VOTERS wanting to take a democratic stand on big issues including the health of Lake Cathie, the orbital road and fluoridation of the region's water supply will have another year to wait.
Port Macquarie-Hastings' local government elections have been postponed for 12 months.
Ratepayers will now go to the polls in September 2021.
NSW Minister for Local Government Shelley Hancock confirmed the decision on Wednesday, March 25.
The "regrettable decision" was made in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Local government elections are a vital part of the democratic process, ensuring local councils are accountable to their local communities, the minister said.
"Therefore, the decision to postpone them has not been taken lightly but is necessary to ensure the health and safety of voters, NSW Electoral Commission staff and election candidates," Ms Hancock said.
"The decision follows parliament passing amendments to the Local Government Act to provide me with the power to postpone the elections.
"The NSW Electoral Commissioner has also requested that the government postpone the council elections.
"This decision provides certainty for local councils, communities and election candidates."
Local Government NSW has welcomed the decision to postpone the elections.
The organisation says it provides certainty to local government areas during "these extraordinary times".
LGNSW president Linda Scott said the government had acted swiftly on its decision.
"There had never been a more important time for visionary local leadership that provided hope and guidance for each part of NSW," Cr Scott said.
"In light of the minister's decision to delay local elections because of the COVID-19 crisis, I know all elected councillors will continue to work across political boundaries to pull together for the public good.
"Mayors and councillors are working hard to ensure good governance continues during the COVID-19 crisis and will continue to do so."
Port Macquarie-Hastings Council's popularly elected mayor, Peta Pinson, will continue to hold office until an ordinary election is held.
All current councillors will continue to hold their civic offices.
The Port News asked all elected councillors and the mayor to comment on the following questions.
- Do you support the minister's call to postpone the council elections for 12 months.
- Has this matter been a topic for discussion among the elected body.
- What challenges can you see confronting council/councillors by extending the elections out 12 months.
The responses below are in the order we received them.
Cr Justin Levido
1 - There was no consultation with councillors. The election was to be held in September 2020, some six months' away.
If the state government's strategy is to clean barnacles off the ship of state to keep things calm for the foreseeable future, then I can see some logic behind it.
2 - Only at our weekly briefing last night via a verbal report from acting general manager Jeffery Sharp.
I saw some press over the last week or so hinting it may be on the cards. There was no consultation, just the announcement.
3 - Many and varied ...
Cr Geoff Hawkins
1 - Yes, I fully support the minister's decision to not only postpone the NSW local government elections but I also agree with her primary reason of giving certainty in these very uncertain times.
2 - No, there has not, to my knowledge, been discussion amongst councillors about the minister's decision as we were only made aware of it last night (Wednesday, March 25) at the end of a telephone meeting between councillors and the executive staff.
3 - I actually see the minister's decision as a very sound risk mitigation strategic step.
Indeed, to proceed with the election process at this time would be a significant distraction to the core need for everyone to focus on our community pulling through these unprecedented times together.
Cr Rob Turner
1 - Yes, this was a sensible call by the minister.
The over-riding priority for council as an organisation is to be able to focus on navigating its way through the crisis - which could take 12 months or more.
Experienced councillors who have built and maintained good relationships with senior council staff over many years, and who have a good understanding of the organisation is a key asset for council and the community at a time like this.
2 - No, this has happened very suddenly.
3 - This may certainly throw up challenges for some councillors, depending on their individual circumstances.
For council itself though, I think this is mainly positive - as council staff can continue to manage their way through the crisis without the distraction of council elections, followed by a lengthy induction and steep learning curve for any new councillors elected.
Cr Lisa Intemann
1 - Absolutely I support a postponement in view of the health crisis, although personally I would have preferred a six-month delay until March 2021, and then review that in September 2020.
But definitely it was right to make an early decision to delay, and bring certainty and calm on this question at least.
2 - Not really. We were all in a phone conference last night with council directors when the minister's letter came through. There wasn't any discussion then, although I've since been able to speak with most councillors to confirm their availability for an extra year in this term.
3 - Enormous challenges, not from the delay but related to the health crisis.
How to keep good communication among independent individuals without actually meeting together? How to run remote meetings while maintaining public involvement? How to help the local community and council get through and past this deep crisis?
We will beat this virus, but rightly so the community, the nation, everyone, is worried about the future.
As a councillor group and especially from the mayor, please, this has to mean an end to pointless game-playing and shock-jocks, and everyone hunker down and make the careful, sensible decisions that the community and the organisation needs of us.
Cr Peter Alley
1 - I think the minister has acted wisely to postpone the election by 12 months. Those wishing to contest the next election need to be out and about in the community particularly in the months leading to polling day and it is doubtful that that would be able to occur this year.
2 - The matter had not been brought up at any council meeting or at any briefing before the decision was made.
3 - In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, there will be significant community disruption with many in our community being in isolation and businesses being unable to operate.
Council services such as libraries, our offices, swimming pools, the glasshouse have already been impacted. Council staff and councillors and on a steep learning curve as we can continue to serve the community without as much face to face service as we want to provide.
The next year will be tough for all in our community and the council will likely need to make some tough decisions.
Mayor Peta Pinson
1 - This decision is in the best interest of council's across the state, and whilst I am disappointed, we are in a crisis as a community. There are bigger issues at the moment, and an election is the last thing on people's minds.
2 - The matter was discussed at a Councillor briefing last night (March 25).
3 - Together, council and our community need to focus on fighting against this terrible pandemic by doing our part to flatten the curve. I welcome the opportunity to continue representing our community as mayor during this very difficult time.
Crs Lee Dixon and Sharon Griffiths were invited to contribute.
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