Legislation to postpone NSW council elections for a year was passed in the NSW Parliament on Tuesday (24 March) with the support of Local Government NSW (LGNSW). The elections were due to be held in September 2020 but will now take place in September 2021.
The Minister for Local Government, Shelley Hancock, said it was a “regrettable decision to postpone the September local government elections for 12 months in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic”.
“Local government elections are a vital part of the democratic process, ensuring local councils are accountable to their local communities,” Ms Hancock said.
Shadow Local Government Minister Greg Warren said NSW Labor would work with the Berejiklian Government to ensure the elections can be held at a later date when it is safe to do so.
“This is an essential and sensible solution. It is not about taking away the democratic right of NSW residents to vote for their council representatives, this is simply about prioritising the health and safety of communities throughout our state,” Mr Warren said.
LGNSW welcomed the decision as it “provides certainty to Australian communities during these extraordinary times”.
LGNSW President Linda Scott, who is also a City of Sydney councillor, 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.
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.
“I know all elected councillors will continue to work across political boundaries to pull together for the public good,” Cr Scott said. “Mayors and councillors are working hard to ensure good governance continues during the COVID-19 crisis and will continue to do so.”
Cr Scott said a small number of elected leaders may need to stand down and LGNSW would work with councils to support them during any necessary periods of transitions.
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.
Eurobodalla Council’s Mayor Liz Innes said the move provides certainty to councils, communities and potential candidates.
“Council can now place its complete focus on supporting the community through these incredibly challenging times,” she said.
“We’re seeing much-loved local businesses closing their doors every day – those adhering to government restrictions and others pro-actively doing the right thing to help stop the spread of the coronavirus,” said Cr Innes.
“Please support their takeaway and online offerings. Now more than ever – after fires, floods and now this virus – we really need to keep it local.”
Cr Innes urged those no longer able to work to take full advantage of the financial assistance on offer, and said the Council was asking for more.
Council meetings can now be held via weblink and livestreamed to the public. Cr Innes says these measures will be implemented prior to Eurobodalla Council’s next meeting on 7 April.
“Rather than attend meetings, members of the community can continue to raise issues with councillors by email or phone,” she said. “Contact details for councillors are available on Council’s website or by calling our customer service team on 4474 1000.”
Eurobodalla Council meetings have been moved from fortnightly to monthly until July.