In a bold move, Kiama Council has narrowly decided to hold a poll to send the Premier a message from residents about the depth of feeling for their current local government area.
It is thought to be the first time that a poll has been held on its own, and not at the same time as a council election. Voters are to have their say on Saturday 9 May.
The question they will be asked – Do you want Kiama Municipal Council to stand alone? – has been designed to cover both the proposed forced merger with Shoalhaven City Council, and the possibility that another variation on the theme may emerge in the interim. The latter has happened to other council areas which are now finding themselves facing entirely new proposals.
“This is our last chance,” said Councillor Dennis Seage when proposing the motion. “We really need to have a poll. If the government was fair dinkum it would withdraw us from this ridiculous race. But they continue to make us grovel for our very survival.
“I think the only thing left is for the community to have their voice heard. If this government ignores that then they are completely ignoring democracy.”
He again quoted the Mayor of Noosa, a council which faced a similar situation and is now de-merging, who said “if you sit on your hands the bastards will cut off your feet”.
While some councillors expressed concern about the estimated $120,000 cost of having the NSW Electoral Commission conduct the plebiscite, others strongly defended the cost (while expressing resentment that the government has not seen fit to conduct the poll themselves).
“I am sure the community would be willing to go without a footpath, a driveway or something that is going to cost a similar amount,” said Councillor Gavin McClure.
Councillor Neil Reilly was amongst those who agreed, “A couple of months ago we gave $600,000 for street sweeping equipment. Surely we can afford $120,000 to keep the streets.
“In the grand scheme of things – how much is our survival worth?”
It was agreed the money is to come from Council’s contingency reserve.
Concerns were also expressed about:
- the timing of the poll this late in the decision making process, as indications are that the Minister will make his decision in late May/early June. The appointed Delegate is due to hand his report in at the end on April.
- the need to get a high voter turnout.
Councillor Seage is adamant that the plebiscite is the only choice of action left.
“If we have a poll, people will come out in force and the passion of our community will be on display to all.” he said. “When it is a normal type of election there is a lot of complacency around. This is not about an election. This is about our very survival.
“It is the only way we will change the government’s mind. If they ignore this democratic process, they don’t deserve to hold government.”