Port Stephens and Newcastle merger could prompt referendum

MERGER DISCUSSIONS: Port councillors Peter Kafer and Geoff Dingle want more community consultation about the proposed mergers. Picture: Charles Elias
MERGER DISCUSSIONS: Port councillors Peter Kafer and Geoff Dingle want more community consultation about the proposed mergers. Picture: Charles Elias

THE outspoken independent Geoff Dingle is contemplating a tilt at the Lord mayor’s position under a combined Port Stephens-Newcastle council, potentially setting up a three-way stoush with incumbents Bruce MacKenzie and Nuatali Nelmes.

Cr Dingle, a fierce opponent to the leadership style of Cr MacKenzie, said he was still undecided on the question of running for mayor, saying only he would not rule it out.

‘‘Prior to the [merger] announcement I was not enamored with the idea  of running as a councillor in 2016, but now I will potentially run for mayor or one of the councillor position up for grabs,’’ Cr Dingle said.

‘‘I believe Port Stephens ratepayers deserve and need stable leadership to steer us through the amalgamation minefield, and someone who can communicate without resorting to threats like ‘I’ll blow up Stockton bridge’. ‘‘We need a strong independent negotiator and a clear decision maker for all parties to achieve good financial, environmental and planning outcomes.’’

Cr Dingle has also backed a call from Port councillor Peter Kafer for a questionnaire-style referendum on the proposed merger in order to gain a clearer picture, free of political posturing, of residents’ wishes

‘‘Not a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ style referendum, rather a questionnaire dealing with the major issues such as rates, the number of councillors, infrastructure funding [including Williamtown airport] and how the $20 million on offer by the state government will be divided up,’’ he said.

Cr Kafer said a referendum would go a long way in helping the powers-that-be to determine the will of the people.

‘‘There is so much that has to occur in the coming months, but has anyone thought of the ratepayers,’’ questioned Cr Kafer.

‘‘It is incumbent on us councillors to look after the interests of our ratepayers ... and I believe a referendum covering both Port Stephens and Newcastle is the most democratic way to go.’’

Cr Kafer said he would like to see the Australian Electoral Commission conduct the referendum, which would be jointly funded with Newcastle council in order to minimise costs.

A spokesperson for the Local Government Minister Paul Toole would not comment on the referendum but confirmed that rates would be frozen at existing paths for four years after the merger.

‘‘The proposed mergers have taken into consideration IPART’s assessment of the council proposals and council merger preferences,’’ the spokesperson said.

‘‘Also, the unique needs and characteristics of each council area, review panel research and recommendations, community insights and attitudes and the impacts and benefits of the new council.’’

Comments

Discuss "Merger poses questions"

Please note: All comments made or shown here are bound by the Online Discussion Terms & Conditions.