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Shire loses vote

Saturday, 5th October, 2019

Central Darling Shire Council building. Central Darling Shire Council building.

By Craig Brealey

Postponing elections in the Central Darling Shire for another four years was an “outrage against democracy”, according to Local Government NSW. 

The decision, announced yesterday by the Minister for Local Government, Shelley Hancock, to extend the administration of the council was also condemned by Broken Hill’s Mayor, Darriea Turley.

Given what had been done to the Darling River and the Menindee Lakes, it was “more important than ever” that people be given the right to elect their own representatives, Ms Turley said.

Mrs Hancock said the extension would allow for a “comprehensive long-term plan” to be developed for the council. 

She said she made the decision on the advice of the administration, the Office of Local Government and Local Government NSW (LGNSW).

But this was contradicted by the President of LGNSW, Linda Scott.

“The challenges, and those facing all councils in the remote west of the state, cannot be overcome by the removal of democratic representation,” Ms Scott said.

“The decision to extend the administration of Central Darling is an outrage against local democracy.”

The shire has not had an elected council since 2013 when an interim administrator was appointed. The following year, after a public inquiry reported “deep seated” problems at the organisational, financial and councillor level, a permanent administrator was installed. 

But the council also suffered a problem common to many small bush councils - a low rate base, the administrator, Bob Stewart, said yesterday..

“It is an area the size of Tasmania, with 2000 people,” said Mr Stewart.

“The council gets less than $2 million in rates and its debt from unpaid rates that have accumulated over many years is similar.”

Mr Stewart said the administration had been extended mainly to improve the financial situation.

“Some people wanted to stay under administration, others wanted council representation, but there is still a significant amount of work to do. The next step is to build the capacity of the organisation and improve community engagement.”

Mr Stewart said that next month he will meet with the council’s directors and audit committee to examine the risks and develop a plan to take to the Minister.

“The government has a role to play and I’ve had discussions with the Premier, Deputy Premier and the Minister for Western NSW.”

Mrs Hancock said progress had been made in the past four years, but the council was still under “significant financial stress, especially with the drought”.

The Member for Barwon, Roy Butler, said he welcomed the extension because it would allow time to develop an enduring strategy.

“Central Darling is the largest shire in NSW but has the smallest population,” Mr Butler said.

“There is still much work to do to strengthen financial management and organisational capacity and improve service delivery to the community.”

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