LETTER: Councils must manage shark crisis together

LENNOX Head based member of the NSW Upper House Catherine Cusack has linked the issue of council amalgamations to the current management of the shark crisis on the North Coast:


AS a member of the Legislative Inquiry to local government reform, I have received a great deal of negative feedback from North Coast Councils on the issue of amalgamation.

Their opposition is a significant factor and they may well prevail in a fluid debate.

The sharks menacing our surfers and threatening hundreds of jobs and small businesses in our tourism economy are seemingly oblivious to local government boundaries.

Because Ballina Shire has had most recent attacks, it is our Mayor David Wright who is being broadcast around the world as the face of the NSW North Coast.

In fact four shires are affected - Tweed, Byron, Ballina and Richmond Valley.

The impacts and crisis management affects all our beaches - but David's international media role, and the messages being broadcast to our potential visitors was not the result of a thoughtful decision by the four responsible mayors - no, the decision was in effect made by the sharks, because we do not have a plan in place across four local shires for this type of crisis.

Four mayors, four general managers, four councils to manage one gigantic shark problem.

The way the debate is going our region is unlikely to achieve a single coastal council to co-ordinate policy, resolve the patchwork rates system, address lack of public transport or be a strong voice thumping the table in Macquarie Street.

It is argued these benefits are outweighed by having four times more mayors and councillors for ratepayers to talk to.

I genuinely accept that all our councillors and mayors are hardworking and accessible and although your average ratepayer can't name their ward councillors, the leading volunteers and community organisers do actively engage and their views must weigh heavily in the debate.

North Coast Councils who are united in opposition to amalgamation say we can get better results through collaboration and "working together".

The shark issue is a big opportunity to demonstrate they can do this - show us that having four separate coastal councils is delivering the strongest possible messages and the best management of the issue in the interests of surfers, ratepayers and the businesses whose capacity to employ is the lynchpin of our social wellbeing.

Show us the leadership, the co-operation and the way forward.

At the moment it looks as though there is no plan or capacity - and it's all defaulted to David Wright who seems to be saying we can't manage ourselves, and the State Government has to take over.

The Gold Coast has a very strong and positive visitor plan, including for sharks and this is critical because it's locally agreed and driven.

The four shark affected North Coast councils must prove that the system of governance they want maintained is just as good, we can handle this ourselves and are not running in a panic to outsiders for leadership.

I truly hope you are right, and you four councils can handle this jointly because so many lives and jobs depend upon making good on this promise.

Catherine Cusack MLC