Wollongong on cash-strapped councils list

Wollongong on cash-strapped councils list

Major Sydney councils including Mosman, Liverpool and Hornsby deny that they are at risk of defaulting on their financial obligations despite being placed on a list of councils with ''unsatisfactory'' levels of accessible funds.A Department of Local Government report into the performance of councils has named 15, including 10 in urban areas, as having insufficient funds readily available to pay for the goods and services they use.To reach this finding, the report assessed the ''level of liquidity and the ability to satisfy obligations as they fall due'' at each council. It presented its findings as a ratio of the amount of money available to meet liabilities (called the unrestricted current ratio) and said any ratio less than 1.5:1 was ''unsatisfactory''.Among those ranked unsatisfactory is Mosman with a ratio of 1.4:1, Liverpool with 1.29:1 and Hornsby's at 1.19: 1. Griffith was the worst ranked council in the state with a ratio of just 0.57:1.Hornsby's mayor, Nick Berman, insisted there was ''no chance we are unable to meet our short-term commitments'' despite the council's failure to win approval to increase rates above the government imposed cap.Cr Berman agreed it would have to cut services but declined to identify where they might be. ''We are having a close look at our core business and what things we should be cutting out.''While he would not say what services he believes are ''core services'' there was ''no chance'' libraries would be cut.Hornsby's 50-year-old pool was badly in need of replacement but the council did not have the money to do so without increasing its debt levels, which he said were low and there were no plans to increase them.The finance manager at Mosman Council, Mark McDonald, said: ''There are no concerns about Mosman meeting its debts'' despite its ''unsatisfactory'' rating.His council had been doing a lot of infrastructure work, including expensive repairs to sea walls and had gone into ''a bit of debt''.The council had a 10-year financial plan that would improve the ratio, which Mr McDonald expected to be 1.8:1 at the end of that period. The plan to increase the amount of money at hand to meet expenses did not involved cuts to services, he said.Liverpool Council's acting general manager, Farooq Portelli, disputed the minimum 1.5:1 ratio advocated by the Department of Local Government and said the ''accepted benchmark for the industry'' was 1:1. ''Council's independent auditor also continues to confirm that council remains in a sound and stable financial position," he said.He said the fire that destroyed the council chambers would have no impact on the financial position as ''any recovery costs will be met by insurance".The group manager for business at Griffith Council, Max Turner, agreed ''that ratio is not ideal and we'd be looking to improve'', but denied there was any risk of not paying debts. The council cut capital expenditure programs from $15-$16 million to ''below $10 million'' and had ''tinkered'' with some services but not to the extent that it had received any complaints. He said the ratio was misleading and did not take into account that a rural workforce like his accrued large amounts of leave which distorted the ratio used in the report. ACCOUNTS DUECouncils with least access to sufficient cash reserves:1. Griffith2. Port Macquarie3. Hastings4. Wollongong5. Cobar6. Wingecarribee7. Canada Bay8. Penrith9. Hornsby10. Liverpool
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Finals play-off may be at SFS

Finals play-off may be at SFS

St George Illawarra chief executive Peter Doust yesterday left the door open for the Dragons to move next month's home qualifying final to the Sydney Football Stadium.The competition leaders are guaranteed a top-four position on the NRL ladder with two rounds remaining, but Doust said a decision was yet to be made on a venue for their first play-off game.The clash is likely - but not guaranteed - to be played at Kogarah's WIN Jubilee Oval, which holds 20,541. It can't be played in Wollongong, as WIN Stadium is out of action due to a $29 million western and southern grandstand redevelopment. Where should the Dragon's home qualifying final be held?But Doust refused to rule out the possibility of moving the semi to the SFS, which holds 45,500 fans - a move sure to upset devoted fans."It's a bit premature to say we've made a decision on a home semi," Doust said."Albeit with the WIN Stadium western grandstand currently not open, it's fair to consider the game might be played at Kogarah."Last year Doust was under immense pressure to shift the Dragons' ill-fated home final from Kogarah to the SFS.A crowd of 18,174 packed into WIN Jubilee Oval to watch Parramatta's comprehensive 25-12 win over the Dragons.This came despite the NRL having offered a $250,000 incentive for the Dragons to switch the game to the SFS in the hope of a 40,000-plus attendance.At the time, Parramatta chief executive Paul Osborne labelled Doust a "chicken" for not switching venues, but the Dragons boss stuck to his guns.NRL chief operating officer Graham Annesley yesterday told the Mercury he would not try to force St George Illawarra to move the game."At the annual conference last year clubs decided they should retain the rights to play a final at their home venue," Annesley said."It's the Dragons' call, we wouldn't stand in their way."Annesley said he expected pressure to be put on Doust to host the game at the SFS if the Dragons take on a Sydney-based team in the first week of the finals."There could be a lot of public and media calling for the game to be moved," he said."But the feeling among the clubs was they would be letting their players down by moving it, having worked all year to have the right to host a final."The Dragons let a chance to secure the minor premiership slip with Sunday's 32-16 loss to Canberra, but they only need to win one of their remaining two games to finish in first place.The race for the remaining positions in the top eight is less clear, with 12 teams still mathematically in the running to fill the finals placings.
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How to form government from a hung parliament

