Almost a year after he was appointed shadow minister for local government, Campbelltown MP Greg Warren has put councils on notice that things would change under his watch.
The next state election is still three years away, but with ratepayers heading to the polls in September, Mr Warren says this could be a time of reckoning for some councillors.
“The elections in September will be an important part of democracy, when councillors will have to front the people and explain what they’ve done, and why they’ve done it,’’ he tells the South West Voice during an interview to discuss his triple shadow portfolio of Western Sydney, veterans and local government.
When it comes to councils and if he were the minister overseeing them – which he may well be in 2023 – Mr Warren says it’s all about accountability and transparency.
“The importance of scrutiny of public representatives, whether it’s State MPs like myself or councillors, is one of the cornerstones of our democracy,’’ he says.
“I would enable councils that are responsible, mature and sensible, but I would match that with accountability.
“But if there’s councils that aren’t, well, obviously you would have close monitoring and restrictions on them, particularly in cases where the community is getting disadvantaged,’’ Mr Warren said.
Having travelled through much of the state of NSW since his appointment in the past few months, the Campbelltown MP says the overwhelming majority are good councils and do a pretty good job.
“Like everything, you get others that could do things differently or a little better, but ultimately they will be held accountable to their communities when they go to the ballot box in September.’’
Mr Warren says transparency is just as important as accountability when it comes to local councils.
“There are certain matters that need to be kept secret as required by the Local Government Act, and some commercial in confidence items, that sort of thing, but I do believe communities are entitled to have as much transparency as possible,’’ he says.
This, he says, is as equally important whether it’s how a council spends ratepayers’ money or issues of public health.
“At the end of the day it’s not the council’s money, it’s the ratepayers’ money, the hard working people of each community,’’ he says.
“And in a high taxing state, where money is tight for those ratepayers, people deserve the respect and dignity to understand how their money is being used.’’
Mr Warren said if he were the minister right now he would direct councils affected by issues like the flammable cladding controversy to be fully transparent with their local community.
“This is public safety and people deserve to know what’s going on,’’ he says.
“If there are any safety concerns the State Government needs to lead this, and if I were the minister I would be making very, very clear directives to local councils to tell the public.
“Anything to do with public safety has to be a priority, but you can’t just leave it to councils, they need leadership and direction from the state government.’’
Mr Warren says he’s as confident as he can be Labor can win government in three years and after 12 years in opposition.
“Yes, absolutely, but we have to be serious; the people should never be taken for granted, and we will need to have bold, transparent policies that improve the lives of the people of NSW,’’ he says.
“No-one will cop being taken for granted anymore, nor should they, that’s modern politics, and I like it.
“It’s a privilege to serve in that parliament, there’s not too many grater privileges than having people put their faith in you to look after their interests.
“And while it is important to scrutinise the government it’s equally important to develop policies that are consistent with the views, dreams and aspirations of the electorate in health, education, road, rail, jobs – all of the bread and butter things that matter to people, the stuff people are talking about at the dinner table.’’