It was only last year when Rockdale council meetings were thrown into disarray by the wholesale absenteeism of the 6 Liberal councillors in the lead up to the acceptance of the Rockdale Aquatic Centre tender. It took mainstream media attention and consequent damage to the Coalition to finally draw an intervention from NSW Minister for Local Govt Paul Toole to make them turn up and do their civic duties. Their absence forced the tenders to be resubmitted, raising costs, costing the tendering firms significant labor expense in resubmission and in the end they used their numbers to force the budget of the pool so low that it’s questionable if ratepayers will end up with a facility that will be able to attract sufficient patronage to pay it’s own way, or continue to be a drain on council coffers long term. A poor outcome from the political party who sell themselves on their supposed superior business acumen and vision.
Hurstville Council, on the other side of St George, is in the papers once again and has also drawn a response from the Minister for Local Govt. Rather than a wrap over the knuckles and threat of letters, the level of dysfunction and potential corruption is so endemic that the Minister has had no choice but to place Hurstville council into the hands of administrators.
The NSW Greens position on local councils is that given those councillors were elected by local ratepayers and have little to do with Paul Toole, we have a right to seeing any adjudication or punitive actions fall within the realm of our governance. Local issues should be handled locally and if we can’t sort it out, we have a problem in the system. It’s a fine sentiment to support.
St George Greens members however, when push comes to shove, have a hard time seeing the downside in Hurstville council being put into administration. The Poison Pen saga, the Mayor and his children’s property portfolio involved in zoning issues, the frequent approval of developments which violate significant aspects of development control plans, often where councillors hold conflicts of interest, the constant high rise approval process and rezoning of suburban streets into 2-4 storey medium density without appropriate transport planning or traffic planning, the Oatley bowls club sale discussions involving the sale of public parkland and constant closed door sessions to keep pesky ratepayers from knowing their councillors true feelings on issues, the list goes on and on.
In the words of ex Hurstville councillor and St George Greens member Anne Wagstaff:
“Every community deserves good governance. Given the Office of Local Government has been aware of my concerns about the dysfunction and in particular poor governance at Hurstville Council since 2008 when I became a councillor, I thank the current Minister for taking the action so desperately needed.(Hurstville Council placed into administration, September 19) Our community can only hope that this will finally result in a clean and competent council.”
When issues of dysfunction and let’s call it “misbehaviour” come to light it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking local councils are a waste of time and money. For example just north of us Canterbury residents are pro council amalgamation due to problems with many of their own councillors. St George Greens would like to caution this response. Every 4 years we get a chance to clear out our council and place good local residents in there to represent us and make our neighbourhoods better places. Look to Marrickville for a well-functioning small LGA, it CAN be done. Just because we in St George have a poor track record of choosing our councillors doesn’t mean the system is broken and needs to be rebuilt – it just means we need to be more careful with our votes at the next election.