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September 10 – Strathfield Council responds to Premier’s amalgamation threat

10 September 2014

Plans to use a combination of punitive measures and cash incentives to coerce Strathfield into amalgamating with surrounding LGAs is a completely inappropriate use of taxpayer money, according to the Mayor of Strathfield.

Media reports today suggest Premier Mike Baird is looking to spend $1 billion on cash ‘incentives’ to councils to amalgamate with neighbours. The Premier has also reportedly flagged withholding planning controls from LGAs that reject amalgamation. The Mayor of Strathfield, Cr Daniel Bott, said the plan was deplorable.

“This is the state government offering councils thirty pieces of silver to sell out the interests of their communities,” Cr Bott said.

“Council has considered this from every angle and it is demonstrably not in the interests of Strathfield residents for us to amalgamate with Burwood, Auburn, Ashfield – or anywhere else. Compared to its neighbours, Strathfield has a superior budget position, lower rates and charges, better infrastructure, and more desirable community assets. Amalgamation would put all of that at risk.

“Yet here we have the Premier of NSW issuing bribes and threats to persuade us to disregard the interests of our community. Strathfield residents, and NSW taxpayers in general, have every right to feel aggrieved their hard-earned money is being spent on such loaded ‘incentives.’”

Councils agreeing to amalgamation are being offered greater planning controls under the reported plan, a concept Cr Bott described as even more disturbing than the cash incentives.

“So communities that decide they want to keep their local government local will be punished by having control over their LGA stripped from them. That is disgraceful, and represents a fundamentally undemocratic concept,” Cr Bott said.

A 2013 independently conducted phone poll of Strathfield residents found 70 per cent to be against amalgamation. Cr Bott said residents had every right to be concerned.

“If an offer is a good one, bribes and threats are not typically required,” Cr Bott noted.

“Strathfield residents should be suspicious about a government that feels the need to use such extreme measures to convince them to do something it claims is in their interests. We have carefully considered the findings and the recommendations of the Sansom Local Government Review Panel report. We have stood by our residents as they asked questions at the community forums. And we have not heard a single compelling argument that amalgamation is in the interests of Strathfield.

“Amalgamation is not a one-size-fits-all solution. We will not sell out our residents and their community in the face of bribes and threats. And we deeply resent being put in the position where we have to make that call.”