South Sydney Council scored a major victory this week in their ongoing attempt to halt major parts of the municipality being ceded to the City of Sydney.
On Tuesday Justice Talbot of the NSW Land and Environment Court upheld the council’s submission that the recent Boundaries Commission Report had not properly investigated the proposed changes as set out by the Local Government Act.
Talbot also concluded that the Commission had not accorded South Sydney appropriate procedural fairness during its deliberations.
Mayor of South Sydney, Councillor John Fowler described the decision as a huge win.
This shows that the state government has tried to rush these changes through without considering the impacts and without consulting the people affected, Fowler said.
Fowler called on the NSW Government to develop a comprehensive and considered plan for genuine local government reform across the state. Fowler said that it was important that any major boundary changes or reform was put to a community vote.
Talbot accepted evidence that the Commission had assigned the real tasks of examination of the issues and preparation of the report to consultants. He concluded that they had done little more than embrace the conclusion of others.
The decision is also highly critical of mistakes in the report. The Commission had submitted in evidence that a critical mistake in Chapter 2 of the report, which outlined significantly different changed boundaries to those adopted in Chapter 5, was simply a clerical error. Talbot noted that this defied credulity.
The confusing result arising from the conflicting references in the report and the crucial error in Chapter 2 supports a finding that the Boundaries Commission failed either to adequately understand and appreciate or to properly perform its function, Talbot said in his judgment.
In declaring the Commission’s report null and void Talbot has thrown a major spanner in the works for Local Government Minister Harry Woods. Under the Local Gov-ernment Act the Minister can only recommend changes in council boundaries to the governor once he has received a properly constituted report from the Boundaries Commission.
Woods’ office told the Star that they were obviously disappointed by the decision.
This could have implications for other boundary changes that are in process, so we will be looking at the full decision and seeking advice from the Crown Solicitor and then deciding where to go from there, Woods’ spokesperson said.
The Minister has a choice of three options: to appeal the decision; to order the Boundaries Commission to produce a new report or simply to let the proposal lapse.
The proposed changes included the transfer of Potts Point, Kings Cross, Elizabeth Bay, Darlinghurst and the University of Sydney areas of South Sydney to the City of Sydney. According to South Sydney’s submissions to the enquiry this would have resulted in the loss of over 40% of its income and over $214 million in investments.