How to form government from a hung parliament

Australia's next government will be formed by whichever party can secure a majority of 76 votes in the House of Representatives. This is rightly a political and not a legal process. The constitution says nothing about hung parliaments, or how such a situation is to be resolved.Instead, hung parliaments are resolved by a set of unwritten rules inherited from Britain. Fortunately, these conventions are clear and well tested. They include that the governor-general acts on the advice of the caretaker prime minister.The governor-general should only act contrary to that advice where the rules have not been followed, such as if the prime minister seeks to stay on despite having lost parliamentary support. In this case, the governor-general could sack the prime minister and commission a new government.Applying such conventions has become commonplace in Australia. There is a legion of recent examples across the states and territories where no party has won a clear majority of seats. Fortunately, in most instances, initial uncertainty and instability has been replaced by stable government, including in Tasmania earlier this year and in Western Australia in 2008.These examples also demonstrate how government need not be formed by the party with the most seats or highest popular vote. Both can play a role in negotiations and grant a sense of moral authority, but neither must have any bearing on which party wins the keys to office.In the end, all that matters is who can secure enough support to command a majority in Parliament.Forming our next federal government will take time. If nothing else, neither of the two big parties will know for a week or more how much extra support they will need to secure a majority of seats.Governments are formed out of Parliament, and that usually cannot occur until the final make-up of Parliament is known.Ultimately, the relative strengths of Labor and the Coalition will need to be tested on the floor of the House of Representatives.Convention dictates that, as caretaker Prime Minister, Julia Gillard will have the first opportunity to form a government. She will do so if she survives a no-confidence motion moved against her.If she does not, the Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, will be given the next opportunity. If neither succeeds, a new election is likely within months.In a hung parliament, everything will come down to the support of the independents and the Greens MP; they will have the power to make a government, and to break it.In Australia's last federal hung parliament, after the 1940 election, coalition governments were formed by Robert Menzies, then Arthur Fadden, on the back of independent support. A year after the election, those same independents switched their votes to Labor. The Coalition was forced out of office and John Curtin became prime minister.A hung parliament means a period of instability and uncertainty. The challenge facing Gillard and Abbott will be to resolve this by forming a new government that lasts the distance. In doing so, they will also face the challenge of creating a government able to realise their election promises.George Williams is the Anthony Mason professor of law at the University of NSW. Source: The National Times
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Greenslide takes upper house by storm

Greenslide takes upper house by storm

Newly-elected Greens MP Adam Bandt. Picture: CRAIG SILLITOEWhile the Greens surprised few by securing the balance of power in the Senate, the magnitude of their coming of age was unexpected even among party optimists. The party looks to have won a Senate seat in each state, come within reach of tipping the Liberal Party out of the ACT and scoring a record national vote for a third party.''From where I sit,'' said the party's leader, Bob Brown, ''that's a Greenslide.'' And it's as difficult to disagree with that assessment as it is to foretell with certainty the precise make-up of the next Senate, from next July, such is the unwieldiness of the beast.The Democratic Labor Party - the result of an ideological schism in the 1950s - may make a comeback after a Senate absence of 36 years. John Madigan, a Ballarat blacksmith, has won just 2.2 per cent of the primary vote but is favoured to nudge out Julian McGauran, who was demoted to third on the Coalition ticket after defecting from the Nationals, and Steve Fielding, the Family First senator whose 2004 election was considered a fluke of preference flows.Senator McGauran is also at risk from Labor's third candidate, the former union leader Antony Thow.The Senate may provide other surprises. With a likely nine senators - six elected on Saturday, the other three in 2007 - the Greens will decide the outcome of legislation opposed by the main parties. The Coalition, which had a brief Senate majority when John Howard was prime minister, will most likely have 34 senators to Labor's 31.In NSW, the former Legislative Council MP Lee Rhiannon is odds-on to wrest the sixth Senate spot from Labor's Steve Hutchins, with the help of Sex Party preferences.The NSW result will depend not just on the Rhiannon-Hutchins struggle but on whether the persistent independent Glenn Druery can sneak past the third Coalition candidate, Fiona Nash.The Coalition has lost Senate seats in Queensland and Tasmania and is in a battle for the sixth spot in South Australia, where Bob Day of Family First is challenging the Liberal Party's David Fawcett.The Greens' highest hopes for a senator on the eastern seaboard were invested in Victorian Richard Di Natale, and he repaid that faith by garnering a quota - 14.3 per cent of the vote.Penny Wright has been elected for the Greens in South Australia and Larissa Waters in Queensland, where the Coalition shrank below its 2004 high-water mark of four senators.In the ACT, Lin Hatfield Dodds, former president of the Australian Council of Social Service, scored a record vote for a Greens candidate in a state- or territory-wide poll but fell just short of the 33 per cent required to unseat Gary Humphries, a Liberal who benefited from Democrat preferences.Christine Milne was returned in Tasmania and Rachel Siewert in Western Australia.
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Calls for Bitar’s head after ‘inept’ campaign

