100 days of Hoenig in hiding – where’s Ronny?


“Government members want to see councillors and mayors re-empowered—powers those opposite took from them over 12 years—to determine where the wastage is. I can tell the House one thing: This Government will fight for the ratepayers of this State. It will fight to ensure economic efficiency by empowering elected people in this State to run their councils and their cities, not by removing their authority and giving it to bureaucrats as members opposite have done.” – Ron Hoenig, Minister for Local Government

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NSW Premier Chris Minns marked 100 days since being elected to govern NSW by highlighting the scrapping of the wages cap for essential workers, along with health and education measures – fixing the state’s broken local councils didn’t rate a mention.

By Jacquelene Pearson

The following is part of NSW Premier Chris Minns’ snapshot of his government’s achievements during its first 100 days in office:

  1. Investing in essential workers and starting to scrap the wage cap. 
  2. Addressing health system staff shortages. 
  3. Transferring 7000 teachers and support staff to permanent contracts.
  4. New laws for renters. 
  5. Increasing the supply of affordable housing. 

There’s “much, much more,” said Mr Minns, before the qualifier, we face serious challenges from the economic situation we inherited from the former Liberal National Government.”

That legacy includes the largest debt in NSW history at $188 billion and what Labor describes as another $7 billion worth of unfunded programs.

Member for Gosford and Parliamentary Secretary for Families and Communities and for Disability Inclusion, Liesl Tesch, highlighted a couple of her own favourites from the list of achievements.

Tesch drew her constituents’ attention to the steps taken to reduce the impact of energy price increases via a $500 energy rebate. Eligible small businesses will be able to access a $650 rebate.
“The NSW Government has moved swiftly to enact its commitment to have more first home buyers pay zero or a reduced rate of stamp duty under the First Home Buyers Assistance Scheme and abolish the previous government’s forever land tax,” Tesch added.
“The legislation lifts the thresholds for stamp duty exemptions from $650,000 to $800,000 and stamp duty concessions from $800,000 to $1 million.”
The list of achievements may be impressive for a 100-day period. The race is certainly on to impress enough voters before March 2027 to win a second four-year term in government. However, one issue that has hardly been mentioned since the election is the under- and inequitably-funded ‘train wreck’ that now passes for local government in NSW.  

Closer to home

In an area like the NSW Central Coast, residents and rate payers are wondering when the new NSW Government will restore local government democracy, clean up ‘emergency loans’ negotiated with private lenders and stop the ongoing sale of public land by the Central Coast Council.

If cost of living is a concern in LGAs subjected to forced council mergers in 2016 then quite a few of those costs relate to escalating land rates and water charges. Then there are the cuts to services we’ve been hearing about since the council lost one third of its staff in 2020-21.

Frustrated with a lack of action (perhaps interest) in matters of local government from the new Minister for the Central Coast, Member for Wyong David Harris, some members of the community have attempted to correspond directly with the new Minister for Local Government, Ron Hoenig.

Please note Mr Harris has been saddled with the sweet-sipping chalices of Aboriginal Affairs and Treaty, Racing and Gaming, Veterans and Medical Research in addition to being Minister for the Central Coast. He is arguably time poor and might prefer not to be worrying about the region’s council right now.

It appears Hoenig is in the habit of passing on correspondence to the Office of Local Government (OLG) to respond on behalf of his office.

The Point has now seen multiple versions of the same standard letter of response, from the OLG, on behalf of Minister Hoenig, from multiple local groups and individuals who have written to the Minister on various matters.

That standard letter of response goes something like this:

“Thank you for your email of XX May 2023 to the Minister for Local Government, the Hon. Ron Hoenig MP about the Central Coast Council Plan of Management for community land/ sale of land by Central Coast Council/[place topic here]. The Minister has asked the Office of Local Government (OLG) to respond on his behalf and I apologise for the delay in response. Under the Local Government Act 1993, councils are largely independent and self-governing bodies with rights and powers conferred by law. Both the Minister for Local Government and OLG have limited powers to intervene in the day-to-day operations of individual councils…

“While OLG has a complaints-handling function, our specific statutory role is in relation to pecuniary interest matters, councillor misconduct and public interest disclosures made by public officials.

