Adjournment Debate – Blacktown City Council

House of Representatives

Tonight I raise a pressing local matter, being the current political agenda and direction of the Blacktown City Council, particularly those aspects which are being pushed by certain elements of the Liberal Party, motivated by ideology and an unhealthy obsession with asset sales, meagre public services and neglect for those in our community who need it most.

Blacktown council covers the most populous local government area in New South Wales, currently serving over 300,000 people, according to the most recent census figures. Due to the massive growth we are seeing in Sydney’s north-west, this is expected to increase to half a million people by 2020. With this size come challenges for all levels of government. To Blacktown council’s credit, it has always met these challenges with an eye on the future, in no small part due to its award-winning, highly skilled and dedicated staff.

I want to place on record the very professional relationship I enjoy with council, where I have had the opportunity to facilitate worthwhile partnerships with this federal Labor government, delivering Commonwealth investments in several important local projects over the past three years that would otherwise not have occurred; and working together to secure even more in future.

Today, local government is responsible for far more than ‘roads, rates and rubbish’, a mantra which was reinforced in the recent inquiry I chaired into constitutional recognition of local government. It is crucial that local government continues to provide services and facilities such as childcare centres, libraries, parks, pools and other recreational facilities. This is one of the reasons I am such a passionate supporter of constitutional recognition. Indeed, Blacktown City Council has provided these services in an efficient and excellent manner for decades, but in 2012 Blacktown City Council became controlled by an Independent-Liberal administration and since then we have seen certain sections of the Liberal Party in Blacktown pursue an agenda of privatisation and cuts with little if any public consultation.

The community I represent is dependent on the facilities and services provided by local government—in some areas more than others. Families rely on childcare services provided by council, organisations rely on community infrastructure for meetings and social gatherings, and residents young and old rely on libraries and sporting facilities, but since the new Liberal administration came to power in Blacktown we have witnessed some truly retrograde decisions: a cut to the pensioner rate rebate; removal of the recognition of traditional landowners from council meetings, something that I introduced in 2004 when I was first elected to Blacktown City Council; and the closure of Mount Druitt swimming pool without any public consultation. And we know more is afoot in relation to other aquatic centres, with deliberations on the report The function and strategic direction of councils’ aquatic and leisure centres continuing. There is an investigation into the potential sale of small parks and reserves; voting down a motion proposed by Labor councillors to save residents’ homes from potential compulsory acquisition, as drafted in the proposed 2013 Blacktown Local Environment Plan, or BLEP; flagging the sale of council operated childcare centres; and a resolution to investigate the renaming of the Blacktown city.

One of the most distressing of these items is the proposed 2013 BLEP, which includes the possibility of residents’ homes being rezoned and acquired to expand larger parks such as International Peace Park in Seven Hills in my electorate. Astonishingly, that means that there is currently a proposal to enable the acquisition of people’s homes in order to increase the size of existing parks, while also looking at the sale of other parks. Over the past few months I have been contacted by scores of local residents, including Darryl and Kim Green of Seven Hills, two of the many thoroughly decent people whom I have come to know as a result of this matter and for whom the BLEP is occupying an inordinate amount of time and energy precisely because it is about their homes, the life they have made in Blacktown, their future. They are residents who are gravely concerned about the BLEP—and rightly so.

Residents know that, while the BLEP issue is a proposal, one of their primary concerns is the uncertainty of waiting a couple of years or even a couple of decades before knowing whether council will elect to compulsorily acquire their properties. This is an unsustainable position in which to place people who have established their homes, many of whom are approaching retirement and as a practical matter cannot envisage being granted and servicing a new mortgage to purchase another property if their existing home is acquired by a future council.

I, along with my colleague the member for Chifley and the state members for Blacktown and Toongabbie, John Robertson and Nathan Rees, stand with our Labor colleagues on Blacktown City Council who are fighting these proposals and the ideological ruthlessness of some elements of the Liberal Party. It is time for the Liberal administration of Blacktown City Council to recognise the negative impact their actions are having on the wellbeing of its residents, abandon its reckless pursuit of an ideological agenda and refocus on the people. (Time expired)

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