Sydney’s Inner West councillors elected the Greens’ Rochelle Porteous as the new mayor and Independent Pauline Lockie as her deputy on September 7.
Under the Local Government Act, the mayor and deputy mayor in the Inner West are elected for a term of two years.
Because the NSW local government elections were postponed to December 4 (after being postponed from last year), the election for these office bearers went ahead, despite Labor councillors unsuccessfully arguing for them to be cancelled.
Former Labor mayor Darcy Byrne argued repeatedly on social media that having the election was a “bizarre act” that “will see the Council become distracted from the vital tasks of supporting local people to get through the lockdown and driving up vaccination rates”.
A three-way contest, the election was over quickly after former deputy mayor Victor Macri failed to secure enough votes to be elected. A run-off was then held between Byrne (who won five votes) and Porteous (seven votes).
The really bizarre aspect was Byrne’s behaviour immediately after Porteous was declared elected. He repeatedly attempted to prevent her from briefly thanking councillors. Only after two council officers assured Byrne it was normal meeting procedure was he shamed into backing off.
Byrne has been the mayor for four years because of a Labor-Liberal alliance on council. That broke down at a formal level some time ago, even though Labor and Liberal councillors see eye-to-eye on keeping council amalgamated and therefore less representative of residents.
In fact, Labor councillors were the loudest in their objections, even to a poll in which residents could have a say on the merger. They were defeated and the poll will go ahead, but this has not stopped them from a go-slow on advising residents of the “Yes” and “No” cases.
Meanwhile, Labor councillors in the next door Bayside Council, are working with state MP Ron Hoenig to allow residents to have a direct say on forced council amalgamation.
Byrne also lost a motion on August 24 to introduce a poll for the direct election of the mayor in the Inner West. However, defeat has not deterred him.
Immediately after losing the mayoral election, Byrne announced on social media: “I will be standing to return as your elected Mayor”, even though such a provision does not exist. This raises the question of whether his Labor councillor colleagues were consulted. He also said: “I will also continue to champion your vote as who you want as Mayor.”
Some councils allow for directly elected mayors, which privileges the big parties and well-known independents.
The new mayor and her deputy have, at a minimum, three months in office (perhaps more if the rumour that the elections are to be delayed until the new year are correct).
Progressives in inner-western Sydney should be pleased with the change.
While many programs will not change, including funding to encourage residents to get vaccinated as soon as they can, a clear change will be how the council deals with the poll on de-amalgamation. Under Porteous and Lockie, residents could have a fair referendum on de-amalgamation.
Along with many others, I am now far more confident that Inner Westies will go to the poll in December (or whenever) with a greater understanding of the pros and cons of a de-merger.
[Pip Hinman is standing for Socialist Alliance in the Damun ward of the Inner West Council.]