“In line with the priority we give to monitoring local councils, our broader complaints handling policy is to focus on complaints indicating there has been a serious breakdown in council operations or serious flaws in key council processes. I do not consider this matter falls within this policy and as such is not a matter warranting further action by us…”

You get the gist! “I hope this information is of assistance…”

It is now a matter of public record that our local Labor MPs don’t seem to have achieved consensus on the future of the Coalition-appointed Administrator, Mr Rik Hart. Mr Hart has said he was asked, on the Monday following Labor’s NSW election victory, if he wanted or was able to stay.

Accordingly, the lack of consensus within the ranks of local Labor MPs gave the Minister for Local Government the opportunity to stick with the status quo. It looks like Rik Hart will remain Administrator of Central Coast Council until the next local government election.

When might that be?

If you’ve seen those wearing black and white “Council election now” t-shirts on the streets of Gosford or Wyong recently, their hopes were dashed even before the NSW election when local government didn’t get a mention during the campaign. It became clear that there was little political will to allow the Central Coast local government area to get out of sync with every other LGA in the state and have an early election.

Why? Inconvenient? Expensive? Not enough time? Who knows?

Central Coast residents may not have got the message but there will be no early election, even if their council will have been under administration for five out of its eight-year life by the next NSW council elections in September 2024.

What has Ron Hoenig had to say on the matter?

He’s starting the game with a clean sheet. The only information on the ‘Our Minister’ page of the OLG website is an 11-word sentence that says: “The Minister for Local Government is the Hon Ron Hoenig MP”.

As of 6 July, there were no published speeches or media releases from the Minister available through the OLG.

Minister Hoenig, like Minister Harris, is busy with multiple jobs. He is Leader of the House and Vice-President of the Executive Council as well as Member for Heffron and Local Government Minister.

Since the new parliament started sitting on 9 May, Mr Hoenig has made speeches about Wilson’s Homemade Cakes and Pies, Mascott traffic conditions and the coronation of King Charles.

He has demonstrated his extensive knowledge of both the law (he is a barrister) and local government in the chamber over recent months.

In relation to suspending standing orders to consider the Minerals Legislation Amendment (Offshore Drilling and Association Infrastructure Prohibition) Bill 2023, Hoenig rattled off a precedent, Botany Municipal Council V Federal Airports Corporation (1992), to demonstrate how Commonwealth regulations can undermine state laws or vice versa. The case was about the third runway at Sydney’s Mascott Airport but it did explain the dangers of interplay between state laws and commonwealth regulations in matters as controversial as flight paths or offshore gas drilling, well-known on the Central Coast thanks to the dreaded and undying PEP-11 offshore drilling permit.

Hoenig is no stranger to either the law or local government. He was, after all, the Mayor of the City of Botany for a record 31 years.

He has been strong on raising the issue of poor building standards resulting in major structural problems in apartments across his and other electorates.

“I assure residents in Heffron that this Labor Government is actively untangling the disastrous web of inadequacy, scandal and neglect left by the former Government that left nothing behind but decaying bodies of fairness, certainty and integrity,” was part of a particularly strong Hoenig statement on the matter.

Minister Hoenig has pointed out, on the floor of the Legislative Assembly, that the Minns Labor Government is a minority government and, as such, the process of law-making does become more ‘involving’ than in times of lazy majorities.

A Ron of hope?

One speech may not ‘maketh the Minister’ but Ron Hoenig has demonstrated that he might be a very good Local Government Minister, when he finally comes out of hiding.

Under pressure in Question Time on 1 June, Minister Hoenig was asked to explain a comment that councils had taken part in “egregious expenses”.

