Helicopter View

Helicopter View

20.5.2016 The day democracy died in NSW: Final Weekender Column (107)


Democracy. It is a simple enough word. Kids learn how to say and spell it from a young age. There are very few words in the English language that can stir up such emotion and motivate mankind to commit acts which would otherwise never be considered.

The concept of democracy is generally believed to have originated in Ancient Athens circa 500 B.C. although there is evidence to suggest that democratic forms of government may have existed before that time.

WWI was a temporary victory for democracy in Europe and WWII was ultimately a victory for democracy in Western Europe. The movement of democracy has continued across the world and only 13 years ago the toppling of Saddam Hussein in Iraq led to a new constitution with free and open elections.

Those of us who live in Australia today are incredibly spoilt by the freedoms we enjoy. 102,820 Australians died in all wars – largely defending the democracy we enjoy today. Even though we are accustomed to our democracy, it is not something to be taken for granted.

The entire NSW amalgamation ‘consultation’ has relied on mistruths, lies, exaggerations and broken promises. Corporations have a strict code of practice when it comes to truth in advertising yet we seem to blindly accept that politicians tell lies with no consequences. In the old days, when there was honour among pollies, at least the lies were restricted to the election period. Now they seem to warble out 24 hours a day. No forced amalgamations was one of the promises this coalition government gave so we should have been outraged when they cut a swathe through local government last week with still no proof to back up their wild claims of amalgamation benefits. No unpleasant reductions can be made to staffing numbers and no rate structure changes can be made until, coincidentally, just after the next State Government election. If the benefits of amalgamation were so wonderful wouldn’t it be advantageous to start gaining the benefits immediately? Why put a false protection on the new entity for any period of time.

And if you thought the amalgamation process was bad, littered with its mistakes and lack of ability for discussion with our elected officials, worse was still to come.

On 12 May 2016 at 12.30pm, democracy died in NSW to be replaced with an oligarchy. That was the moment when 44 Councils were reduced to 19. You may be OK with amalgamations. I accept that amalgamations make sense in some circumstances – if you have data to support the case. The 1980 amalgamation of Dubbo and Talbragar Shire made sense. The amalgamation of Dubbo and Wellington didn’t make sense to me though and officially it didn’t make sense to 80 per cent of our population.

Once the amalgamations were announced a much bigger issue was about to be announced. 44 Councils with 44 Mayors and some 400 Councillors – who were all duly elected in a fair and transparent democratic system that people have died to protect – were summarily dismissed. No warning. No finish off your current projects. Hand in your access keys and your Council equipment while we escort you from the building. Well surely in the system we are accustomed to, the first order of business would be to hold an election immediately.

No.

Instead, those 44 Councils have been replaced by 19 hand-picked unelected Government-sympathetic servants to rule with all of the same powers as the previously democratically elected Councillors. And when I say servants I mean individuals paid about four times what Mayors were paid to ensure they are loyal to the Government paying them. Except the Government isn’t paying them – we are.

For 485 days.

This is what our democracy has come to? All of the power vested in 19 Administrators who take their orders from the Premier and the Deputy Premier.

I don’t remember signing up to this when I voted last March.

I can’t help but think what Tony McGrane or Dawn Fardell would have done. From 1999 to 2011 we enjoyed the luxury of Tony and then Dawn as dedicated independents for the seat of Dubbo. As independents they were never able to be Ministers or hold positions in Government but they could dedicate themselves totally to their electorate. They spent their time fighting for what the people of Dubbo wanted and they would not have stood for the situation we currently find ourselves in. I actually called Dawn to discuss the current situation with her and she said that even if she didn't personally agree with an idea, if her electorate spoke loud and clear - as they have done in the amalgamation debate - she would have represented her community.

Dubbo and Wellington will be negatively impacted by this process. Not because of each other but because of the loss of Councillors and because of the focus on the bringing together of two organisations. All the energy of the newly formed Council in the short term will be on organising a structure that will work into the future. And while you are looking inward it is hard to see what opportunities are out there.

12 May 2016 will be forever known in our State’s history as the day democracy died.

Mathew Dickerson