Calls for Bitar’s head after ‘inept’ campaign

The former NSW premier Morris Iemma has publicly repudiated Labor's federal campaign director Karl Bitar, saying if he had a ''conscience'' he would hand his resignation to the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard.In a blistering attack on Labor's five-week campaign, Mr Iemma described it as ''the most inept in living memory'' salvaged only by the ''personability and ability of Gillard''.''Labor booth workers and Labor supporters to a man and woman agree that it was the worst campaign they can recall … It is not for Julia Gillard to ask for Karl Bitar's resignation, it's for him to have a conscience and offer it up,'' Mr Iemma said, publicly stating sentiments that a number of senior insiders have voiced privately.Mr Iemma was dismissive of Mr Bitar's attempts on Channel Nine yesterday to blame Labor's poor performance on anti-Gillard leaks in the second week of the campaign.Mr Bitar said the leaks, which targeted Ms Gillard for questioning pension rises and allegedly reneging on a deal with the former Labor leader Kevin Rudd, wiped 10 points off Labor's vote.But Mr Iemma said Mr Bitar was failing to show ''contrition''.''No amount of spinning, no amount of fakery about his research can save him,'' the former premier said.Mr Bitar said the remarks were unfortunate coming from someone who played no role in the campaign.The bitterness between the pair stems from Mr Bitar's former role as a general secretary of the NSW ALP who helped end Mr Iemma's premiership.However a number of senior party figures contacted yesterday shared some of Mr Iemma's criticisms.Among the weaknesses they cited was failure to offer voters a clear strategic vision, frequent switching between messages, the failure to bring Mr Rudd into the campaign earlier, and an over-reliance on narrowly based questions put to focus groups in marginal seats.''I don't think it was a disastrously executed campaign, I think it was a very ordinary campaign run by people used to running state elections,'' said one party veteran.Several internal critics accused Mr Bitar and his mentor, Senator Mark Arbib, of setting up a ''closed loop'' of advice inside Labor's national headquarters, where dissenting voices were not welcomed.Senator Arbib and Mr Bitar hail from the NSW party office in Sussex Street. Mr Bitar took over the top campaign job after the national director Tim Gartrell resigned in 2008.He became determined to put his own stamp on Labor's campaign team, party observers say. He alienated Neil Lawrence, who had masterminded the winning Kevin07 advertising campaign, by asking other advertisers to bid for the ALP account.When Mr Lawrence left as a consequence, Mr Bitar said it was because he could no longer afford him on a tight budget. But many in Labor believe the party's TV advertising suffered as a result, failing to sell its achievement in warding off mass unemployment after the global financial crisis.Mr Bitar also edged aside Tony Mitchelmore, the pollster who had worked closely with Mr Lawrence and Mr Gartrell on the 2007 campaign.Instead, Mr Bitar took the polling work to research company UMR but is said to have personally written detailed guidelines and the questions for grilling focus groups.This, the critics claim, resulted in a small-minded federal campaign which lacked a compelling national narrative.The mixed messages, said one insider, were like ''the pearls without the string. It doesn't make a necklace. The missing string was a strategy.''Perhaps the worst mistake, in the eyes of some, was failing to reach a pact with Mr Rudd before the campaign started. It appears Labor's campaign directors grossly underestimated voters' lingering resentment about Mr Rudd's political execution.An uneasy rapprochement between Ms Gillard and Mr Rudd was finally reached in the third week of the campaign after intense diplomacy by Senator John Faulkner. But by then the damage had been done.
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