Here’s his response:

“What I want councils to do is take control of their finances. What I want elected mayors and councillors to do is not have the transparency of their finances withheld from them by bureaucracies. I want them to be given the opportunity to manage the finances in their council areas, because if elected people were able to do that then we would not be receiving reports from the Auditor-General about the crisis in local government. In fact, 12 years of Coalition management of local government has seen a deterioration right across the State. It is a bit rich when members opposite came to office with guarantees and promises for local government and just broke them and treated them with contempt. Who remembers the promise that there would be no forced amalgamations—the guarantee: “Toole, ‘It’s a promise'”?

“…most of the merged councils in rural and regional New South Wales are the most financially insecure in New South Wales because of the breach of the promise, “Toole, ‘It’s a promise'”, that there would be no merger or amalgamation.

“Those councils were left in a financially insecure position, many of them incapable of managing their own affairs efficiently and economically, as found by the Auditor-General. The people who should be determining where they should be effecting savings and where they should reduce their expenditure are the elected representatives of the council. It is the elected representatives that should be empowered to make those determinations. It is not for the Minister or the State to tell an individual council where it should reduce its level of expenditure.

“Government members want to see councillors and mayors re-empowered—powers those opposite took from them over 12 years—to determine where the wastage is. I can tell the House one thing: This Government will fight for the ratepayers of this State. It will fight to ensure economic efficiency by empowering elected people in this State to run their councils and their cities, not by removing their authority and giving it to bureaucrats as members opposite have done. Those opposite have treated the elected people with disrespect. Government members will empower them to ensure that their ratepayers get value for the dollar. We will ensure they have the opportunity to do just that.”

They sound like fighting words and reforming words but when will they be followed with Ministerial action?

What you can do?

The Point is an ESG News Site – that means we work, through our reporting, to empower communities to be well-governed – it is what the ‘G’ in ESG stands for.

A local council under administration does not equal good governance in a democracy.

Both the Minister for the Central Coast, Mr David Harris, and the Minister for Local Government, Mr Ron Hoenig, are clearly aware that the Central Coast region, along with others across NSW, has been poorly governed at a local level for quite some time.

Hoenig’s words described exactly what happened on the Central Coast between 2016 and 2020 when the truth of the Central Coast Council’s finances was withheld from our elected representatives by bureaucrats.

Political priorities, the constraints of minority government and budgetary disrepair may have made the parlous state of local government in NSW a low prior for the Minns Government in its first 100 days but that doesn’t have to continue.

Some of the Central Coast Council issues that need to be placed on the agenda for both ministers include but are not limited to:

  1. Restoration of local government democracy on the Central Coast as soon as possible.
  2. Stopping the referendum to reduce the number of councillors and wards scheduled to go ahead with the September 2024 election.
  3. Stopping any more sales of public land while there are no elected representatives.
  4. Investigating the $150 million of emergency, interest-only loans due to be renegotiated by the end of this year
  5. Examining the current finances of the council to ensure another liquidity crisis cannot occur
  6. Considering the pros and cons of a demerger with proper state-government lead consultation.

These are only a few of the issues we know to be barbecue stoppers on the Central Coast right now. There are many others, not the least of which may be a full examination of the council’s asset disposal program, which is ongoing.

If you feel strongly about any of these issues, we suggest you let the NSW Government know your concerns.

Write to either the Minister for the Central Coast, the Minister for Local Government or both.

Send a copy to your state MP. You could call it a request to the Minns Government to treat its voters with respect by listening to concerns and responding with something more than a form letter from a bureaucrat.

If you get a response please let us know, we’d love to see a copy and we’d like to compare it to the “standard form response” we’ve seen in various versions about three times in recent weeks.

Here’s the page where you can send a message to the Minister for Local Government, Ron Hoenig

And this is the one for Minister Harris

Be sure to tick the box that says you would like a reply!

At this stage it looks like Central Coast Council will continue under administration until September 2024.

That means the NSW Government has a duty of care to make sure its Administrator is doing the right thing. Let them know how you think he is going so far and what your hopes are for the future of this region.

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