Councils pressured to produce 'artificial savings' says MP

Heffron MP Ron Hoenig.

Heffron MP Ron Hoenig.

A Labor MP says administrators of Bayside Council and Georges River Council are being pressured by the state government to produce “artificial savings” to support amalgamation decisions.

Heffron MP Ron Hoenig told Parliament the Department of Premier and Cabinet was asking merged councils for lists of achievements and information on implementation, savings, benefits and challenges.

Mr Hoenig said he believed the allocation of council resources for such a purpose and the provision of confidential information was “unlawful and improper”.

Heffron electorate covers the former Botany Bay Council area, which was forced to merge with Rockdale Council.

Mr Hoenig produced an email from the Department of Premier and Cabinet to another merged council to support his claim.

“The information collected in this way is used to prepare documents such as Stronger Councils, Stronger Communities, in order to enable the Premier to advocate the benefits of these amalgamations,” he said.

Mr Hoenig said Premier Gladys Berejiklian and her department “are entitled to no more detailed information from councils than I am”.

“If they wish to have the information they are demanding from administrators, they should make an application under the Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009 like anybody else would have to do.

“What they are doing is forcing the administrators and the interim general managers to effect artificial savings.”

Mr Hoenig said the difficult function of administrators was to manage and try to stabilise merged councils prior to an election.

“It is not their function to make significant policy decisions, it is not their function to answer to the Premier's department,” he said.

Mr Hoenig said the administrators and interim general managers of the merged councils in his electorate had done “a sterling job”.

“I make no criticisms of them, but I do criticise the pressure on them to withdraw or change services, which should be the prerogative of elected representatives,” he said.

Mr Hoenig wrote to Bayside Council administrator Greg Wright requesting he “immediately stop” allocating resources to this work, and providing information.

A spokesman for the Department of Premier and Cabinet (DPC) said the government was committed to providing ongoing support for all new councils.

“New councils provide information to DPC as part of a significant program of assistance and support,” he said.

“DPC distributes this information to new councils to share ideas and build collaboration.

“Councils are also required to report to the government on how they are spending money from the merger implementation fund and the stronger communities fund.”

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