“Public Interest trumps democracy” – Minister for Local Government

Klaas Woldring - Author and Democracy Advocate Image: CCN

“Public interest trumps democracy, and we have to do what’s best for the ratepayers,””
So said Minister for Local Government, Shelley Hancock, after she declared a public inquiry into Central Coast Council and a further suspension of the councillors.

The decision will mean the Council will stay under Administration, with the September elections pushed back to late next year.

Pearl Beach resident, academic, and political activist, Klaas Woldring, spoke to CCN about the Minister’s decision and gave his thoughts on what this means for the future of democracy on the Central Coast.

He said staying under Administration and delaying elections is letting democracy slip away.

“I have heard people talking about the public interest and democracy, and it is my view that the public interest is generated by a proper democracy, that’s where it comes from,” Woldring said.

“It’s not from some elite group; you could almost think of it as Communist system where the top decides what is good for the people.”

Woldring said delaying elections is “wrong” and a “loss to local input”.

“We see a decline in democracy in several western countries and also other countries, and I think it up to the people to stop this decline and to say we do not agree,” he said.

“It is up to the citizens to insist on its values and processes.

“This is an opportunity to insist on the democratic process to establish the public interest.

“What I would have liked to see was at the next Council elections in September this matter being put through the citizens of the Central Coast in a referendum where they can have their say, something they should have had in the first place.”

In terms of democracy, the big question that Woldring thinks is most important is why the citizens of the Central Coast were not asked if they even favoured an amalgamation in the first place.

“It may well be correct, as Persson reported, that the financial debacle was not the result of the imposed amalgamation; this looks correct to me,” he said.

“It is a separate issue really.

“However, why did we have this amalgamation and who is responsible?

“The people have not been asked if they wanted amalgamation, and I think in terms of democracy, the first thing you would do is go to the people and say ‘we would like to combine these two councils for certain reasons and what do you think about it, yes or no’.

“That has not happened, so I think that is a fundamental flaw in democracy.

“The idea of now ‘continuing and improving the amalgamated Council or not’, or to ‘go back to the status quo’ should be up to the citizens.

“Effective local government is the foundation of a truly representative democracy.”

Woldring believes the expense of the amalgamation should be borne by the State Government.

“The State Government has created this situation,” he said.

“Local government is the responsibility of the State Government.

“I have heard that ‘harmonising’ was a justification for amalgamation.

“If that means achieving equality of income and wealth between Wyong and Gosford, it seems odd.

“There are much better ways to do that than creating giant local councils: progressive income taxation, wealth taxes, abolishing negative gearing, much stricter limitations on donating to political parties, and proportional representation based on multi-member electoral districts.”

Jacinta Counihan