Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (00:24): Now, on another matter. The ghost of the corrupt former New South Wales Premier again haunts Macquarie Street in Sydney. I spoke last week of about breakdown in standards and decency in the New South Wales Liberal-National government, and how in many areas they mirror the reign of the disgraced Liberal leader, Robert Askin.
The latest area where we see this is the Baird government's local government amalgamation push. This is a story of manipulation and dishonesty, with the fancy PR title of 'Fit for the Future'. At the heart of this plan is the removal of residents' rights to have a say in their community. The winners here, like with so much this government undertakes, are corporate businesses.
Amalgamations by choice are not what I am talking about. The problem is the forced amalgamations and the amalgamations by trickery. If the mass amalgamations of local councils that the Baird government is pushing do eventuate, New South Wales will become even more of a developers' paradise, where approvals are given with little input from locals, building certification is so poor lives can be put at risk and worker on-the-job safety is weakened, all to assist construction companies to cut corners to increase their profits.
Rather than the government's heavy-handed scare tactics of 'amalgamate or suffer', we should be assisting our local councils to deliver quality services, democratic consultation and needed infrastructure. Local government is where our decision makers are most closely connected to the community. Together, they should be well placed to make decisions on services, planning and development. Forced amalgamations stand to alienate this level of government from local communities.
Size matters and the average size of councils in New South Wales is already well above the global standard. The council average in New South Wales is 48,490. In OECD countries, the average population size per local government in metropolitan areas is just over 27,000. New South Wales councils are already well above this average size. An increase in the size of councils would result in the communities in these local government areas having a reduced voice due to the reduced representation that comes with amalgamated councils. The Greens support reforms that improve the financial sustainability of local councils, but there is no justification for forcing amalgamations on financially struggling councils. Merging two or even three councils that are in financial difficulties only expands the problem.
Liberal dirty tactics on amalgamations are on display at the Hills Shire Council, where misleading information is being used to effectively push poll a dodgy survey. The Liberal council is distributing highly misleading material to its residents to support the pro-amalgamation agenda. This material, which directs residents to a biased online survey, presents participants with three options-but all of the options are for one form of amalgamation or another. Residents are not given the option of a stand-alone council remaining in its current borders. Not only does the online survey not provide residents with the option to select to retain their council; there is also no requirement for the person filling in the survey to identify themselves and so it is not possible to determine if there are repeat votes. The survey is clearly open to manipulation. What a waste of public money and ratepayers' money.
For the record, this is in Liberal Party heartland. Hills Shire Council is solidly controlled by the Liberals, with nine out of 12 councillors being Liberal. Alex Hawke is the federal MP. The state MP and, interestingly, the Minister for Finance, Services and Property, is Dominic Perrottet.
I introduced this speech tonight by equating the current New South Wales Liberal government with its forerunner, the corrupt Askin government. I am not accusing any minister of picking up brown paper bags of money, but the level of dishonesty to get their favoured outcome of larger, less-democratic councils where residents have fewer options to have a say in their community is a clear example of corrupt practice, as certain corporate interests will benefit.
The government's amalgamation campaign is also another example of the 'Get Clover' obsession that has become an unhealthy occupation of the Baird government. First off, the Liberal-National government engineered the voting system for Sydney City Council to give corporations two votes. That is two votes for a corporation, not for a person. Now they are looking to merge Sydney City Council with surrounding councils in the east. This would give local Liberals a leg up and an even better chance of taking control of the jewel in the city crown-the Lord Mayor's position.
Despite the heavy hand of the 'amalgamate now or else' approach from this conservative government, most local government councils in New South Wales, of all political persuasions, are successfully resisting the New South Wales government's Fit for the Future forced amalgamations agenda.
Interestingly, there is an odd exception. Labor and Liberal councillors on Leichhardt council voted together for amalgamation with Ashfield and Canada Bay councils, despite growing concern about what this will mean. Greens mayor, Rochelle Porteous, has set out how this Labor-Liberal unity ticket betrays the community, which has expressed a strong wish to stay separate. The outcome of the Fit for the Future plan is in the balance as communities organise to save their local councils. Meanwhile, Liberal concern about the future of local government in NSW has been further exposed by their federal colleagues: it was last year's budget that delivered a $1 billion cut in infrastructure funding for local government.