The ICAC revelations about the wheeling and dealing around big party politics reinforce the important role of independent community representation in our democratic system.
In my ten years as Lord Mayor, there have been six Premiers and ongoing investigations by the ICAC of successive State Governments. Yet it is the City of Sydney - which has provided ten years of effective and independent government - that is under constant review and threat of amalgamation.
It is vested interest groups who are pushing the Government to introduce sweeping local government amalgamations across NSW, including to the City of Sydney. They want to cut communities out of the decision making process for their neighbourhoods and ensure that the big political parties control local government especially in relation to development.
While I agree that local government can benefit from reform, I do not believe that council amalgamations are the answer. Little evidence has been provided to support the view that larger councils are more financially sustainable. Indeed, recent research demonstrates "little evidence of any statistically significant association between financial sustainability ratios and population size for greater Sydney Councils" (Drew and Dollery 2014).
The Sydney Metropolitan Mayors, a coalition of more than 20 mayors, opposes amalgamations but is urging the Government to proceed with implementing specific, urgent and supported reforms. Local governments across NSW have already endorsed the majority of recommendations from the Independent Local Government Review Panel.
I believe reform can provide major opportunities to secure a sustainable revenue base, establish better cooperation between local and state government, and increasing local government leadership capacity to deliver on results for our local communities.
Councils should be able to raise revenue, borrow money, and should not be constrained by State-imposed rate pegging. Local government should be given independence from restrictions and manipulations by State-based political parties. And mayors should be directly elected for four year terms to give continuity of Council policy and project implementation.
It is vital the City of Sydney retains the City of Sydney Act, the Central Sydney Planning Committee and the Central Sydney Traffic and Transport Committee.
The City would welcome a new Capital City Committee (Similar to the Adelaide Committee) to extend and improve the communication, cooperation and planning of Sydney with the State and Federal governments, especially in areas such as the planning and delivery of infrastructure, coordination and management of events, and efficient and transparent regulation of licenced premises.
I have also urged the reintegration of the parts of our local government area that are currently excised and separately regulated on an ad hoc basis by a variety of statutory authorities. These include Barangaroo, Redfern-Waterloo and the areas which remain under the auspices of the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority. This would ensure efficient strategic planning and consistent service delivery for the whole area.