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AFTER more than three years of often bitter division, the warring factions of the Port Stephens political establishment have called for a “truce” in order to combatplans for a forced merger with Newcastle City Council.
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Port Stephens councillors voted unanimously on Tuesday night to spend up to$200,000 –up from the $150,000 originally planned –on a campaign to fight theproposal.

Mayor Bruce MacKenzie invoked the spirit of World War One, telling a packedgalleryto “come together” to help the council to stand alone.

“I look down the back and I see representatives of several groups that, over the years, we haven’t been your favourite child,” he said.

“I think I can saywith some confidencethat the knives have been out against the council.

“I think we should actlike back in thethe First World War[when] the Turks and the Pommies would come and collectthe bodies of the men who had been killed.

“They would have have a truce [and] thenext day they started the war again.”

Earlier in the day, Kate Washington,the state member for Port Stephens and vocal critic of Cr MacKenzie and the council,said she would work withthe mayor to stop the merger.

“It’s going to be an unlikely alliance that I stand with my council in opposition to the amalgamation,” she said.

“I’m always happy to speak with Bruce, he’s not so happy to speak with me [but] I’m happy to sing from the song sheet in the interest of our community and that’s what we now have to do in the situation that we’ve found ourselves in.”

The council called the extraordinary meeting to pass the funding because state government guidelines for councils facing a merger dictated that a public vote was required for any public information campaigns.

The initial proposal was to spend $150,000, but Cr MacKenzie moved a motion at the beginning of the meeting to lift the sum to $200,000.

The money will be spent on hiring a firm to prepare a “comprehensive submission” to state the council’s case for standing alone, as well as a public information campaign which would “provide to the community of Port Stephens relevant information and data on the impacts of the proposed merger”.

The councillors voted unanimously to oppose the decision. Councillors Geoff Dingle–who has stated he wants to run as mayor of an amalgamated Newcastle and Port Stephens council–andJohn Morello, didn’t attend.

Councillor Paul Le Mottee warned that Port Stephens assets base would be used “to fix the drains in Wallsend”.

“Make no mistake, this is not an amalgamation, this is a takeover,” Cr Le Mottee said.“It would amount to a progressive stripping of assets.“If there was an amalgamation, Newcastle would have three times the voting numbers we do … we would become a ward.”

Port Stephens officials were caught off guard by the merger announcement after being found Fit For the Future, and Cr MacKenzie saidthe decision was “a grubby political decision” and “a betrayal of the people of Port Stephens”.

He revealed he was only told of the decision at 9.20am on the morning of the announcement.

“Someone from the minister’s office called me and said ‘you’re being merged’, I could have run off the road,” he said.

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