Inner West Mayor tells non-Labor councillors to prepare their own demerger business case

December 16, 2022
Public amenities are deteriorating in the Inner West Council. Photo: Andrew Chuter

During debate in the Inner West Council (IWC) on December 6 over whether to send a deficient demerger business case to the New South Wales government, Labor Mayor Darcy Byrne told the Greens and Independent councillors, who opposed the push to send it off, that they should develop their own.

“For those councillors who won’t be supporting putting in the business case, I ask you to develop a business case that you can support,” Byrne said. “Don’t criticise from the sidelines: the detailed work that has gone into developing this one without actually providing any alternative.”

Greens and Independent councillors have tabled many motions over the year since 62.5% of residents voted to demerge the IWC to improve the business proposal developed by Morrison Low consultants, with input from the community and local government experts.

All these motions have been rejected by the majority Labor block that controls council.

Brian Halstead, a long-time campaigner for smaller councils, told councillors that the Morrison Low proposal was “flawed, confused and incomplete” and that “to submit it in that state is an insult to the 62.5% that voted to demerge”.

Halstead, who has reviewed many demerger proposals, also said the deficient business case effectively argues the case to stay merged. This was a contradiction because NSW Labor policy, just reaffirmed, is to support councils and communities that want to demerge.

Halstead said another reason for the IWC not to submit its business case is that it did not follow NSW Treasury guidelines.

These require that “early in the process” key stakeholders “likely to be impacted by the change” should be identified so that “they can contribute actively to the development of the investment proposal by providing their expert opinions, research and evidence”.

This did not happen Halstead said, adding “it means the business case Labor councillors are giving to the NSW government did not meet the guidelines on development of the case by consultation".

“So-called consultation took place after the business case was written, but no changes were made to reflect this input. Thus the proposal did not follow Treasury guidelines,” Halstead said.

Pip Hinman, from Residents for Deamalgamation (RFD), asked councillors at the same meeting not to send the deficient business case but to instead go “back to the drawing board” and consult.

“We don’t want you to hand over a deficient business case that does not show a real plan for how the IWC could devolve from where it is at now to three new, smaller, councils — as a majority of residents want.”

Hinman said if Labor councillors really wanted to “respect” the “YES” vote to demerge vote in December 2021, they would not be rushing to send off a deficient business case to a hostile Coalition government.

RFD activist Michele Hacking also spoke against sending it off. The five Green Councillors and Independent councillors John Stamolis and Pauline Lockie voted against sending it off in its current form, but the Labor majority bloc ignored requests to pause and rethink before the state election in March.

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