NSW Labor is demanding that the Minister for Local Government, Shelley Hancock, put her hand up and take responsibility for the mess on the Central Coast created by her Government’s 2016 forced mergers policy.
At a press conference on Tuesday, March 2, outside Wyong Council Chambers, the four Central Coast Labor MPs said that the creation of Central Coast Council, a result of Wyong Shire and Gosford City councils merging, had been a financial catastrophe.
The local MPs Yasmin Catley, David Mehan, David Harris and Liesl Tesch, put forward Labor’s three-point plan, which they say the Minister must adopt to resolve the Council mess.
The plan includes the State Government establishing a public inquiry into the merger, footing the bill for the excessive and crippling costs associated with the merger and allowing residents to hold a referendum into the possible demerger of the Council.
The MPs say that Premier, Gladys Berejiklian, recently shut down the possibility of an inquiry despite a petition for the concept receiving more than 20,000 signatures.
They quoted the Premier as saying: “I think the community doesn’t necessarily want review on review on review, they want to see action and they want to see fairness”.
Shadow Minister for Local Government, Greg Warren, who also was at Tuesday’s press conference, said it was clear that the shotgun marriage between Gosford City and Wyong Shire councils did not work.
“This mess was of the Government’s own creation, so they must be the ones to clean it up and foot the bill,” he said.
NSW Deputy Labor Leader and Swansea MP, Yasmin Catley, added that for the first time in 10 years, this Government needed to prioritise the needs of residents on the Central Coast.
The Entrance MP, David Mehan, said allowing residents to hold a referendum examining a possible demerger was the fair and sensible option.
“The Government must let residents on the Coast have their say and make a decision about their future,” Mehan said.
Wyong MP, David Harris, said it should be this “draconian” Government that foots the bill for the mess created following the amalgamation of Central Coast Council.
The Greens on the Central Coast are also calling for a popular vote on de-amalgamation of the Council. (See story, page 3)
Following the Labor MPs’ press conference, Parliamentary Secretary for Central Coast, Adam Crouch, said in a statement that Labor had been exposed for lying about the former Gosford and Wyong councils.
“These councils were never forcibly merged.
“Central Coast Council was voluntarily formed in 2016 with majority support from councillors and strong support from our community.
“It’s a bit rich for Labor to blame everyone but themselves for Council’s financial situation.
“A voting bloc of six Labor councillors and two Independent councillors presided over endless confidential meetings where the Council’s appalling financial situation was concealed from the community and the NSW Government.”
Minister for Local Government, Shelley Hancock, said Council’s resources should go to restoring its financial situation rather than squandering funds on a demerger.
The Minister said a referendum was a matter for the interim administrator and the local community.
A spokesperson for Council said it “cannot conduct a referendum to demerge”.
The Minister for Local Government will receive a report from the Administrator before April 29, which must be received and considered before a decision can be made about a potential inquiry.
When the Administrator’s term expires on April 29, the Local Government Act provides for two options, to either return the councillors to their previous positions or commence a public inquiry.
A “judicial inquiry” is not an option provided for in the Local Government Act.