Blame game escalates as Minister prepares to dismiss Council

Central Coast Council's HQ in Wyong

Local Government Minister Shelley Hancock was scathing in her criticism of Central Coast Council as she announced her intention on October 21 to provide $6.2M to cover immediate expenses, including payroll, sack councillors and appoint an administrator.

Hancock said given Council’s abject failure to address the consequences of its own financial mismanagement, the Government had no alternative but to arrange for funds to be paid to meet urgent expenses.

“It’s hard to think of a more fundamental failing of a Council than to pay its own staff,” she said.

“The local community is sick of excuses from Council.

“In the two weeks since Council’s financial dire straits came to light, all Council has done is write letters, issue media releases and set up a finance committee.

“Council reached a new low on October 20 by deciding once again to approach the Government for a bailout at the risk of council staff not being paid.

“To use its own staff as bargaining chips is reprehensible from a governing body that has failed to address its own financial failings.

“There is no question that Council needs to be held responsible for these failures.”

Parliamentary Secretary for Central Coast, Adam Crouch, welcomed the decision and said it was appalling that Council’s financial situation had deteriorated so far that the employment of more than 2,000 people was on the line.

“Over the past few weeks, Council has hidden behind the cloak of confidential meetings, rather than representing the community with openness and transparency,” Crouch said.

“Unfortunately, the Council has not yet provided the NSW Government with information that indicates its true financial position, but what is known is that the path to recovery will be long and difficult.”

Liberal MLC, Taylor Martin, told Parliament on October 21 that Council had reached “a new low”.

“In possibly the worst example of bastardry ever seen in local government in this State, the Council passed a motion that said unless they gained permission to again use restricted funds, Council’s 2,157 staff may not be paid today,” Martin said.

“The Central Coast deserves so much better than this.

“For the past three years, the Liberal Councillors and sensible Independents have tried repeatedly to get more financial information, improve budget processes, implement accountability and cut wasteful spending.”

However, the Coast’s Labor MPs, Liesl Tesch (Gosford), David Mehan (The Entrance) and David Harris (Wyong), said that structural problems at Council had been apparent for a long time and were a direct result of the failed amalgamation process.

“The State Government cannot now walk away from its responsibility to support the Council it created,” they said in a joint statement.

“Labor’s Central Coast representatives remain prepared to work in good faith with the Minister for Local Government on a long term plan to secure Central Coast Council’s future.

“Additional financial support for Council will be required and, in this regard, Central Coast Labor MPs have called on the State Government to cover all costs associated with emergency erosion protection work carried out at The Entrance North and Wamberal in July.”

The Greens candidate for Budgewoi Ward in the next Council elections, Sue Wynn, said that the forced merger of Wyong and Gosford councils into the Central Coast Council had been a financial disaster for which the State Government must take responsibility.

“The government should deliver immediate substantial financial support,” she said.

“Nothing the Coalition Government said would occur with the amalgamated Council has transpired, no economies of scale, efficiencies and savings, no better representation, no increased community input.

“In fact, the reverse is true.

“Locals must not be made to pay for the financial failure of the State Government’s decision to force a council merger.

“And we reject calls to sell off COSS and public land and to sack staff.

“An independent forensic auditor should be appointed, and our current Councillors maintained until we know the extent of the issues and the possible solutions,” Wynn said.

Sue Murray and Terry Collins