Presidents' Welcome - Local Government NSW Inaugural Conference

(6pm, Tuesday 1 October 2013, Lower Town Hall)

Good evening, everyone. I'd like firstly to acknowledge the Gadigal people of the Eora nation, the traditional custodians of our land, and to pay my respects to their Elders. I also acknowledge the people of 200 nations who live in our City.

I also acknowledge Cr Keith Rhoades and Cr Ray Donald, Joint Presidents of Local Government NSW.

Welcome to Sydney Town Hall for the inaugural conference of Local Government NSW.

Meeting here this year is symbolic and historic.

Just over 150 years ago, representatives of urban, regional and rural councils formed the Municipal Association of New South Wales.

The new Association committed to:

"To watch over and protect the interests, rights and privileges of municipal corporations - to take action in relation to any subject affecting municipal bodies, or municipal legislation, and to promote efficiency in the carrying out of municipal government throughout the colony. "

The first meeting of the Association was organised by the Mayor of Balmain with the help of Sydney's Mayor, Alderman John Harris.

Alderman Harris was keen to show off his new Town Hall, which had been officially opened three years before.

It was just the first stage, what we now know as the Vestibule, with adjacent offices. Lower Town Hall, where we are now, together with the Centennial Hall where we will meet over the next two days, took another six years.

While Sydney Town Hall took 10 years to build, it took even longer to secure a site—which needed cooperation from the colonial government.

The Council's proposed site was the old burial ground, which had been moved to Brickfields Hill in 1820 because it was full and becoming "offensive to the inhabitants in the neighbourhood", according to the official newspaper, the Sydney Gazette.

But the Governor, and colonial governments that replaced him, refused to take action.

Finally, in 1869, the government resumed the site and granted half an acre to Council for a Town Hall.

Not for the last time, the government told the council how to run its affairs.

It instructed council to spend at least £25,000 on its building and to complete it by 1 January 1872—just three years! It took an extra eight years, but the project enabled council to end its practice of meeting in local hotels.

Perhaps Alderman Harris's experience with the colonial government prompted him to help form a new association to speak for all of the colony's municipalities.

At this time, councils had been established throughout Sydney, spreading out through Alexandria, Ashfield, Burwood, Canterbury and Leichhardt, into the south and west, to Campbelltown and Liverpool.

Councils had also been established across the state in Hamilton, Lambton and Wallsend near Newcastle, and regional centres such as Dubbo, Casino, Lismore, Tamworth and Tenterfield.

This provided a strong foundation for the new association. Sixty-three councils joined it—23 from metropolitan Sydney and 40 from rural and regional NSW.

Frederick Larcombe, the eminent historian of local government in NSW, suggests that building a better relationship with the colonial government was a key factor.

That driver remains important today, at a time of enormous challenge for local government.

I hope our work over the next two days will ensure our association provides an effective voice for local government and helps us to continue to provide leadership and meet the needs of our local areas in the twenty-first century.

Welcome to Town Hall, welcome to Sydney, and welcome to the inaugural conference of the new "Local Government NSW".