Raymond Terrace Bowling Club meeting addresses Port Stephens-Newcastle merger

CAPTIVE AUDIENCE: About 100 residents turned out for the community forum to discuss the proposed council merger. Picture: Sam Norris
CAPTIVE AUDIENCE: About 100 residents turned out for the community forum to discuss the proposed council merger. Picture: Sam Norris

BEYOND the emotion of the proposed Port Stephens and Newcastle council merger lies a political challenge.

“It’s critical that we convince the Minister for Local Government [Paul Toole] and the Premier [Mike Baird] that it’s not in our interests,” Port Stephens MP Kate Washington told disgruntled residents.

“But we also have to convince them in a political way that it’s not in their interests either.”

About 100 people turned out for the community forum on Wednesday night.

Ms Washington outlined the need for people to make submissions to the merger delegate Ian Reynolds.

“If you oppose the merger you have to be active in the process outlined by government,” Ms Washington said.

“But for an effective submission it should address one or more of the criteria.

“What we as residents can really speak to is the different identities we have geographically and even spiritually.

“We can talk about how the rate rise is inequitable and [Port Stephens] council’s research will inform that.”

Councillors Geoff Dingle, Chris Doohan and Peter Kafer spoke at the meeting.

“We can’t get enough people to write submissions,” Cr Kafer said.

“Please don’t rely on your neighbours to do it.”

The meeting threatened to unravel along political lines.

Cr Dingle said it was unhelpful to talk about the review process as a fight.

“It will do more harm than good,” he said.

“I’d rather be on the inside of the tent rather than left out.”

But the deputy mayor Cr Doohan begged to differ.

“If they want a fight that’s what I’ll give them,” he said.

Port Stephens was classified fit for the future prior to December when the proposal was announced.

Cr John Nell said Port Stephens Council should have proposed a different merger, preferably with Great Lakes, back in November.

“We received a letter that told council to put in their preferred bid,” he said.

“I think in many ways we were led like lemmings to the slaughter.”

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