The crippling state election politics underlying the ‘Fit For The Future’ Council amalgamations debate at Randwick Council – 10th December 2015

Or, how Randwick Labor Councillors have locked themselves into supporting Rockdale’s Labor Mayor in his audacious bid to annexe South Ward of Randwick City Council

(Story written by Randwick Greens Councillor Murray Matson)

An article in yesterday’s Southern Courier newspaper ignited the amalgamation debate in an unexpected way at last night’s Randwick Council meeting.

Former Bob Carr staffer Rosemary Mackenzie was routinely fronting up to the meeting on behalf of Labor Councillor Tony Bowen to publicly criticize various non-Labor Councillors for allegedly “supporting amalgamations”.

But Ms Mackenzie chose to avoid responding to Greens Councillor Murray Matson who politely asked her if she had read that day’s edition of the Southern Courier. In particular, had Ms Makenzie noticed that Rockdale Labor Mayor Shane Obrien was proposing that Botany and Marrickville Councils support his bid to take South Ward away from Randwick? In short, what did she think of Rockdale Labor’s forced amalgamation bid?

Ms Mackenzie, who is no political beginner, instinctively went into ‘dodge the question mode’ and never actually answered the Green Councillor. But tactically she made a bad call.

By refusing to answer that simple question Mr Mackenzie only drew attention to the dreadful pickle that she and Randwick Labor Councillors Tony Bowen and Geoff Stevenson have worked their local party into.

Her retreat from transparency has now significantly damaged a simplistic state election strategy that Randwick Labor has bet all on in the run up to March 25th.

For months Labor has been opposing Randwick Council putting in a submission to the State Government’s Fit For the Future process alleging that to do so would bring about forced amalgamation. The whole point has really been to allow Labor to run a simplistic state election campaign in the state seats of Coogee and Maroubra.

But if Rockdale is now putting in a submission to the Liberal Government seeking the annexation of more than 20% of Randwick, then why shouldn’t Randwick respond by putting in an opposing submission?

If the Council does not put in a counter submission the Coalition State Government will simply deem that Randwick does not oppose Rockdale’s land grab. That is obviously very dangerous. But Mackenzie, Bowen and Stevenson can’t now support a counter submission because they have been vigorously campaigning against Randwick making any sort of submission.

This means that Randwick Labor has locked itself into supporting the surrender of more than 20% of its own Council area, including its rate share from Port Botany, to the Labor controlled Rockdale Council.

The Mayor of Rockdale will no doubt appreciate his Labor colleagues’ silence on his land grab attempt but the residents around Malabar, South Maroubra, Chifly, Matraville, La Perouse, Little Bay, Pagewood, Port Botany, and Phillip Bay probably will not.

Local activists working on the Malabar Headland, CESLR Light Rail, street trees, port noise, La Perouse Chinese Market Garden and other issues may wonder what positions the unfamiliar Rockdale Council will take on them.

The Randwick Green Councillors have committed themselves to supporting Randwick Council’s intensive consultation program over the next few months to allow residents to express their views on forced amalgamations. But Ms Mackenzie and Councillors Bowen and Stevenson on the other hand must now be dreading the inevitable feedback. South Ward residents will undoubtedly call for their Councillors to put in a counter submission.

One can also imagine the position that the present three Councillors who hold the seats in South Ward will have to take.

Soon or latter someone is going to ask Labor Maroubra MP Michael Daley whether he wants Randwick Council to make a Fit For the Future submission opposing most of his seat being amalgamated into Rockdale. He is going to have to come out in opposition to Mackenzie, Bowen and Stevenson. That will be painful for all labor identities concerned.

But that is the problem you can easily find yourself in when you elevate short term electoral gain over research, common sense and caution. The Greens have urged Randwick Councillors to oppose amalgamations but to stay at the table during the Fit for The Future discussions even in the run up to the election.

BACKGROUND

‘… The boundary change could also include south ward of Randwick City to contain all of Port Botany. “The income generated from the ports and airport – two massive pieces of infrastructure – which have a significant impact on public space, should stay with the councils responsible for that space,” Mr O’Brien said. …’ (Extract “Shadow over airport revenue” Southern Courier, Tue, 09 Dec 2014, page 3)

 

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