Around 1000 people rallied in Martin Place on November 18 to protest the Coalition state government's moves to forcibly amalgamate local councils in Sydney and throughout New South Wales.
The rally began with a black coffin to mark the “near death experience for democracy in the state”.
The rally was held on the last day the NSW government had allowed for councils to “voluntarily” agree to merge. While some councils had submitted to the amalgamation push by the deadline, the majority have refused to surrender to the government's ultimatum.
Greg Cummings, mayor of Holroyd Council in western Sydney, told the crowd, “This is about corporatising local government, outsourcing services and jobs. Councils represent the people's real commitment to their community.
“If [Premier] Mike Baird was really serious about 'consultation' he would put this amalgamation process to a state referendum.”
A representative of the Save Our Councils Coalition, which organised the rally and brought busloads of residents into Sydney from country areas such as Oberon and Carbonne, said, “You can't win this, Mike Baird and [Local Government Minister] Paul Toole.
“This is only being done by the government to look after their big developer mates. Our rates will go up, and these proposed 'mega-councils' will deliver worse services.
“In the end, the voting public will hold the Baird government accountable for this disaster.”
Unions NSW secretary Mark Lennon said, “Democracy is about people having a voice. Real political rights means having a strong local government sector.”
General secretary of the United Services Union Grant Kelly said, “Fifty thousand council workers are now wondering about their jobs and their future. Mike Baird is currently selling off all the state's assets, the power, the ports and property.
“These forced amalgamations will certainly mean a loss of workers' jobs and conditions. It is the ugly side of this issue.”
Local Government NSW Association and Coffs Harbour councillor Keith Rhoades said, “This whole merger process is a charade and a sham. Forced amalgamations in Queensland resulted in rates going up an average of 27.4%.
“Forced amalgamations mean a loss of local representation. Local government is now the only area of government where you can actually meet and talk to your representative, and that will change drastically under merged councils.”
He slammed the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal process of assessing the financial viability of councils: “They added in this extra criterion of scale and capacity. When we asked the government what that meant they couldn't even explain it,” he said.
Two representatives from the country councils of Oberon and Carbonne told the rally that “The bush is now is danger. We are seeing the death of rural towns.
“More than 90% of residents in our areas opposed council amalgamations. Now is the time to take a firm stand against this threat.”
MPs from the Greens, Labor, the Christian Democrats and Shooters and Fishers parties in the NSW Upper House told the crowd that they would combine to block any government attempt to sack councils which refused to merge.
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