Hostile reception as Local Government Minister pledges councils will "know their position by Christmas"

Strathfield Campaigner Karen Pensabene in today's Tele

Local Government Minister Paul Toole's office was last night unforthcoming after he told a local government conference that every council in the state would know were they stood on mergers by Christmas.

Asked for a timetable of how this would unfold, the minister's press spokesman told the Scene: "As the Strathfield Council would be aware, the IPART report will be received on Friday. The government will be giving it due consideration before deciding on the next step in the reform process."

Asked what exactly that meant, she said: "The Minister has indicated he would like to put the IPART report out to the public as soon as possible (following cabinet consideration)."

Perhaps the defensive response was understandable considering the minister's tough welcome at one of the largest gatherings of local government officials in the state.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, he was confronted with jeers, boos and heckles after repeating the state government's determination to forcibly merge councils.

Strathfield has been recommended by the Samson Report to be merged with Burwood, Ashfield, Canada Bay, Leichardt and Marrickville. It has not responded to calls by the state for a merger plan.

Mr Toole said he was disappointed only nine of the states 152 councils had presented plans to merge.

The conference comes days before the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal is due to  report on whether councils are "fit" or "unfit" as merged groups or individual councils.

Mr Toole pledged "every council in NSW will know where it stands before the end of the year".

Yesterday, Premier Mike Baird told the conference that he "has not seen the community speak out against forced amalgamation."

Last Saturday, scores of residents and councillors from across Sydney turned out at Strathfield to demonstrate their opposition to mergers.

The Daily Telegraph, which supports mergers, today represented the councils protesting - and residents like Karten Pensabene, who was pictured in the paper - with the headline:  Hostile councils jeer the merger messiah".


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