Voters in the Wingecarribee Shire may soon be asked whether the Shire’s should be changed to Southern Highlands.
At tonight’s meeting, Councillor Garry Turland will move:
THAT Council request the NSW State Government and the Electoral Commission to allow Council to ask/survey the residents of the Wingecarribee Shire to change the
name of the Shire to the Southern Highlands at the State Election in March 2015.
If passed as proposed, the state could give permission for the shire to conduct a plebiscite next March. The vote would be non-binding on council as it is not a referendum.
Quietly pre-selected five months ago, Labor’s candidate for Wollondilly at March’s state election is finding his feet on the Hustings. Ciaran (pronounced Kieran) O’Brien’s corflutes have started to appear across the electorate and he’s been going along to community events as they come up. Continue reading →
Meanwhile, the region’s state MPs are eyeing off the end-of-year before a sprint to the 2015 March state election.
Liberal Pru Goward will re-contest the seat of Goulburn, which has largely been redistributed away from the Southern Highlands but retains Moss Vale and the southern villages. She will not be challenged by Burrinjuck Nationals MP Katrina Hodgkinson, who will run in Cootamundra instead.
With the redistribution underway, Goward’s office is expected to be relocated to the city of Goulburn in coming months, leaving the Wingecarribee shire bereft of any local MP office for the first time in living memory (well, my living memory – yours might be longer).
At the election, Bowral, Mittagong and the northern villages will come under the seat of Wollondilly, presently occupied by Liberal Jai Rowell, currently Minister for Mental Health and Assistant Minister for Health. Rowell’s office is presently located in Tahmoor.
Labor’s candidate in Wollondilly is yet to be publicly announced but there should be some news on that front soon.
Fortunately, our local MPs have so far not raised the ire of the Independent Commission Against Corruption, whose current investigation has claimed more than a few scalps.
Here’s the scorecard for those playing along at home:
A state government panel appointed to consider reform of local government in New South Wales has hosed down talk of amalgamation at Wingecarribee Shire Council.
Local Government Minister Don Page released the Independent Local Government Review Panel’s final report this week.
The report recommends a series of ‘Joint Organisations’ (JO) be established throughout the state to take responsibility for regional planning and advocacy and some service delivery. They would also take over the role of existing Regional Organisations of Councils (ROCs).
Wingecarribee would become the northeastern edge of a Tablelands JO that stretches inland to Young, while neighbouring councils Wollondilly and in the Illawarra would be part of other JOs.
The JOs are intended to have anchoring councils that contain regional centres, and these centres would attract the bulk of future development and growth. However, in the medium term, the Panel suggests non-metropolitan parts of Wollondilly could be merged with Wingecarribee.
The panel has proposed a series of amalgamations in the Sydney region and some in the Hunter. It also suggests some amalgamations take place to consolidate the regional centres. One such example is a merger between rural Palerang and urban Queanbeyan on the Australian Capital Territory border.
With the opening of the Moss Vale War Memorial Aquatic Centre at the weekend, Wingecarribee Shire now has the covered pool that has been debated and fought over for decades.
Council ought to be congratulated for finally getting one of these things built, even if there is still disagreement about it’s size and location. The fact is that the facility is now open and ready for use.
Over the years, a lot of proposals have come and gone. The largest of these to be funded by council would have been propped up by sales of disused public land across the shire, and was the subject of a plebiscite at the time of the 2008 council election.
Larry Whipper was a big opponent of that plan, so the following quote in the Southern Highland Newsfrom our esteemed Deputy Mayor ought to be taken with a touch of irony:
It’s something we can be really proud of despite all the obstacles that came up.
The community deserves this and it makes you wonder why we hadn’t built it a long time ago.
Had the 2008 plan proceeded, a much larger leisure centre would have been opened sometime in 2009 or 2010.
In fairness, Clr Whipper did propose to cover Bowral or Moss Vale Pool in lieu of building a leisure centre, but somewhere along the way that morphed into a full redevelopment of Moss Vale Pool, and tearing out a 33m pool to replace it with a 25m one.
An amendment by Clr Larry Whipper to not proceed with the land sales nor continue with the Leisure centre and instead cover Bowral or Moss Vale Pool was hotly debated and lost.
So, Wingecarribee finally has its covered pool, and the vitriol and hatred can be put to bed at council, at least until Renwick and other developments at Mittagong are fully occupied and the residents there demand their own year-round swimming facility.
A little over a year into a new term, and calls have been growing for the Wingecarribee Shire Council to be sacked. Weekly, acrimonious relationships between councillors and staff, between councillors and councillors, and between councillors and failed candidates play out in public – the Southern Highland News and 2ST being the main bearers of bad news, but ABC Illawarra playing along as well.* But how did we get to this point so early in a new term, and is there any way forward?
