Port Stephens and Newcastle councils told to merge by State Government

END OF AN ERA?: Port Stephens Council's administration building in Raymond Terrace.
END OF AN ERA?: Port Stephens Council's administration building in Raymond Terrace.

A SHOWDOWN between two prominent and highly opinionated mayors looms large following the announcement on Friday of the proposed forced merger between Port Stephens and Newcastle councils.

The Port’s Liberal leaning mayor Bruce MacKenzie had no hesitation in declaring his intention to run for the top job, relishing a confrontation with Labor counterpart Nuatali Nelmes.

At the time of publication Cr Nelmes had not returned the Examiner’s calls, however she had publicly stated that Port Stephens would be “better off” under new management.

The planned amalgamations would reduce the number of NSW councils from 152 to 112 and delay elections till March 2017.

‘‘I have spent half of my life looking after the people of Port Stephens, some love me, some hate me, and I am not going to desert the residents now,’’ Cr MacKenzie said.

‘‘If it means we must continue our good with another council then so be it ... if this merger is a done deal then I want to be its first mayor.’’

In a surprise admission, Cr MacKenzie said he suspected a ‘‘backroom deal’’ had been done by the state Liberal government with the Labor opposition.

‘‘I can’t understand it .. all the while we were told by Liberal party members that we would be left alone. I will be demanding to know why have they gone back on their word.

‘‘The Liberal state government has just sacked the Liberal local [Port Stephens] government.

‘‘Some of the staff have been in tears ... I suspect jobs will go but not without a fight.’’

Port Stephens Council acting general manager Mike McIntosh said that while the news had come as a shock to staff, ‘‘we are now focused on where to from here’’.

‘‘We had been informed on multiple occasions in public and in private, that Port Stephens’ fit for the future status meant that it would stand alone and would not be merged,’’ Mr McIntosh said.

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