Defending community democracy

Wollongong residents, concerned and angry about the systemic corruption of the local council, its subsequent sacking and the prospect of another fours years without democratic representation in the region, met on August 16 at the Fraternity Club for a major anti-corruption conference.

Locals and delegates from around NSW expressed their outrage at the state government's decision to deny Wollongong residents the right to vote for a local council until 2012. This follows the sacking this year of the entire Wollongong City Council by NSW local government minister Paul Lynch, acting on a recommendation from the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC).

Former ICAC commissioner John Mant told the conference "ICAC has been a huge disappointment" in these corruption investigations and subsequent actions.

Wollongong and Shellharbour residents will not have the right to vote in local council elections this September along with the rest of NSW and instead will have their councils run by state-appointed administrators.

The conference, organised by Wollongong Against Corruption (WAC), called for Lynch to set election dates in Wollongong and Shellharbour by no later than March 2009, and to work with newly elected councils to strengthen democracy and to implement new corruption prevention measures.

They also called for a Royal Commission into corruption and a commitment from the NSW government to implement all of the recommendations made by such a commission.

WAC secretary Graham Larcombe says, "we've got a war and we're determined to win". Seeking a return to community democracy he describes this as part of "a broader movement across the state".

Delegates from Newcastle, the Blue Mountains region, Shoalhaven, Sydney and up and down the NSW coast converged in Wollongong to share their communities' concerns and struggles to preserve local environmental resources, and to demand these concerns be heard by elected officials.

Andrew Anthony, a former Wollongong councillor who was sacked along with the rest, says he has been offered no chance to respond to corruption allegations.

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