Where it all started
With things like this, pinpointing a moment of commencement is always difficult and imprecise. You could go all the way back to the founding of local democracy in the Southern Highlands to find a reason, but I think we can find one of the sources of trouble in the the 2004-08 council term. In that term, council bet a large sum of money on toxic debt sold by the investment bank Lehman Brothers. The exact amount seems to be disputed to this day, and the amount lost is similarly obscured. But what we do know is that when Lehman went belly up, council’s investment went down. And here began the acrimony.
Since council was now broke, there was no way to fund a shiny new leisure centre than sell off some unused assets. Nick Campbell-Jones led this charge, but was roundly labelled with all sorts of unmentionable names by a massive field of candidates at the forthcoming election, including the now Deputy Mayor Larry Whipper. Whipper seemed hell-bent against a leisure centre at this point.
History records that a plebiscite at the 2008 council election rejected the plan to sell off public land to fund the leisure centre, seemingly burying the plan. Campbell-Jones left council, but Whipper was returned.
What happened next
During the 2008-12 term of council, Whipper reconsidered his animosity to the leisure centre proposal and came up with a couple of other ideas, including the current facility at Moss Vale and one at Bowral Pool. After some wrangling, the site at Moss Vale was decided upon. Along the way, a business consortium proposed to build a whiz-bang centre near the Wingecarribee River at the Bong Bong Common, but this was turned down.
During this period, distrust of council was building all along as various grand schemes were proposed and hosed down due to budgetary constraints (in which the Lehman brouhaha played a big role) and planning issues. Councillors who seemed to flip-flop on issues contributed to the suspicion.
“The estimated cost to build the Moss Vale Aquatic Centre remains around $8 million dollars inclusive of all construction and project management costs,” he said. “And the Construction Manager will be under strict instruction to bring the project in or even under budget.”
“Council has always acknowledged that this project would be funded through loans and the sale of some Council assets with the remainder to be funded from Council’s Infrastructure Recovery Strategy
Note the funding ‘through the sale of Council assets’, just don’t call them parks.
At the 2012 election, the Liberal ticket romped it home, bringing Juliet Arkwright and Holly Campbell on to council. In 2008, two Liberal councillors had also been elected, but one (David Stranger) was booted out of the party mid-term. Former Mayor Duncan Gair was also returned to council, drawing the largest single personal vote of any other councillor. Gair stood as an ungrouped independent.
Since then, the council has broken into a neat 5/4 factional split, as follows:
The ‘Government': Juliet Arkwright (Mayor); Larry Whipper (Deputy Mayor); Holly Campbell; Jim Clark; John Uliana.
The ‘Opposition': Garry Turland; Ian Scandrett; Graham McLaughlin; Duncan Gair.
There are presently a number of direct sources of friction.
There is a question has become whether Gair’s large personal vote should outweigh the large Liberal vote.
There is an ‘unholy alliance’ between Green-aligned or leaning councillors (Whipper and Clark) and Liberal-aligned or leaning councillors (Arkwright, Campbell and Uliana), which goes against the Labor-Independent alliance on the other side. This stands in stark contrast to federal and state politics, where the Libs eventually favour even Labor over the Greens.
Other options open to the state government if council cannot resolve its own issues are temporary suspensions of councillors or the entire council, or sacking them all and calling in administrators. Such actions were taken in cases of corruption in Wollongong and dysfunction in Shellharbour in recent years.
Throsby Labor MP Stephen Jones has been promoted onto the Opposition’s front bench as Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Regional Development and Infrastructure. This is an outer shadow ministry position, chosen at the discretion of new Labor leader Bill Shorten.
Mr Jones campaigned for Anthony Albanese, Mr Shorten’s competitor for the leadership role. Nonetheless, he has been awarded the position by Mr Shorten today as the rest of the frontbench makeup was finalised. Mr Jones will assist Shadow Infrastructure Minister Mr Albanese.
Mr Jones released a statement shortly after the appointment, saying he looks forward to taking the fight up to Prime Minister Tony Abbott:
I’m very pleased to be promoted to the role of Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Regional Development and Infrastructure and thank Opposition Leader Bill Shorten for this great opportunity.
Coming from the Illawarra, I understand the challenges facing regional Australia and the important role that the government plays in investing in crucial infrastructure projects – especially those which the private sector cannot or will not build.
In the last three years I’ve worked to secure more than $400 million in funding for major regional projects like the Maldon Dombarton Rail Link, Illawarra Regional Innovation and Investment Fund, Steel Transformation Plan, Home of Soccer, Regional Livestock Exchange and the Southern Youth and Family Services Community Hub and Youth Foyer.
Prime Minister Abbott has stated that he wants to be known as the ‘Infrastructure Prime Minister’ so I’m looking forward to holding him to account on this. A good start would be to confirm funding for local infrastructure like the Mount Ousley upgrade, Maldon Dombarton and Home of Soccer.
As amalgamation talk continues to bubble away amongst the Highlands’ political watchers, it is worth remembering that the shire’s towns and villages have survived multiple amalgamations before and probably will do again.