Two Sydney communities with vastly different demographics were the scene of anger meltdowns this week over the common issue of local democracy.
At Fairfield City Council in Sydney’s working class south-west, Labor Mayor Nick Lalich, who is also MP for Cabramatta, ordered the police to remove ratepayers who were attending one of the council’s public forums.
Public forums, which have a 50-year tradition in the borough, provide an opportunity for the locals to quiz councillors with each speaker given five minutes per question.
But when Joseph Adams, a local resident was denied the opportunity to ask a question because he is also registered as a lobbyist, Lalich objected to his protestations, summoned the police (who were waiting outside) and had Adams removed from the meeting.
Later a second questioner was escorted out of the meeting by police.
Dai Le, the unsuccessful Liberal candidate in last November’s by-election, put out a press release — “Mayor Lalich rules: Free speech off the menu”.
She also revealed that council staff scoured the city’s shopping centre earlier this month removing posters advertising an anti-Lalich street protest. They were later returned — by courier — after she lodged a media protest.
Meanwhile, over on Sydney’s well-heeled North Shore, Ku-ring-gai was hosting a meeting of the Planning Minister Kristina Keneally’s Planning Panel to hear local objections to the draft Local Environment Plan authored by the State Government.
The LEP proposes commercial, retail and residential developments in six town centres from Roseville to Turramurra in an attempt to increase the population density and bring new residents into the area with the aim of sharing the city’s population growth.
A post-meeting press release from the Friends of Ku-ring-gai Environment (FOKE) headed “The death of democracy in Ku-ring-gai,” told a Fairfield-style story.
“The three and a half hour meeting degenerated into farce, when the panel chair, Elizabeth Crouch, came back after a short adjournment around 9.15pm and the panel adopted the revised draft plan.
“There were shouts of anger from the residents as the council staff and security tried to stop a video journalist from news.com.au, Helen Parker, from filming the proceedings. Both the NSW Opposition Leader Barry O’Farrell, the local MP for Ku-ring-gai, and the journalist were evicted from the panel meeting.”
After the meeting, O’Farrell said: “The ham-fisted running of this meeting turned law-abiding, civilised people into angry, irate and downright frustrated individuals.
“They aren’t normally regarded as rabble-rousers but this process, driven by minister Kristina Keneally, has driven them mad, and we almost saw that come to blows this evening.”
Common to the Fairfield and Ku-ring-gai incidents was the increasingly bureaucratic, insensitive and authoritarian approach of the State Government and its lieutenants, who seem to be saying: “It’s our way or no way.”
The economic meltdown, along with rising unemployment and falling incomes, is placing unbearable strains on the citizens of the Emerald City and the angry communities of Fairfield (Labor) and Ku-ring-gai (Liberal) are just the beginning … as we say at Bunnings.