The ashes of democracy

Article image - The ashes of democracy Councillors Kathie Collins OAM, Brad Bunting, Kevin Gillies, Mayor Stephen Bali MP, and Councillors Julie Griffiths and Moninder Singh symbolically cremate the last DA to be decided by councillors in Blacktown.

Blacktown City Council held a ceremonial cremation last month of the last development application to be voted on by its councillors.

In a show of protest against New South Wales (NSW) Government changes to planning laws two urns now contain the ashes: one remains in the Council chambers as a memorial to accountable decision making, and the other was presented to NSW Planning Minister, Anthony Roberts.

Blacktown City Mayor, Stephen Bali MP, said, “We hope he will keep it as a reminder of how he has killed the voice of the community.”
Under legislation passed late last year, from March 1 NSW local councillors no longer vote on development applications: instead, they will be decided by independent planning panels.

“Since 1906, the residents and ratepayers of Blacktown have had accountable control over what happened in their neighbourhood.
“The basic democratic principle of electing representatives who were accountable through the ballot box for the decisions they made has been the guiding strength of our city.

“Not only have elected councillors lost the power to approve or reject development applications, but the community has lost the power to stand up before the councillors it elected to voice an opinion about how the neighbourhood takes shape.”

It simply cannot be argued that the process of councillors voting on development applications (DAs) slowed down development in Blacktown, Mayor Bali said.

“Last year, the councillors only voted on 21 DAs – the other 2,500-odd were approved by council officers under delegated authority in an average time of just over a month.

“Councillors only looked at contentious developments of community concern or those where developers were not complying with regulations.

“Open Council meetings are the epitome of accountable, transparent and balanced decision- making.

“By contrast, local planning panels will be chaired by powerful state-level experts who are unlikely to have the same level of knowledge or understanding of our City’s needs.”

Mayor Bali is concerned that, because the panel meetings will be held during working hours, it will be harder for the community to come along and voice an opinion.

“My great fear is that planning panels will focus more on basic technical arguments rather than the implications for surrounding residents, whose opinions will no longer be heard.

“It’s the death of democracy in Blacktown.”