Emergency COVID-19 legislation introduced into NSW Parliament had the support of local government, as mayors and councillors called for certainty about the timing of local government elections, Local Government NSW (LGNSW) said.
The new NSW Government legislation gives the NSW Minister for Local Government the discretion to postpone the September council elections for up to 12 months, with a possible further extension to 31 December 2021.
LGNSW President Linda Scott said the extraordinary circumstances created by the global pandemic and desperate attempts to slow its spread within Australia meant all levels of government were being forced to consider actions that would have previously been unthinkable.
“Councils are the closest level of government to the community and we are only too aware of the need to keep our communities safe and healthy,” she said.
“It is democracy that makes Australia the country it is and, while we should always be cautious about any action that has the potential to weaken that democracy or diminish the right of the community to have a say in their own lives, these changes by the NSW Government are welcome at this time.
“We support the legislation, but will continue to call on the NSW Government for certainty of the election date for NSW councils.”
Cr Scott said councils welcomed the legislation’s automatic repeal provisions, which ensure the Ministerial discretion to delay the elections did not extend beyond the current COVID-19 pandemic.
She said the sector was also grateful Local Government Minister Shelley Hancock had responded quickly to LGNSW’s advocacy on the need to allow councils to hold official meetings electronically, rather than physically.
“In a pandemic, governance by elected representatives is an essential service,” she said.
“We welcome the Minster’s agreement to support Local Government NSW’s calls to enable councils that can do so to meet via audio visual links, and make a webcast of the meeting available to the public.
“The NSW Government must ensure all councils, including those unable to meet these new requirements, will be able to urgently obtain approval for alternative arrangements to enable them to meet.
“Overall this is a sensible move that recognises the need to protect local democracy, transparency and accountability to voters while also aligning with appropriate social distancing guidelines.”
Other components of the COVID-19 Legislation Amendment (Emergency Measures) Bill impacting local government included planning-related amendments to the Environmental Planning and Assessment Act.