With the NSW local government elections due next month, now’s the time to start looking at the likely make-up of Councils across the state. And things are really hotting up with the NSW Bruvvas sacking the Sydney and South Sydney councils ahead of amalgamation and then a combined election.

It is hard to comment too widely on the likely fortunes of candidates in many country councils with the spectre of amalgamation hanging over them.  Quite simply many of them may not be around for too much longer.

Sydney, however, is a different story with the number of councils unlike to dip too much below the current 42.  

Sure there has been talk of a ‘super-council’ being formed in the St George district (Rockdale, Kogarah and Hurstville) and there are strong advocates for one council on the northern beaches following the sacking of Warringah Council.  But, as was seen with the Hunters Hill / Ryde episode, it is always much easier to talk about amalgamation rather than actually carry it out.  It appears that Bob Carr is not as game as Jeff Kennett was in proceeding with a wholesale carve-up of councils.

Looking across Sydney it is hard to see too many interesting contests.  For a start, Labor has most of Sydney’s councils stitched-up, especially in western and southwestern Sydney.  Can anyone seriously see Labor’s dominance being challenged by the Liberals in places like Blacktown, Campbelltown, Liverpool (despite corruption claims), Bankstown, Canterbury, Auburn, Holroyd, Penrith – the list goes on.  Then in the east there are long-term Labor fortresses in Botany, Waverley and Randwick.  These councils represent most of Sydney’s population.

Some highlights include:

City of Sydney

The election of most interest will unquestionably be the City of Sydney.  The endorsement by Labor of former Keating Minister, Michael Lee, sent shockwaves through the city.  Only Deputy Lord Mayor Dixie Coulton appears capable of any serious resistance with current Lord Mayor Lucy Turnbull dropping out of the race.  While former NSW Liberal Leader, Peter Collins, will be another one to watch, Lee has it in the bag irrespective of how much of South Sydney is put into the City.

Manly

After four years of holding the reigns in Manly, the Liberals are now proceeding with the long-awaited injection of new talent, starting with the re-endorsement of incumbent Mayor Jean Hay (obviously a reward for her efforts in the state election) and the retirement of the gorgeous twenty-something Karina Page.

Former Independent state Member for Manly, Dr Peter Macdonald, will be the main challenger to Hay and has already rallied significant grass-roots support.  

Manly locals are putting their money on the Doc

Willoughby

The Liberal Party has retreated from running endorsed candidates for Willoughby Council after failing to beat Pat Reilly in 1999.  This turned into an absolute disaster with Reilly nearly pulling off the upset of the State election by nearly pipping Liberal newcomer Gladys Berejiklian at the post in March 2003.

The Liberal strategy of running un-official Liberal-aligned independents is sure to fail against a seasoned local government veteran in Reilly.

Lane Cove

Like in Willoughby, the Liberals will not be endorsing candidates this time after a Liberal endorsed team took control of Lane Cove council last time.

Newly elected state MP Anthony Roberts is fortunate in his timing as Liberal endorsement took him right into the Mayor’s office last time.

Word has it that a team of left-leaning, green independents are set to take council on this occasion.

North Sydney

North Sydney Council has been a nimby independent bastion since the days of Ted Mack.  However, the Liberal Party has seen the danger of this with independent dominance at a local level posing problems for the Party at a state and federal level.  Currently the spectre of Genia McCaffrey looms large over the re-election chances of local state MP Jillian Skinner and MHR Joe Hockey.

The Liberals have responded with the unofficial endorsement of current councillor Jilly Gibson to take on McCaffrey for Mayor.

Supporting the Gibson campaign for Council will be former Robert Hill adviser Trent Zimmerman, now a resident of McMahon’s Point who is hoping to also be elected to Council.  This is expected to stand him in good stead to succeed either Skinner or Hockey.

Insiders say that this will be a fascinating contest.

Hornsby

Incumbent Mayor John Muirhead is the favourite to be the first directly elected Mayor of Hornsby.  He will be strongly supported by the Labor Party to reward him for his support of the Carr Government in last year’s elections.

Opposing Muirhead will be current Hornsby Deputy Mayor Nick Berman who has powerful backers in the local community, along with the cross-factional support of Hornsby MP Judy Hopwood, Hawkesbury MP Steven Pringle, right-wing MLC David Clark and re-elected NSW Liberal Vice-President Jeff Willis-Jones.

Insiders say that while Berman is expected to run a strong campaign, the benefits of incumbency are expected to give Muirhead the edge at this stage.

Baulkham Hills

The right of the NSW Liberal Party are in the process of consolidating their territory after taking control of the State Executive.

A thorn in their side has been the presence of moderate independent Liberals on Baulkham Hills Council, Martin Tolar and Shirley Childs – a well-known critic of the Prime Minister’s policies relating to refugees.  The Right have responded recently by rolling Tolar from the executive of the Baulkham Hills Branch and expelling Childs from the Liberal Party.  Insiders say their days may be numbered on Council also.

