the costs of the amalgamation, if weighed up against the “service delivery efficiencies” it would deliver, would be outweighed by the benefits.
When will the community be informed of those costs and benefits so it can make up its own mind?
“Come the September election, my expectation is the Administrator, Mr Ian Reynolds, should be able to report to both the Government and the community to say these are the savings we have made,” Mr MacDonald said.
“We [the Government] have the belief that it is going to be delivered, but the community want to know,” he said.
Residents should be given a plebiscite to determine whether or not the Gosford and Wyong councils de-merge, according to the NSW Shadow Minister for Local Government, Mr Peter Primrose.
Mr Primrose said he called on the new NSW Premier, Ms Gladys Berejiklian, to fix the “dog’s breakfast” of forced council mergers left behind by her predecessor.
“The Government’s failed policy of forced council mergers has caused great angst in the community and resulted in former Minister Paul Toole losing his portfolio,” Mr Primrose said.
Mr Primrose said he called on Ms Berejiklian to immediately: allow communities in forcibly merged councils to voluntarily demerge; release the secret $400,000 KPMG report used by the former Premier to justify his forced council mergers; legislate for spending caps for candidates in council elections; and, restrict the decisions of Administrators that should properly be the responsibility of elected councillors.
“Communities with forcibly merged councils should also be given the opportunity to hold plebiscites to allow voluntary de-mergers,” he said.
“The Liberal-National Government local government policy is a dog’s breakfast.
“The new Premier and her new Local Government Minister now have the perfect opportunity to start cleaning it up.
“Forcibly merged councils should be able to voluntarily de-merge if this is supported by the majority of their local community.
“Council elections must be held this year so the community can exercise its democratic right to choose who represents them.
“The justification for forced mergers has been a political fix from day one.
“The Government must release the KPMG report and stop avoiding scrutiny.
“The next Labor Government in New South Wales will legislate to allow local communities to determine their future.”
Shadow Minister for the Central Coast, Mr David Harris, said he supported Mr Primrose’s call for a plebiscite and said it could be held in September as part of the local government election.
“I’ve called that we be allowed to have a plebiscite in September to ask residents,” Mr Harris said.
“From what I can see, people were full of hope for the new Council, but their hopes have been dashed,” he said.
If the Central Coast Council moves beyond the September election as a fully-merged local government, the Peninsula will be included in the Gosford West Ward, with communities as diverse as the Gosford CBD and Mangrove Mountain.

Media release,
Jan 31, 2017
Peter Primrose, Shadow Minister for Local Government
Jan 31, 2017
David Harris, Shadow Minister for the Central Coast
Reporter: Jackie Pearson
Feb 2, 2017
Scot MacDonald, Parliamentary Secretary for the Central Coast
Jackie Pearson, Journalist