New South Wales Premier, Gladys Berejiklian, is alleged to have turned down calls to meet with 12 mayors from Sydney’s COVID-19 hotspots after refusing a request from the councils to meet and discuss the impacts of lockdowns on communities.

The Premier was invited to meet with 12 mayors from Sydney’s COVID-19 ‘areas of concern’ across the west and south-west in an effort to discuss the mental and financial impact the lockdowns are having on communities facing some of the hardest lockdowns in the country. The request was sent by Linda Scott, President of the Local Government Association on behalf of the 12 mayors.

An email reply from the Premier’s office declining the request suggested that the local governments instead seek a meeting with the State Local Government Minister, Shelley Hancock.

Canterbury Bankstown Mayor, Khal Asfour, told reporters on Wednesday 1 September that the rejection of the request was a “royal snub” to the mayors and the communities they represented, totalling more than more than two million people.

“[The Premier] might not want to hear the concerns we are hearing every day,” Mr Asfour said.

“Phone calls and emails, people crying on the phone, not knowing what they are going to be doing next with their businesses crumbling, with people out of work, with people in lockdown, mental health issues, with people not having any social connectivity to their family and loved ones.”

Mayor of Penrith City Council, Karen McKeown, called for a whole-of-government response to the growing issues in the community and to give the Local Government Areas (LGAs) of concern a voice and clarity for the future.

“The Office of Local Government is not the author of the public health orders, so I’m unsure how a meeting with the Hon Shelley Hancock MP would help address our concerns,” Mayor McKeown said.

“We accept the current situation is a busy time for the Premier. However, it’s imperative that at least the identified LGAs of concern have a voice to gain both clarity and a united future focus for everyone’s benefit.

“We need a whole-of-government response. We’re calling on the Premier to listen to our community so that decisions are balanced with their needs in mind.”

President of the Australian Local Government Association, Linda Scott, called on the Premier to “come out of hiding” and meet with mayors to benefit not only the LGAs of concern, but the whole of NSW.

“This meeting will not only benefit the communities of the 12 local government areas, it will benefit the whole of the state.

“If the cases rise here, the whole of NSW is impacted.”

In Wednesday’s NSW press conference, the Premier was asked by journalists as to why her office had rejected the request to meet with the 12 Mayors from the LGAs of concern, and whether she would be open to meeting with them going forward.

When asked by a journalist why the local governments of concerns were not included in the planning for the roadmap out of lockdown, the Premier said that the road map was still a work in progress and said that all stakeholders would be involved in the process of creating the roadmap.

When pressed by journalists as to why the Premier hadn’t met with mayors from the LGA hotspots, Ms Berejiklian said she was ‘not certain about the invitation’ that the mayors were talking about, but then subsequently appeared to acknowledge the request, saying, “That request was from the Local Government Association, which is a peak body, whereas I would want to engage directly with those local community leaders.”

Ms Berejiklian claims to be communicating with community leaders daily, however she was vague in her response when directly asked if she would meet with the mayors, yes or no, saying she was already meeting with them, but would not confirm definitively that she would meet with them as a united group.

Cr Scott said she was surprised that the Premier had refused to meet with the LGAs and hoped that the Premier would reconsider.

“The Premier says she wants to hear the voices of local communities and is willing to meet with community leaders but has rejected this opportunity to meet collectively with the 12 mayors working night and day through the impacts of the current outbreak,” Cr Scott said.

“I’m surprised the Premier would reject such a golden opportunity to build consensus in facing down this very real threat to the well-being of our most vulnerable communities. These leaders are willing to set aside the time, but the Premier seems unwilling.

“The Premier’s rejection of our request actually breaches the commitment made in the Intergovernmental Agreement, which the Premier signed on behalf of State Government and I signed on behalf of local government in October 2019.

“In this agreement, the Premier promised to consult with LGNSW and our sector before any significant policy decisions were made and to work with us to achieve positive outcomes for our communities. But on this occasion it has not happened.”

Cr Scott said LGNSW would continue to push for the collective meeting on behalf of the mayors in affected communities.

“I am continuing to call on the Premier to honour her Government’s commitment to work with us as equals and meet these 12 mayors and councillors who are working so hard to support our communities and are feeling ignored,” she said.

“Mayors and councillors are continuing to provide effective and meaningful leadership to support our communities through droughts, floods, bushfires and COVID. They are on the frontlines of this battle, getting calls from anxious community members on a daily basis.

“The NSW Government should be working with us to lead our communities out of these dark times rather than ignoring something as simple and potentially beneficial as a collective, sit-down online discussion.

“I hope the Premier reconsiders and accepts our offer soon.”

An update on this article can be found here 

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