The results are in: inner west Sydney residents want their smaller councils back. With more than 88% of the votes counted, 63% of residents voted “Yes” to demerge and re-establish the former councils of Ashfield, Marrickville and Leichhardt.
In all six pre-poll booths, iVote and 55 of the 56 polling booths, residents voted for de-amalgamation with more than half the polling places recording results above 60%.
A scrutineer for the YES campaign, Brian Halstead, told Green Left that it was interesting to see the high level of completion with “97% casting their vote in a non-compulsory poll”.
Speaking about the high YES vote, Grantley Ingram, convener of Demerge NSW Alliance (DNA) said it showed the community “does care about local government”. This is a “stunning result”, he said, and “it shows that the communities are not happy with the large council”.
Pip Hinman, a spokesperson for Residents for Deamalgamation, told Green Left that the vote to demerge the Inner West Council represented “a powerful community campaign”. “The incoming councillors must respect that vote and prepare a strong case to put to the NSW government,” she said.
Residents for Deamalgamation includes a cross section of the community, including former councillors, who supported the poll on de-amalgamation.
“The Local Government Act allows for councils to demerge. The NSW government must also respect the democratic choice of those living in the inner west and it must pay for the demerger,” Hinman said. “This was a remarkable expression of community voice despite attempts to downplay the importance of hearing directly from residents and scare campaigns about costs of a demerger.”
Ingram said de-amalgamation supporters in merged councils across NSW believe, if given the chance to vote in a similar poll, there would be a similar result in their councils. DNA is focused on raising the issue in the upcoming by-elections where forcibly merged councils have either denied residents a vote or been denied a vote.
“The new councillors in these councils must support a poll to give residents their say. This democratic right was denied in the forced mergers, and can only be corrected by polls in all merged councils.”
DNA will continue to pursue asking councils to give residents their say at the forthcoming by-elections unless the NSW government addresses the dissatisfaction in the merged councils as illustrated by the Inner West poll result, Ingram said.
Residents for Deamalgamation plans to continue working with the newly-elected councillors in the Inner West Council to build a strong business case for a demerger.
“The new councillors have an important opportunity to involve residents in this demerger. Given the size of the YES vote, it is clear residents in the inner west are keen to work for inclusive, representative, open and accountable councils,” said Rochelle Porteous, the last mayor of the Inner West Council, a former mayor of Leichhardt Council and co-founder of Save Our Councils Coalition.
Inner West independent councillor John Stamolis, who has been re-elected to the Balmain ward, said: “We call on the minister of local government to respect the strong and decisive vote of the Inner West community who clearly express their desire to demerge and to have their councils restored.”