Unanimous in opposition to council merger

IN what may just be a first in many years, a unified call to action from both ends of the political spectrum has been launched in a bid to save Port Stephens from a council amalgamation with Newcastle.

SIGN OF THE TIMES: A sign reading "Bugger off, Nelmes" was nailed to a tree at the Pacific Highway and Masonite Road roundabout at Heatherbrae. The sign has been removed since Monday.

SIGN OF THE TIMES: A sign reading "Bugger off, Nelmes" was nailed to a tree at the Pacific Highway and Masonite Road roundabout at Heatherbrae. The sign has been removed since Monday.

Former Port Stephens MP Craig Baumann, current Port Stephens MP Kate Washington and mayor Bruce MacKenzie have all urged residents to attend a public inquiry at Horizons on February 4 at 9am.

The mayor has vowed to hold his own public meetings, as has Kate Washington, and he wants 10,000 residents to turn up to each one.

Mr Baumann has created the Save our Port Stephens Facebook page as a way of encouraging grass-roots action and has also called for residents to use Australia Day celebrations to send a message to the State Government.

‘‘Everyone should wear blue,’’ he said.

‘‘Blue arm bands, blue hair, blue clothes.

‘‘Let’s make the statement that we don’t want this merger - this is far from fait accompli.’’

West ward councillor Peter Kafer has also launched a Facebook page titled Port Stephens - Not Hunter which as of Tuesday, had more than 800 members.

Ms Washington, Councillor MacKenzie and Mr Baumann are all urging residents to make their objections heard in Maquarie Street by attending the meetings and lodging submissions to councilboundaryreview.nsw.gov.au or by mail to GPO Box 534 Sydney NSW 2001.

‘‘To say that Port Stephens will be better off under a merger with Newcastle is absolute hogwash,’’ Cr MacKenzie said.

‘‘[Port Stephens Council’s] got investments in Newcastle that brings in about $2 million a year, our share in the airport is probably worth $40 million, we’ve got millions of dollars worth of apartments going up at Nelson Bay and Raymond Terrace and what will we get from all of those investments [under the merger]?

‘‘Nothing.’’

‘‘If the people of Port Stephens want to retain ownership over those investments they should show up to the meetings.’’

An extraordinary council meeting was held on Tuesday night where councillors voted in favour of spending $200,000 on a campaign to oppose the proposed amalgamation. 

Councillor Geoff Dingle and John Morello did not attend the meeting.

Ms Washington said she couldn’t see any benefit to the people of Port Stephens if the merger went ahead and expressed concerns that only one inquiry was scheduled for the area in Salamander Bay during business hours.

‘‘It just shows that no consideration has been given to the interesting and different geographical nature of our area,’’ she said.

Ms Washington intended to organise additional public meetings to ‘‘galvanise’’ the community in opposition to the proposal.

‘‘The community needs to be active in the process,’’ she said.

Mr Baumann echoed the sentiment saying that it would ‘‘be a disaster if control reverts to city hall in Newcastle’’.

He has organised for posters to be displayed in shopfronts while Cr MacKenzie has vowed to have petitions in venues across Port Stephens. 

‘‘Bugger off Nelmes’’ signs, in reference to the Lord Mayor of Newcastle, Nuatalie Nelmes have been anonymously displayed across parts of Raymond Terrace however Mr Baumann was quick to point out that opposition to any merger should not be ‘‘personal or political’’ but about protecting the interests of Port Stephens.

“If this goes ahead, you can forget about a club at Medowie,” he said. “you’ll probably only have three councillors from Port Stephens out of 10 or so. It won’t get off the ground.”

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