July 25, 2023

‘Trumpish in its extreme’: Inside the chaotic meeting that decided the future of Parramatta’s council

By Anthony Segaert
July 25, 2023 — 11.38am
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Parramatta residents will have to wait almost a decade before having the chance to directly elect a lord mayor after councillors rejected plans for a referendum on the matter in a fiery council meeting brimming with invocations of Macbeth and accusations of Trump-style politicking.

In an hour-long debate on Monday night, Parramatta City councillors voted to reject plans to ask residents whether they wanted to elect a leader for a four-year term, or whether councillors should continue to choose a leader from among themselves in the chamber for two years. The question would have been asked at the September 2024 council elections and, if successful, would have been implemented by the 2028 elections.

Six councillors voted for the referendum motion, but nine voted against it.Credit: Parramatta City Council

But the decision not to proceed with the referendum leaves 2032 as the earliest year in which residents could elect a mayor themselves, and marks Parramatta as an outlier among Greater Sydney CBDs. The major cities of Sydney, Newcastle and Wollongong – as well as some smaller councils like Burwood, Canada Bay and Fairfield – all have popularly elected mayors. Ryde, which covers the Macquarie Park CBD, will join them in 2024.

Parramatta Deputy Mayor Cameron Maclean (ALP), bringing forward the motion, decried the deals that are done under the current system.

“In a mature city … we cannot imagine that the best way to select the leader of our city is to go through the unedifying spectacle of horsetrading,” he said. “The election of the lord mayor in this city at present makes Macbeth and King Lear look like children’s bedtime stories.”

But veteran independent councillor Lorraine Wearne described the motion as “Trumpish in its extreme”, arguing the community – of which the council had polled 3800 members and found 64 per cent in favour of the referendum – were not adequately informed of the potential outcomes.

Former Parramatta lord mayor Donna Davis and current Lord Mayor Sameer Pandey both supported the referendum.Credit: Parramatta council

“Indecent haste [are] the only words I can use for what is happening on the other side of this chamber tonight,” she said.

But as Wearne finished speaking, and as councillors grew increasingly weary, Labor councillor Angela Humphries accused the former lord mayor and new state MP for Parramatta, councillor Donna Davis, of screaming at her in the chamber.


“The councillor to my right is screaming in my ear,” she said. “She is berating me; she is asking six times in a row how I’m voting. I’m feeling very intimidated and I’d like the action to stop.”


Later in the debate, Davis said there were no good reasons for Parramatta residents to not be asked about how they would like their mayor to be decided.

“This is not Trump-style politics here, where we’re spending millions of dollars promoting the lord mayor and getting their profile up,” she said. “This is a whole different game.”

Labor holds seven of the 15 seats at Parramatta Council. But two Labor councillors – Angela Humphries and Paul Noack – voted against their party’s majority, resulting in a 9-6 vote against the referendum until voters had “more information” about the issue.

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Anthony Segaert is a reporter covering urban affairs at the Sydney Morning Herald.Connect via Twitter or email.


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