Ms JODI McKAY (Strathfield) [11.16 a.m.]: Constituents in my electorate, who live in the local government areas of Strathfield, Burwood, Ashfield and Canada Bay, are concerned about the New South Wales Government's plans to amalgamate councils. I acknowledge Save our Strathfield, in particular Councillor Helen McGlucas, Karen Pensabene and Nella Gaughan, which has led local efforts to oppose the New South Wales Government's plans to amalgamate the inner-west councils of Strathfield, Burwood, Canada Bay, Ashfield, Leichhardt and Marrickville. In the lead-up to the last election I was pleased to sign their pledge against forced amalgamation. Councils have until 30 June to prepare their submissions, so the level of concern in communities such as mine is increasing. With the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal [IPART] yet to release its final assessment methodology, the deadline of 30 June seems increasingly unfair to councils that have to assess their performance against the criteria, consult with communities and make a decision on the model to be pursued.
The shadow Minister for Local Government, the Hon. Peter Primrose, recently met with Save our Strathfield and local Strathfield councillors to talk through some of the issues, and give support to the council's efforts to oppose amalgamation and stand alone. Undoubtedly some councils should, and could, be more efficient but, like others in this place, my concern is that the only indicators of a good versus a bad council according to the New South Wales Government relates to efficiency, assets, scale and financial stability. A population of 250,000 should not be a measure of whether a council is fit for the future, yet the Government has chosen this as a measure. What is missing from the Government's Fit for the Future approach is acknowledgement of the importance of local representation. No mention has been made of how residents will be represented on local issues.
Over the coming years two burning local issues in my area will require strong representation from both State and local governments: WestConnex and the Parramatta Road urban renewal project. The widening and lengthening of the M4 will have significant implications for my community. The Government has failed to release the business case for WestConnex. We have not yet seen detailed traffic modelling, the location of the stacks or confirmation of the properties to be resumed, et cetera. Report after report has questioned whether WestConnex will actually relieve traffic congestion on Parramatta Road. The most recent report by CGS Economics and Planning, released in April, found that traffic on parts of Parramatta will increase by more than 20 per cent as motorists seek to avoid paying the tolls on the M4. This will, of course, significantly impact on the Parramatta Road Urban Renewal project, which brings me to another issue in my electorate that also requires strong local representation.
The New South Wales Government wants 60,000 extra dwellings on Parramatta Road, 43 per cent of which will be in my community. The draft plan, released in November, made no mention of the infrastructure or services that will support this population growth. I raise these two issues as examples of why amalgamation at this time seems convenient for the Government. This is the most significant urban renewal project in the inner west in the past 100 years, and one of the biggest transport infrastructure projects ever seen. At the same time, the Government has set about weakening the voice of local residents by reducing the number of councils and therefore councillors in the inner west who would seek to challenge the Government on these issues. At the very least, amalgamation will be a distraction that will allow the Government to continue with these projects while the efforts and attention of local councillors are focused elsewhere.
I welcome last week's announcement of the parliamentary inquiry into council amalgamation. There remain many questions yet to be answered by the Government, and while I do not intend to cover them all in this address to the House I believe that the weakening of local representation is one issue that has not received enough attention in the debate over the merits or otherwise of this policy. I am not one to box at shadows; however I have very serious concerns about the benefits the New South Wales Government will reap from its amalgamation approach. In my area it will silence the elected voices that would otherwise challenge and question two of the Government's most significant projects—WestConnex and the renewal of Parramatta Road. Perhaps it is time to look at why this policy is being pursued at this time.