One year, three months, four weeks and one day after its two Council’s were dismissed by the NSW Government and replaced by an Administrator, the community will be able to vote for the first-ever combined Central Coast Council.
On Saturday, September 9, the community of the Central Coast will make history by electing 15 Councillors, the first democratically elected team to govern in the new, enormous Central Coast Council for a three-year period.
In addition to sacking the elected representatives of the former Wyong and Gosford Councils, the NSW Government also carved up the new Central Coast Local Government Area into five wards: Budgewoi, The Entrance, Wyong, Gosford West and Gosford East.
Residents of each Ward will be able to elect three Councillors to represent their particular area of the Coast.
The Ward boundaries have been a surprise to most.
They appear to be an attempt to dissolve the north-south divide between the two former Councils, instead dividing the Coast vertically, with three smaller wards hugging the Coast and the bulk of the new LGA appearing to be divided between the geographically large and rather disparate wards of Wyong and Gosford West.
The Wyong Ward reaches into the heart of the former Gosford LGA, as far south as Wyoming, Narara and North Gosford.
The first challenge for every voter before September 9 will be to check and confirm which Ward they actually live in.
That determines which candidates they will be able to vote for.
The NSW Electoral Commission and Central Coast Council have interactive maps on their websites that can assist with finding out which Ward a voter is located in.
A map of each Ward, the location of polling booths and information from each group of candidates is included elsewhere in this newspaper.
It will be up to the newly-elected Council to determine whether or not to keep, throw out or re-arrange the Wards.
Council candidates have been told it will be their duty to represent the whole local government area and not just the interests of their particular Ward.
The quality of representation the community will receive under the new Central Coast Mega Council is one of the biggest questions remaining over its creation.
Fifteen elected Councillors for a population of over 325,000 people and growing, means one of the lowest per person levels of local government representation in the State, if not the country.
If the wards remain in place, there’s only three Councillors per approximately 66,000 people, who can directly address anyone’s concerns.
That level of representation is going to require savvy, energetic, intelligent and experienced leadership, and management prowess.
So how do the candidates, all 93 of them, stack up?
They are a very mixed bag.
The two major parties, Liberal and Labor, have both shown absolute contempt for the coming election.
Both left their preselection processes to the last available minute, having known the date of the election since the proclamation created the new Council.
They were then both embroiled in internal issues, which slowed down their preselection processes, resulting in their candidates having less than four weeks to campaign.
Obviously, Labor and Liberal are relying on high levels of voter inertia to get them across the line.
They’re both expecting to have one candidate elected in each Ward, for very little effort.
The Greens have run a six-week campaign and have made their platform clear with a couple of surprises.
They’ve called for all candidates running as independents to declare any connections they have with political parties.
Their position on issues like “planned retreat” for sea level rise may not appeal to the many residents whose homes cling to the Coast and edges of the region’s waterway.
Save Tuggerah Lakes (STL) has also run a long campaign and they have attempted to distance themselves from former Wyong Mayor, Mr Doug Eaton, and spread their message to include Brisbane Water as well as Tuggerah Lakes.
Ms Kylie Boyle decided to form a new party, the Sustainable Development Party, to continue to fight for a more ecologically protective attitude towards developing the green fields and virgin bush areas like Glenning Valley.
Several groups of independent candidates have been working hard for months to take the fight for places on the first elected Central Coast Council right up to the chins of the established parties.
Ms Louise Greenaway’s team in the Wyong Ward, representing the Central Coast New Independents, is appealing to voters to make a clean break with the past and ensure the new Council is built on a foundation of transparency and community participation.
Ms Julie Watson’s team in the Budgewoi Ward is working on a similar platform.
There are also some familiar names running as independents, particularly former, at times controversial, Wyong Mayors, Mr Doug Eaton and Mr Greg Best.
The candidates have a fascinating mix of life and professional experience and enthusiasm, all of whom declare that they have the best interests of the Central Coast at heart.
The candidates that do get elected on September 9 will set the tone for this region for at least the next 10 years.
In the absence of any elected representatives or community committees, the current Administration, under the direct scrutiny of the NSW Government, has been ‘lining up the ducks’ to implement the State Government’s vision for the Central Coast.
That vision is mainly about population growth and land use.
It makes way for the opening of land west of the M1 for development and it has a favourable view of mining and extractive industries for the Coast.
Wyong Regional Chronicle has asked each candidate to answer three questions that will, hopefully, shed some light on what they consider to be the important issues for their Ward and for the region as a whole.
Whether or not their answers resonate with your views, may be one way of screening who to vote for.
Please vote thoughtfully.
The Central Coast Community has spent the past 16 months without elected representation and it now has an opportunity to ensure those 15 seats around the table are filled by the most deserving candidates who will truly serve the needs and aspirations of the community.
Jackie Pearson, journalist