Community democracy under scrutiny at Balmain candidate forum

Leichhardt Town Hall during the last council elections in 2021. Photo: Residents for Deamalgamation/Facebook

Community groups will host a candidate forum on March 9 in the Balmain electorate in the lead-up to the New South Wales elections. Their focus will be on how local democracy can best be served.

NSW Greens MP Jamie Parker, who won the seat in 2011, is standing down for Kobi Shetty. Philippa Scott is trying to rewin the seat for Labor.

Both Shetty and Scott, who have confirmed their attendance, are first-time councillors on the Inner West Council (IWC), elected at the same time as 62.5% of residents voted “Yes” to demerge the giant council back to Marrickville, Leichhardt and Ashfield councils.

Since the 2021 election, the majority Labor bloc of eight councillors has blocked motions from Greens and independent councillors to involve residents and councillors in preparing a convincing de-merger business case.

A deficient “business” case was sent to the NSW government at the end of last year, with the Labor Mayor Darcy Byrne telling councillors who disagreed they should develop their own.

Greens and Independent councillors had tabled many motions relating to transparency and accountability over the Morrison Low business case — which was a case to stay merged — all of which the Labor bloc voted down and often without discussion.

Scott has led Labor’s charge to downplay the Yes vote, or scare people into thinking the IWC could never be demerged. She has repeatedly stated it would be “extremely risky”, while refusing to acknowledge that other councils are in the process of demerging.

The NSW Coalition government has recently made a point of saying it would not merge any more councils. Shetty is on record as committing the Greens to support the community’s wish to demerge.

The community forum is being organised by Hands off GlebeResidents for DeamalgamationFriends of Callan Park, Rozelle Against WestConnexLeichhardt Against WestConnexInner West Council Watch, Leichhardt Locals, Save Our Councils and Bays Community Coalition. Access to and expansion of public housing, maintaining public heritage and the expansion of the controversial WestConnex will be on the agenda.

[Local democracy: meet the Balmain candidates forum is on March 9, 7pm, at Leichhardt Town Hall. Attendance is free. Register here.]