In the second part of a wide-ranging, two-part interview Mike meets with the newly elected Mayor of Ku-ring-gai Jennifer Anderson as she takes office for the third successive term.
Would you like to make a comment about council’s position on the 10/50 regulation?
Yes, I did put forward a Mayoral Minute a few weeks ago on the issues that council officers have seen since the implantation of the code. We are having reports of a significant number of trees, up to 200 in the first few weeks being cut down, not apparently for the purposes of bush fire protection but perhaps for other reasons. We’re concerned about this because Ku-ring-gai is known as part of the leafy North Shore and we work quite diligently to ensure that character is retained. We certainly understand the importance of bushfire protection because we have had residents who have lost homes in the past, but we’re concerned that the code in its implementation has concerns that we practically see and need to be addressed in a review.
Is there anything that residents should be doing?
I know quite a few residents are starting to write to me and I am informing them of the Mayoral Minute that was unanimously adopted by council and we’re sending our observations about the code to the minister and our local state parliament member. Residents that also have opinions should be doing the same.
What about things they can do to their property?
Some of staff within the council are concerned that cutting down trees could give a false sense of security to residents and they really need to look at a whole range of (bushfire prevention) strategies. Other strategies could be more effective in protecting them. We will remain proactive in educating our population that may be at risk.
Newer residents may not be cognisant of what they should do in terms of bushfire prevention. Are there ways that they can go about educating themselves?
They should engage with council about the opportunities that we provide and the information that we provide and work with the RFS and SES as well. Residents should be alert to the opportunities that we offer and proactive in their actions.
Hornsby and The Hills District have done some work looking at “big government”; that is combining smaller councils to make larger entities with more streamlined administration. Do you have any comments?
Ku-ring-gai council’s position at the moment is that we have not seen any evidence to support amalgamation, in terms of financial benefit or in terms of representation for our residents. We’re not a small council area; we’ve got about 116,000 population. If we merged with another big council like Hornsby it would certainly be a very substantial council. There are other LGA’s that are much, much smaller that may feel there is a benefit in amalgamating. We have looked the report that Hornsby Council undertook and we feel that the small amount of benefit that they identified would be easily eaten-up in the cost of the actual practicality of merging the councils. We have had our own analysis by our staff point to the fact that council rates would likely increase for our Ku-ring-gai residents due to the higher land values that we have in Ku-ring-gai. We don’t feel that would be a positive outcome for our residents and we would have a lower representation of “Ku-ring-gai” in a council that was subsumed by a larger council with a large population and larger geographic area.
So you are bringing focus to a like-minded area?
Yes. We do feel we’re doing well at the moment. That is born-out at the moment with T-Corps assessment of our financial position, with our finalist standing in the Bluett Award. We are moving forward with our plan to address the State Government’s “Fit for the future” plan, but our position remains that we do not see an advantage for Ku-ring-gai residents (to merge with another council).
Regarding the recent elections, in some media there has been discussion of an eleventh hour change, displacing David Ossip as the preferred candidate for mayor. Do you have any comment about this?
The reporting that I have seen in the media so far seems to only deal with part of the story. Whilst I cannot comment on some meetings because they’re required to be confidential, I can state that after the caucus meeting the five councillors who are members of the Liberal Party did sit and discuss the situation and all councillors were given the opportunity to present a guaranteed sixth vote for mayor on the floor of council and I was the only councillor who could present a guaranteed sixth vote and councillor Citer agreed that the correct decision had been made and that is why I was elected Mayor.
How do you feel an issue like that will affect the ability of the councillors to work as a cohesive team for the community over the coming period?
I think the benefit to residents is to always have a stable council. To have a Mayor elected outright, not drawn out of a hat, is the desirable position. We did have a late change (in candidature) last year as well and these considerations are important right until the decision has to be made. So, we understand that this is all part of the process and, just like last year, we pick up going forward with the best interests of the community at heart. We delivered last year and we will be able to deliver this year.