LIBERAL Party councillors still waiting for a decision on council mergers should be “sweating bullets” after the results of Saturday’s local government vote, a senior party member says.
Steve Tucker, a Port Stephens Councillor and former head of the Port Stephens Liberal Party state conference believes the strong result for Labor in Cessnock and Lake Macquarie will serve as a warning for candidates in Hunter councils due to go to the polls next year.
“Most of them [the Liberal Party councillors] aren’t real happy, that’s the best way to put it,” he said.
“The Liberal Party has always had a tenuous hold in the Hunter Valley and given what’s going on I think they’ll go backwards … there will be a backlash.”
With Newcastle, Maitland and Port Stephens councils still waiting for a merger decision from the Baird government, Cr Tucker believed those results could be replicated.
“I think you’ll see the same thing next year unless things change, probably a similar result to what you had in Cessnock,” he said.
Labor have attempted to tie its strong vote to the Baird government’s controversial decisions on council mergers and its recent greyhound ban.
Cr Tucker, who sits on council as an independent, said he believed those were factors in the vote, and said the two decisions had angered party members.
“We’ve lost a few people out of the [Port Stephens] branches too, people resigning,” he said.
But while Cr Tucker’s comments reflect the opposition to the proposed merger in Port Stephens, Newcastle Liberal Party Councillor Lisa Tierney said she didn’t believe state issues were at play.
“These were elections for councils that didn’t merge, so you could equally argue [that] they were unhappy that they didn’t amalgamate,” she said.
“I still think the Baird government is very popular [and] those results are more reflections of issues in those councils.”
She said she was “not at all” worried about the election next year.
While the proposed merger between Newcastle and Port Stephens is deeply unpopular in Port Stephens, it has been less of an issue in Newcastle.
Cr Tierney said she believed much of the opposition to the merger from Liberal Party-aligned independent councillors in Port Stephens had more to do with fears about the prospect of losing out to endorsed candidates.
While a number of Port Stephens Councillors are Liberal Party members, candidates in the area traditionally run as independents.
If the merger went ahead the Liberal Party’s local government conference would make a decision on whether to run endorsed candidates in the new council, but both Cr Tucker and Cr Tierney agreed it was more likely that they would.
The state government is yet to make a decision on a number of proposed mergers in the Hunter.