Conservative independents are expected to be in control of Council once the dust has settled.

Strathfield

Labor victory on Strathfield Council in 2000 resulted in disaster for the Liberal Party at the 2003 state election with Labor Mayor and Gwyneth Paltrow look-alike Virginia Judge recording a massive swing to Labor in succeeding Paul Whelan into the State Parliament.

While Liberals are rejoicing the fact that Judge has gone it is uncertain whether they will have the talent or nous to take control of the council.

Word has it that Labor will probably scrape back in an extremely dour struggle.

MORE NSW LOCAL GOVERNMENT COMPETITIONS

From the Feb 4 sealed section

More fun as council elections approach in New South Wales, with out tipsters recommending readers keep an eye on the following competitions:

Willoughby

Rumours say that Chicka’s old man, Greg Bartels, is putting his hand up again – and that some previously endorsed Libs are going to resign from the party and run as independents due to disenchantment with policy direction.

Manly

The Monk is their local MP – but he looks completely normal compared to the local government ticker.  One is Salvation Army spokesman Pat Daley, the endorsed Liberal candidate for the state seat in 1982 who resigned in mysterious circumstances.  Another is an unemployed forty-something, a third an aging retiree, but best of all is the number eight on the ticket, Tony Bonner, most famous for playing Gerry in Skippy in the 1960s.  Two Libs in unwinnable positions are rumoured to be considering their future, and it would not be surprising for them to become ‘independents’.

At the same time, some members of the Manly Chamber of Commerce are considering running their own team, which will not support the Libs.

Blue Mountains

North Shore Lib Kilner Mason is running.  He owns an investment property in the area and was cited by David Oldfield in his reading speech for his Crime Amendment (Protection of Innocent Accused) Bill.

Pittwater

Some local Libs are not pleased with the current Mayor, but the really big issue seems to be the closure of the dog pound.  Dog owners are yelping with displeasure and threatening to unseat the majority of the councillors over this pressing matter.

MORE ON SYDNEY CITY COUNCIL…

From the Feb 5 sealed section

A bystander on the corner of George and Park Street reckons Hillary should have said more about some key contenders for the upcoming City of Sydney elections.

They say independent Matt Laffin (www.mattlaffan.com) is running a particularly impressive campaign.  They also point to Liberal South Sydney Councillor, Shayne Mallard, whose future plans have been the subject of speculation – we’ve been waiting for him to show his hand – and remind us how the Greens picked up 35% of the primary vote in the west side of the council area at the last State election. 

Our source says Dixie Coulton and Peter Collins are a sideshow.  No surprises there. Dixie only emerged from obscurity in October last year when she decided to run for the Mayoralty.  Her campaign is said to be in disarray because of the merger issue – her “team” so far is limited to a few ‘characters’ from The Rocks, although South Sydney Councillors John Bush and John Fowler were said to be expressing interest.

Collins grabbed some early headlines but has not been seen for weeks and strong rumours persist he’s not taking it any further.  Doubling the size of the electorate (expect an announcement on next Wednesday) makes it an extraordinarily daunting prospect for any candidate without party machine backing.

Meanwhile, our local government enthusiast says Michael Lee’s campaign strategy appears to be one of silence – not one word of comment relating to the merger of South Sydney and the City of Sydney.

As they say, it wouldn’t be the first time a candidate has won using that tactic – but it’s more likely driven by the fact he doesn’t want to pass comment on the machinations his mates down on Sussex Street.

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SHANE MALLARD ON THE NSW RUM CORPS

“Dear Crikey
 
Your ‘Behind the Sydney Council Merger’ conspiracy theory missed the Rum Corps – NSW Labor Right’s much more immediate desperation for new and richer donation revenues.

Forget the public purse – though Bruvver Egan would be grateful.  If the amalgamation did not proceed the elections for both South Sydney and City of Sydney Council will likely again return non-Labor controlled Councils as they did in the last elections.

If the Carr government amalgamates the two a  pro-Labor gerrymander will deliver a majority to Bruvver’s pin up boy Michael Lee.

With the NSW Right overdrawing the bankcard by $2 million to stonewall John Brogden’s ascension last March, they are desperate to refill their coffers and fast with a Latham versus Howard event later this year.

Remember that ALP general secretary Eric Roozendaal is on notice from Latham numbers man Laurie Brereton not to short change this Federal campaign.  There is a lot of money needed in Sussex Street this year and added to the stress the money men are anxiously projecting to 2007 when they will be facing not one but probably two critical elections.

Reader’s can bet safe money on an amalgamation either in the coming weeks or soon after the elections in March. The NSW Labor Right will then control the rich development lands from Sydney Harbour to Botany Bay worth potentially millions to a political machine addicted to wheeling, dealing and generous donations to party coffers.
 
Shayne Mallard
Liberal Councillor
South Sydney City Council”

 

Peter Fray

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