Advocates for the restoration of Pittwater Council have criticised the proposed process.

NSW Minister for Local Government Ron Hoenig recently unveiled a new process for council de-amalgamation, saying it would ‘remove a major roadblock’ and ensure ‘local democracy’.

The new measures are included in amendments to the Local Government Act 1993 put forward by the NSW Government, and are due to be debated in the Parliament in May.

Council de-amalgamation process

Minister Hoenig said the new process (image above) would require councils to consider the business case upfront, taking into account the financial impacts of a de-amalgamation.

Ron Hoenig

Ron Hoenig

“The forced amalgamation of NSW councils was a failed and expensive experiment.

“While the NSW Government strongly supports a clear process for councils and communities to exercise their democratic right to pursue de-amalgamation, we also have to be realistic about some of the challenges this brings.

“It’s why one of my main priorities as Local Government Minister has been to find a way to remove the roadblocks posed by the existing demerger process, and give communities the opportunity to decide.

“These amendments the Government has introduced provide a clear path forward for councils wishing to de-amalgamate, providing much more clarity for current and future proposals.

“However, it’s essential that local democracy is enshrined in the decision-making process so that councils and communities are fully informed of the financial and other implications of de-amalgamation.

“The amendments we have introduced are more pragmatic than other legislative proposals being put to Parliament and ensure demergers can be effectively managed by councils and that any new councils are financially sustainable,” said Minister Hoenig.

Protect Pittwater Association President Simon Dunn

Responding to the proposed changes, Protect Pittwater Association President Simon Dunn (main image and above) was critical of the proposals put forward by the NSW Government, saying they did nothing to ‘restore democracy’ for councils forced to amalgamate in 2016, such as Pittwater.

He said the new process relied on an amalgamated council, such as Northern Beaches, voting for itself not to exist. Mr Dunn, who is a lawyer, said that such a vote would effectively be a breach of the oath of office that councillors take when they are sworn in.

“The Labor Party has backflipped and said, we want a resolution from the council itself to trigger de-amalgamation. The trigger mechanism hangs on the council voting by a majority of councillors. It basically means a council would have to push self-destruct on itself.

“They said the Liberal Party policy was flawed, but their solution is to let the council press self-destruct on itself.

“Councillors take an oath of office, they will only act in the best interest of the people in their council area and in the interest of the council.

“How could any councillor ever a vote to split itself apart if they are acting in the best interests of that council? It’s a legal contradiction,” said Mr Dunn.

Protect Pittwater Association President Simon Dunn

According to Mr Dunn, even should a vote come to pass, and the councillors representing the former Pittwater Council area were supportive, they would remain outvoted by the other nine councillors.

“If you can present a business case for Pittwater standing alone, it’s probably a business case which is not as favourable for the Northern Beaches overall.

“If your former council is the minor portion, 60k people out of 250k people, there is very little prospect of the council itself voting to split itself apart.

“Our proposition is a former area should be entitled to a plebiscite of its own, to say that we want our own separate council. We don’t want to force that upon Manly, if they want to stay in the Northern Beaches.

“If Manly want to do it, by all means give them a plebiscite. But let that plebiscite be triggered by the people of the former area,” said Mr Dunn.

Northern Beaches Council

The Protect Pittwater Association wrote to Local Government Minister Ron Hoenig last September (2023) requesting the following inclusions:

  1. A mechanism for a former area to be reinstated without a resolution of the new amalgamated Council of which the former area has a minority of Councillors to support such a resolution;
  2. an orderly procedure for assets and staff to be allocated when a former Council area was reinstated.
Pittwater MP Rory Amon

Pittwater MP Rory Amon (image above), who is planning to address the Government’s proposals when they are put to the NSW Parliament next month, said he has been speaking with Mr Dunn and will seek to improve the legislation.

“You cannot say ‘no’ to democracy, and the Government’s Bill prevents communities having a genuine say.

“I am working with stakeholders to put forward amendments to the Government Bill so the community’s voice is heard.

“I will support the clear will of our community when it comes to council mergers and demergers, which is why it is vital changes are made to the Bill,” said Mr Amon.

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Images: Northern Beaches Advocate

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