Council considers legal options to challenge amalgamations
Media release, 21 October 2015
Marrickville Council is seeking urgent legal advice about its options to fight any attempt to sack or force a merger by the NSW Government, following a motion passed at its Council meeting at its October 2015 meeting.
Greens Councillor Sylvie Ellsmore moved the motion, and said, “Marrickville Council does not support forced amalgamations. The community has told us it does not want Marrickville to merge with neighbouring Councils, and we will explore every avenue to protect our strong Council and the community services it provides.
“The IPART Assessment of Councils report released yesterday was no surprise. It found two thirds of Sydney Councils ‘unfit’ – not because they don’t have strong finances, but because they are smaller than the NSW Government wants.
“Marrickville and surrounding Councils, including Leichhardt, Ashfield and Strathfield – were found to meet all the criteria to be ‘fit’, except ‘scale and capacity’. Under the rigged criteria Marrickville Council could have a billion dollars in the bank and we would still have been found ‘unfit’, because we’d still be too small in the government’s eyes.
“Current NSW laws do not give the Minister the power to sack strong, functional Councils like Marrickville. The Minister also cannot change the boundaries of Councils (ie force mergers) without holding a public inquiry.
“However, with so few Sydney Councils taking up the State Governments pro-development amalgamation agenda, the release of the report has seen the State Government step up its threats about sackings.
“Prior to the release of the report yesterday morning, Liberal Premier Mike Baird held a web conference with Sydney Mayors at which he advised they had ‘one last chance’ to voluntarily merge.
“Only an hour later, upper house MPs for the Shooters and Fishers, Fred Nile, the Greens and the ALP were holding a press conference with the ‘Save our Councils’ coalition outside Parliament, confirming they would block any attempts to change legislation to force amalgamations. Without one of these groups the Liberal Government doesn’t have the power to change legislation in the NSW Parliament.
“The Government’s amalgamations agenda isn’t going to plan, and they know it. It is our responsibility as a Council to ensure that we are ready to act if the State Government does something stupid, like mass sackings of Councils. We will work with neighbouring Councils on legal options to challenge any action by the State Government to harm Councils outside the current laws,” Clr Ellsmore said.
More information: Clr Sylvie Ellsmore 0403 977 213
Greens State Planning Spokesperson David Shoebridge MLC 0408 113 952
What Marrickville Council passed
The amended text of the motion passed 20 October 2015 (Item 15):
- Receive urgent legal advice as to its options to fight any decision or order made by the Minister for Local Government or Chief Executive of the Office of Local Government, to place Marrickville Council into administration pending forced amalgamation or implementation of the State Government’s Fit for the Future policy in respect of amalgamations;
- The legal advice should include: a) Whether the findings of the IPART Report “Assessment of Council Fit for the Future” released on 20 October 2015 provide any grounds to the NSW Government to sack councils or force boundary changes; b) Whether the State Government has any options to bypass or shortcut the public inquiry requirements of boundary changes; c) In the case where part or all of the Council was sacked, who would have standing ie the right to bring a court case, and what remedies would be available; d) If a sacked Council could access Council resources to undertake a challenge; and e) What are the prospects and risks of any action.
- Urgently liaise with other Sydney Councils about opportunities for coordinated legal and other options to fight any attempt by the NSW Government to sack Sydney Councils.
Highlights from the findings of the IPART ‘Assessment of Councils Fit for the Future Proposals’ released on 20 October 2015
Download a copy of the full report here: IPART Assessment of Councils
(At page 2) IPART assessed 87 Council proposals as not being fit for the future, which represents 63% of the proposals received.
Of the 87 proposals assessed as not fit, 60 were assessed as not having sufficient scale and capacity, but did meet the financial criteria [this includes Marrickville]
The main reasons for councils being assessed as not having sufficient scale and capacity included that “A merged entity could better integrate planning and development, resulting in improved planning decisions and enhanced economic growth.”
(at p9) IPART “assessed all Inner Metropolitan Sydney councils that had a preferred merger option, but submitted a stand-alone proposal, as not fit, as they did not meet the scale and capacity criterion.”
(at p 49) Details of the findings for the “Inner West” Councils are contained at 2.1.2 of the IPART Report, including proposed inner west merger map.
IPART found that “Ashfield, Leichhardt, Marrickville and Strathfield (are) not fit for the future as they did not meet the scale and capacity criterion although each Council met the financial criteria overall.
IPART accepted the independent modelling commissioned by these Councils [the Morrison Lowe Reports available on Marrickville Council’s website] and found $396 million in benefits from merging over 20 years spread across the 6 Councils. [The fine print on p283 reveals this figures “includes the full government grant”]
Independent modelling commissioned by IPART through Ernst & Lowe found a much lower figure of benefits – $194 million per annum over 20 years. [Divided between the 60 Councils that’s less than $2 million p/a each. That is less than 2% of Marrickville’s operating budget. Importantly, it is significantly less than Marrickville Council has already achieved in efficiency dividends itself over the last 3 years, and it matches or is less than further Marrickville Council is already on track to achieve under its current 10 year financial plan.]
The assessment table showing Marrickville Council meets the financial stability criteria is attached at p105.
The two page report on Marrickville Council specifically is included at p283.