Port Stephens mayor still wants to help Dungog despite its decision to stand alone

DISAPOINTED: Port Stephens mayor Cr Bruce MacKenzie.
DISAPOINTED: Port Stephens mayor Cr Bruce MacKenzie.

There was applause at first, gasps and a tight rope performance but in Macka’s assessment it all went horribly wrong.

“I went to the circus last night,” the mayor of Port Stephens, Cr Bruce MacKenzie said.

“It’s the only circus I’ve ever been to where they didn’t charge admission.”

Dungog Shire Council sat to reconsider a voluntary merger on Tuesday night but failed to unwind the decision made a fortnight ago to stand alone.

Cr MacKenzie has maintained his proposal was “only fair” since Port Stephens had “used Dungog to get out of a Newcastle merger”.

“The applause of the night went to [Upper Hunter MP] Michael Johnsen when he read out an email from the Deputy Premier saying there was $15 million for the taking,” Cr MacKenzie said.

“But they voted it down 3-4 so obviously someone from Port Stephens, who shall remain nameless, has got in [Cr Tracy Norman’s] ear and changed her mind.”

Cr Norman said she changed her vote because supporting rescission motion would overturn what she called “a democratic decision”.

“They’ve made their bed now,” Cr MacKenzie said.

“Well, they might have to lie in it.

“I’d still love to represent the people of Dungog and spend all of the $15 million on them, and give them a better government than they’ve got now.”

Mr Johnsen called on his state government to sack Dungog Shire Council after the decision and appoint an administrator.

Cr MacKenzie stopped short of backing the call.

“[Dungog mayor] Harold Johnston showed real strength last night, he’s changed his mind and he’s explained why,” Cr MacKenzie said.

“They just don’t have the financial lot to draw on to improve things for Dungog residents.

“[Administration] is really up to the state government but I agree that Dungog isn’t functioning very well at all.

“I feel sorry for the people of Dungog - I don’t think the majority of their councillors are fit to govern.”

Cr Geoff Dingle, from Port Stephens’ central ward, applauded Dungog’s decision.

“It’s an appropriate outcome given the majority of councillors decided to wait and see what might be on offer if they stood alone,” he said.

“Let’s be clear, the $15 million is for [administrative] purposes under a merger it’s not for infrastructure.”

Cr Dingle said the suggestion someone had “white-anted” Cr Norman was wrong.

“I don’t know Tracy personally but what I know of her she’s about democratic process,” Cr Dingle said.

“I don’t think anyone got in her ear at all.”

Boat Harbour resident Coral Kearins hoped Dungog’s decision might cause Port Stephens to rethink its merger offer.

“We had 16,000-plus residents sign a Port Stephens Council submission to standalone and I don’t believe for one minute those people have changed their minds,” she said.

“Our [Port Stephens] community was never asked if we wanted a merger with Dungog.

Mrs Kearins coordinates a free tennis coaching clinic in Boat Harbour that last year earned her an award from the director of public school education for her outstanding contributions as a community member.

She spoke against a Port Stephens merger at the three public inquiries chaired first by Ian Reynolds and later Peter Peppin.

“I was adamant we should stand alone,” she said.

“On every one of those occasions [Cr] MacKenzie shook my hand.”