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As NSW heads back to the polls today, the councils we vote for are choked by a lack of action, preferring bureaucratic stalemate over improvement.
Councils in NSW have little power. Lord Mayoral and Councillor candidates standing for the upcoming City of Sydney Council elections should do so with their eyes wide open on this issue and not make promises that will not materialise.
As an Independent Councillor for the City of Sydney for four years, I experienced great frustration and lamented the wasted ratepayer funds due to the inaction of the NSW State Government on many Council related issues. If Council issues that relied on NSW Government action were resolved in a timely manner, conditions would greatly improve for residents, business people and visitors to the city.
I shall provide a few simple examples. I received many complaints from residents about illegal bills posted on poles throughout the city and suburbs so I investigated the issue. In my time as a Councillor, the City has spent more than $6 million cleaning graffiti and removing illegal bills. The bulk of this expenditure has been on illegal poster removal, an extraordinary cost to ratepayers that I wanted to reduce. City Council can only fine the person putting up the posters, not the advertiser. To be able to fine the advertiser would greatly reduce the number of illegal posters, but it requires a change to the relevant NSW legislation.
I raised a notice of motion to address this issue in 2013; this was supported by all Councillors except the two Liberal Councillors. The following year the NSW Government conducted a review, I was hopeful that legislation would change in the first quarter of 2016, however, after repeated contact by my office with Minister Upton, this has only resulted in a letter stating that she is still considering the review recommendations. Naturally, ratepayers would prefer the $6 million to be appropriated to beneficial services, but while the NSW Government deliberates, the Council clean up bill continues to rise. To do not clean up would leave the city covered in tatty posters, not to mention the environmental damage when the cheap dyes and paper end up in the drainage system.
It is ridiculous that in such a small geographical area there are so many different government authorities. There should be one authority managing the area and that should be the City of Sydney.
Sydney does not have free Wi-Fi spots in the CBD; other Australian capital cities do. The City of Sydney has offered the NSW Government the use of its smart poles to assist with the implementation of free Wi-Fi. Again I raised a motion in 2015 for this issue to be considered, however to date the NSW Government has not been interested in playing ball. Sydney is a global city; the lack of free Wi-Fi hinders tourist expenditure and access to information.
The highest number of complaints (approximately 600 pa) received by the City from residents and business people relate to noisy commercial rubbish removal at all hours of the day and night, not parking issues as you may have thought. Unlike Melbourne City Council the City of Sydney cannot regulate the collection hours of commercial garbage operators; to do so would require a change of NSW legislation. You guessed it, we are still waiting for a response on this issue from the NSW Government.
On a bigger scale, the NSW Government over the years has taken large parcels of land in important parts of the city, for example The Rocks, Darling Harbour, Sydney Harbour Foreshore, Australian Technology Park to name a few. Not only does this raise conflict of interest issues, but also it means that the city is run by a range of different authorities. This translates to complex and lengthy planning and design processes between the various authorities and can result in mismatched and uncoordinated urban spaces. It is ridiculous that in such a small geographical area there are so many different government authorities overseeing the development of significant land parcels. There should be one authority managing the entire city area and that should be the City of Sydney.
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Finally, Councillors on all sides of politics experience frustration with their lack of power to meaningfully contribute to Council business. Liberal Lord Mayoral candidate Christine Forster has promised, if elected, to give all Councillors a portfolio. This is politically naïve and contrary to the current NSW Act.
Ideally, it would be good if Councillors could operate on a collaborative basis providing input to roundtable discussions and workshops, but in a highly political environment this has not been successful, with some opposition Councillors Tweeting confidential briefings and running off to the media with details.
Therefore the Act needs to change to allow the elected Mayor to appoint his or her team members as ministers, similar to a cabinet set up. This would bring the Sydney Council more in line with how London and New York and are run.