People power shuts down illegitimate council meeting

Issue 
People power at the old Marrickville council on May 24. Photo: Thom Mitchell

About 200 residents of inner western Sydney suburbs crowded into the Marrickville Council Chambers on May 24 to protest the undemocratic sacking of three local councils — Leichhardt, Ashfield and Marrickville — by the state government and the appointment of an administrator to run the new, forcibly amalgamated "Inner West Council".

Angry residents drowned out Premier Mike Baird's appointed administrator of the new council Richard Pearson forcing him to abandon the first meeting of the new one-person body.

Pearson was the deputy director of the NSW Department of Planning and Environment when the department rubber-stamped the controversial WestConnex private tollway proposal and plans for resumption and redevelopment of vast areas of Sydney for high-rise apartments.

Since his appointment, Pearson has been dogged by claims that he is a puppet of the government, put in place to allow for the smooth construction of the WestConnex motorway project.

WestCONnex Action Group (WAG) spokesperson Pauline Lockie said after the meeting: "Tonight proved that inner west residents will not let Mike Baird get away with trampling over our democratic rights by replacing our elected councils with an unelected stooge.

"It became clear within moments that residents would not legitimise this unelected 'council' and its dictatorial 'administrator' by allowing the meeting to proceed.

"As soon as Pearson entered the room, he was greeted with cries of 'Who elected you?', 'Out! Out! Out! and 'Stop WestCONnex!”

As Pearson was escorted from the chamber by police, an impromptu public meeting addressed by a number of the sacked councillors, took place.

Greens member for Balmain Jamie Parker declared: "This Inner West Council is ungovernable; it won't work."

Residents unanimously passed a motion to immediately restore democracy in the inner west and to send this demand to Baird.

Greens Marrickville councillor Sylvie Ellsmore said: "The main game behind this process is about development, in particular WestConnex, the biggest single transfer of public money to the private sector in Australian history.

"They got rid of the East West Link roadway in Melbourne by cancelling the contracts after they had already been signed. We have to demand the same in Sydney with WestConnex."

Other demands arising during the discussion were for state government powers to sack councils to be removed and that legislation should be implemented to allow for de-amalgamation referendums, as happened recently in Queensland.

Cries of "Rate strike! Rate strike!' and "Out with Baird's mate Turnbull!" were also heard from the crowd.

Another speakers said: "It's our democracy; we want it back. This is Baird's coup, and we want it overturned."

"This Baird government is the most corrupt in NSW history. They are selling off our public assets to their mates, and we have to stop it."

Lockie said: "There's no doubt Baird's done this to try and keep bulldozing Westconnex through the inner west, so he can sell families in western Sydney out to the toll road industry.”

Local Government Minister Paul Toole was later forced to defend the government's decision to summarily sack 42 councils and appoint unelected administrators until new local government elections in September 2017.

Widespread calls have been issued for the elections to be brought forward from the current 15 months, including from the NSW Local Government Association.

Discussions are now under way among former councillors and residents about how to build the movement against the council sackings and for restoration of local government democracy. The next "Inner West Council" meeting is scheduled to be held in late June, and opponents of the sackings are preparing to mobilise for that event.

A mass community rally "against the Baird dictatorship" was held at Sydney Town Hall on May 29. Themes of the rally were: "Save NSW. Stop the corruption. Stop the destruction. Baird out now!"

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