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LOCAL DEMOCRACY March 4, 2008

Posted by wmmbb in Australian Politics.
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ABC News Online reports that following the finding in from The Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) that has been holding hearings into bribes paid in relation to property developments, the Governor of NSW announced by proclamation today that Wollongong City Council had been sacked. Then the Minister for Local Government in the NSW Government made it clear that a new council would not be reappointed following scheduled elections in September. The Minister argued it will take time to eradicate systematic corruption, and therefore the affairs of the Council will be placed under an Administration Panel for the next four years.

The State Government effectively ignored the plead by Wollongong councillors not to be sacked reported by ABC News (Tuesday, 26 February 2008):

Four of the six Labor councillors were not present at the extraordinary council meeting called last night, with three of them stepping aside and the fourth, Val Zanotto, sending his apologies.The remaining nine councillors, led by independent Councillor David Martin, sought to underline the fact that no remaining councillors or staff members were under investigation.

“We reject the Premier’s comments that this council ought to be sacked,” he said.”There is no evidence that any current staff member is involved in any corrupt activity.”

The council also resolved to overturn approval for the Quattro development and halt consideration of the North Beach Bathers Pavillion redevelopment, as both projects involve allegations of corruption aired at the ICAC.

Mr Iemma last week said his gut feeling was that the council should be sacked following allegations of sex and bribes for development approvals, but he said he would not take action until after the ICAC inquiry.

Nobody asked my opinion, or anybody who lives in the area. So much for local democracy, but it may be an opportunity to make the case for direct democracy at the local level, which I believe would be a positive development for Australian democracy with flow on effects to the State and Federal level. Direct democracy, discussed by John Quiggin and commenters at his blog, employs the old ideas of initiative, referenda and recall.

I would have not doubt that had the situation been put to the people the effect would have been the same, except that those who were innocent of any wrong doing could then have put their case. My particular concern is now for the planning department in council. They seem to have a high turnover of staff before, but now it may make things difficult to attract the right people. There has been a small boom in property development in this area, and this is unlikely to stop. The problem now, for the next four years, is that there is no intermediary of the local level with the State Department of Planning. Iemma is not facing re-election for three years, and so what is now to stop the State Government riding roughshod over local concerns.

Furthermore, the specific issues relating to corruption concerned raising money for political campaign at the State level. Therefore, it might have seemed relevant for punitive action at the State Government level. The ICAC hearing transcripts are available here (So now I should read through them).

The first step in all these matters is to gather the facts. Then we may need to petition the State Parliament. Then we may need to engage mass demonstrations demanding direct democracy. At first glance it seems to me fundamentally inappropriate dismiss a democratically elected government. To do so is to take responsibility from the electors.

Part of the problem is that I am not really well informed about Wollongong City Council. Like Parramatta, also sacked, it is a larger local government in NSW, and I suspect people let it run itself. Even at election time, I am ashamed to say I have not known who was who, and what they stood for, and that was true even after I had interviewed several candidates.

Since the political culture of Wollongong developed as an industrial area – coal mining and steel making (a mini-Ruhr) – it was formed by union activity and strikes providing a historical foundation for political action. Of course, like other areas, it has been caught up in the deindustrialization of steel manufacture. The city has been endeavouring to make the transition to a post-industrial economy, and its proximity to Sydney, with improved transport links for the past twenty years, so that some areas are effectively dormitory suburbs. The property developments, including those for example related to the University, were part of this economic transition.

It is interesting to note that local residents had told the Premier about their concerns, as reported in a local newspaper via Sandon Point Community Picket website:

iemma-told.jpg

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Comments»

1. Jill Walker - March 5, 2008

Ian thank you for putting the NL article on your blog.
I will send you the letter if you want to see that.

If the systemic corruption was entirely the fault of ICAC- charged former staff and sacked ALP Councillors – then that corruption is gone. There is no point in putting administrators in charge except to slam the lid on the boiling pot.

But I believe the systemic corruption is the way the state Labor party does business – and it is endemic in the current government. I asked Governor Marie Bashr to dissolve the government on that ground, needless to say she didn’t.
The struggle continues.
Jill Walker

2. wmmbb - March 5, 2008

Thanks for the comment Jill.

I am happy to republish your letter here.

I am fundamentally opposed to governments being dismissed on the basis of executive proclamations. Then there is the question of natural justice and the reputation of those councillors who were not involved in corruption. I am confident that the voters can sought these matters out provided they have the relevant information. And then, who is Minister for Local Government going to appoint to his panel? We would be foolish just to let this happen.

Moreover, your case against the State Government needs to be heard.


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