What a world of pain the Baird Government is in. What a world of pain the Coalition is in—if you can call the Liberal Party with the poodle that is The Nationals a coalition. What a world of pain they are in with their ugly political overreach for forced council amalgamations in New South Wales. If people wanted to know the definition of “political pain” for a Liberal Government it is this: when its entire heartland is in revolt and saying, “If you proceed with these deeply unwelcome, unwanted and undemocratic forced council amalgamations and you destroy the local councils that we have supported for a century you will pay politically.” That is being said in Hunters Hill, Lane Cove, Willoughby, Mosman, Woollahra, Ku-ring-gai and in the liberal heartland in the centre of this city.
They are saying, “If you proceed with these deeply undemocratic and unwanted counterintuitive moves to force the amalgamations of our much-loved local councils you will pay politically. You can expect the donations to be turned off and you can expect a revolt amongst your branches of the sitting members of Parliament who agree.” Like supine creatures, those members roll over and have their belly tickled by the political masters on Macquarie Street, such as Mike Baird. If they expect preselection at the next State election they are going to have a hell of a surprise on their hands.
The Liberal heartland is in open revolt against the Baird Government. It is not just in the centre of the city or the northern and eastern suburbs of Sydney that we are finding the revolt; the national heartland across regional and rural New South Wales is also in open revolt. That is why they are about to declare the independent republic of Kiama. Some 40,000 residents in Kiama have said to Mike Baird, “Do not come back.” They have said to the local member, Gareth Ward, “What on earth are you doing? How have you failed us so comprehensively?” Out of a population of 40,000 there were 1,700 residents at the public inquiry.
1,700 out of a population of 40,000 turned up to have their opposition to the Baird Government forced council amalgamations agenda recorded at the inquiry. They say, “What on earth is our local member of Parliament doing being part of a Government that is forcing through the amalgamations and seeing the interests of Kiama sold out?” It will see a council stretch hundreds of kilometres down the South Coast of New South Wales. Shoalhaven is a good council—leave it alone. Kiama is a good council—leave it alone. That is what they are telling Mike Baird and Gareth Ward. It does not matter what the local residents want. It does not matter that those two councils are financially fit as a fiddle and have 1,700 out of 40,000 residents turn up and say, “No, thank you, Mr Baird.” They said it somewhat more brusquely than that. If any local members think they can thumb their nose at their communities and expect to be preselected, let alone re-elected, they will have a surprise.
It is not just Kiama and Shoalhaven. In Tumbarumba 93 per cent of residents support the local council. When they were told out of the blue just before Christmas that they were going to be merged with Tumut—a council to the north of them, which is more than twice their size in respect of residents—they said, “What on earth is informing this policy?” Tumbarumba has the most robust finances of any council in the entire State. Its finances put the New South Wales and Federal governments to shame. Tumbarumba is a growing town with a vibrant and diverse regional economy. The council is doing a genuinely fantastic job for its local residents; 93 per cent of them support a standalone council. Tumut is not the world’s best run council and the people of Tumbarumba know this. Tumut council does not have the level of support of Tumbarumba because it is not run anywhere near as well as Tumbarumba.
When the residents of Tumbarumba cannot get a service in Tumbarumba they do not go to Tumut, because historically all their links have been to the south and south-west. If they cannot get something in Tumbarumba they do not go to Tumut—they go to Wagga Wagga or Albury. Tumbarumba was settled by a train line coming up from Albury. Tumut resides in a different catchment over a mountain range. In their infinite wisdom, someone in the Baird Cabinet decided Tumbarumba is expendable and cut a political deal so there is a coloured merger on the map of New South Wales. Well, it is not. The people of Tumbarumba and the council are not expendable. A majority of members in this Chamber know that it is not expendable. It is a good council, with good people and good finances. It is doing a terrific job—leave it alone. The same can be said for Guyra, Oberon and Cabonne councils. Maybe it will not be the independent republic of Kiama but the confederated republics of Kiama, Guyra, Cabonne and Oberon, because they are all in open revolt.
Oberon has the misfortune of being represented in this Parliament by the bloke who goes by the title “Minister for Local Government”. No-one thinks that Paul Toole is really in charge of this process. The people of Oberon realise that he is a pimple on a pumpkin when it comes to this amalgamation process. That misfortune is made worse by the fact that this is all being driven by the Premier’s office. Their local member gave a signed pledge and commitment not to impose amalgamation and then did a job on them. The people of Oberon have stated repeatedly that they support their local council. The Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal has found that the council is financially fit and robust and that it will be for the next 20 years. However, because the Government wants another line on the map and another forced amalgamation, it is proposing merging the Oberon Council with a much bigger council that will gobble up the council and the democratic process. The people of Oberon do not want it, they do not need it and they should not have it. It is an outrage that the Baird Government is proposing this amalgamation.
The revolt is clear and the Baird Government’s policy is evidence-free. The Government keeps hiding key reports, including the 25 key reports produced by KPMG have been buried by this Government and stamped “Cabinet-in-confidence” and “Never to be released”. I have a copy of the Dollery report which was released only a month ago and which eviscerates the documents in the public domain that are said to support the Government’s financial case. It is a financial basket case, not a financial case for amalgamations.
If that is not enough to give the Baird Government a world of pain then this is. Just yesterday it became clear that Woollahra Municipal Council has had advice from a bloke who knows a bit about the law. Bret Walker, QC, probably spends more time in the High Court than in the supermarket. Through Woollahra Municipal Council and its lawyers Speed and Stracey, Bret Walker has told the Government that this process is legally wrong, it is legally flawed and it is all a stuff-up. The Government has used the wrong part of the Local Government Act, and if it proceeds down this path he and the council will take it to the Supreme Court. They will press the reset button and all this pain will have been for nothing. The Baird Government is a joke.