City of Sydney Lord Mayor Frank Sartor has finally agreed to meet representatives of the gay and lesbian community to discuss the imminent boundary changes to local government areas.
The meeting scheduled for 3 April follows pressure from the NSW Minister for Local Government Harry Woods, who met with representatives of gay and lesbian community groups this week.
The minister told the meeting of gay and lesbian groups that he would take a very dim view of any new council which did not continue to provide the same level of service as that currently enjoyed by the gay and lesbian community.
It was also revealed that the president of the NSW Anti-Discrimination Board, Chris Puplick, had met with Woods’s senior staff to express his concerns over possible reduction in services to community groups in an expanded City of Sydney.
I raised with the minister’s office my concern that community services, particularly to the gay, lesbian, transgender community, but also in relation to sex workers and the sex industry, would be potentially at risk if boundary changes went ahead, given what so far seems to have been the unsatisfactory response of Frank Sartor, Puplick told the Star.
Puplick said that he indicated to the minister’s office the basis upon which people might or might not -¦ be able to make complaints under the anti-discrimination act about reduction of services of that sort.
Sartor, who has until yesterday trenchantly refused to meet with any interest groups until after a decision over council boundaries has been finalised, said in a statement released to the Star that he had agreed to the meeting as a goodwill sign for a budding productive relationship.
I am keen to foster equitable outcomes for this significant group of inner city dwellers as the City has done for its existing constituents, Sartor said in his only public statement on the issue.
The City was told by the mayors of Leichhardt and South Sydney to stay out of their turf until there was a formal boundary change. It is regrettable that accepting that reality has been interpreted in some circles as disinterest, Sartor said.
The meeting with Woods was attended by representatives of the Pride Centre, ACON, the Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby, Mardi Gras and Helix North.
It was a really productive meeting. I am very happy with the outcomes, Lou-Anne Lind, Pride co-convenor, told the Star. I thought that Woods seemed very willing to help us, he understood our issues, he agreed to support our list of service needs and took immediate action on the Lord Mayor’s meeting. I think he also understood and appreciated that the community groups have deliberately avoided partisan politics -“ our issues are really about service needs.
Issues raised by the community representatives include the list of service needs de-tailed in the gay and lesbian community position statement on council boundary changes published in last week’s Star. This list includes protection of unique staff resources such as South Syd-ney’s gay and lesbian liaison officer and sex industry liaison officer; funding provided to groups such as Mardi Gras, the Gay Games and the Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby and the safeguarding of the South Sydney sex industry policy.
One possible outcome may be the gazetting of such issues in the official government proclamation that establishes the new council boundaries.
Puplick said that he has discussed this mechanism with the minister’s office.
If there are any boundary changes, the government should make it a part of the proclamation of any boundary changes that relevant policies, such as the sex worker policy or the LEPs [Local Environ-ment Plans] which cover those needs, should automatically be transferred as well and become the policy of the new entity, Puplick said. I have indicated that if there were then significant turning away from these services previously offered to the gay, lesbian, transgender community, then that would be potentially a matter of interest to this board.
Adrian Lovney, president of the AIDS Council of NSW, who attended the meeting with Woods, said this possibility was raised by the minister during the meeting. Lovney said that it was important to avoid a policy-free zone in the transfer period.
One of the things we are particularly concerned about is the sex industry policy, Lovney said. We had to go through a very long process to get South Sydney councillors to a point where they were comfortable implementing a policy which put health above politics -¦ What Woods said was, if it was possible, one of things he might do was have that policy applied to the areas that were transferring so that [the new entity] wouldn’t be a policy-free zone.
John Fowler, mayor of South Sydney Council saw the minister’s comments this week as a tick for his council’s policies.
The minister has certainly given council a tick in terms of the way we deal and provide services for the inner city community which has a large gay and lesbian component, Fowler told the Star. I am also pleased to see that the minister sees that these are real issues … But you know it’s a promise from a politician saying he’ll make another politician do something. In terms of performance and representation, I think South Sydney’s record speaks for itself.
Formal council submissions on the boundary changes which propose ceding parts of South Sydney and Leichhardt to the City of Sydney were submitted to the Local Govern-ment Boundaries Commission at the end of last month. The Commission will report to Woods who will make a final report to cabinet. Although no deadlines have been set, observers say the Boundaries Commission may report as early as next week.