A colleague of controversial Deputy Mayor Salim Mehajer has claimed the property developer’s notoriety was a contributing factor behind a recommendation by the New South Wales government to effectively abolish the Auburn council.
On Friday, the NSW government unveiled a report that recommended the council be merged with Holroyd Council as part of a statewide money-saving measure.
Premier Mike Baird said the decision to downsize the number of NSW councils from 45 to 23 was largely financially motivated, but a fellow councillor claimed Mr Mehajer’s flamboyant behaviour could have contributed to the inclusion of Auburn council on the chopping block.
Councillor Tony Oldfield told The New Daily the media storm surrounding Mr Mehajer was “definitely a factor”, but not the principle cause of the state government’s decision.
Mr Oldfield said money saving was the prime motivator, but that the Baird government probably saw political gain in “bringing him into line”.
The Deputy Mayor himself was stoic about the decision, refusing to be drawn on whether he had drawn the state government’s ire.
“It is what it is and each candidate that wishes to run for council will need to accept such change,” Mr Mehajer said in a statement.
“I have my positive mind set. Despite the change, I believe the outcome will be great. The mind is a powerful tool when you fill it with positive things.”
The New Daily also spoke to Auburn City Mayor Le Lam, who denied the controversy motivated the NSW government’s decision, while admitting her deputy was “in a bit over his head”.
In October, Mr Baird appeared to link the need for council reform to Mr Mehajer.
“What you’re seeing there [in Auburn] is a good example of why we need reform in local councils,” he said.
Another councillor admitted the media frenzy surrounding him had tarnished Auburn City Council’s reputation.
“Since the wedding, every single thing that has happened with him has been negative and it is damaging the reputation of the council, and it is damaging the reputation of the local government,” said Auburn councillor Irene Simms in November.
When announcing the downsizing plan, Mr Baird said it would deliver “$2 billion in benefits to ratepayers”.
“Importantly, fewer councils will mean a big reduction in red tape for the NSW community and the businesses that work with councils,” Mr Baird said.
“The community expects a stronger local government system that can deliver the infrastructure and services they deserve, while keeping rates stable.
“Change is not easy … but it is the right thing to do.”
The government cited analysis by accounting firm KPMG to prove the scheme would deliver the financial savings to ratepayers.
Public consultation will take place in early 2016 before a final decision is made on the change.
A long list of controversies
Mr Mehajer has made headlines all over Australia for his extravagant approach to public office.
Most significant of all was his outlandish wedding ceremony, which forced the closure of an entire street in Lidcombe, with car owners told their vehicles would be towed if they did not clear the road.
It also involved multiple sports cars, four helicopters, a sea plane, a fighter jet flyover and a motorcade flanked by motorcycles.
In 2012, he was driving a black Ferrari 612 Scaglietti in Lidcombe at night time, when he lost control and veered into two pedestrians standing behind a parked car.
The mother and daughter victims both spent a month in hospital because of multiple breaks and fractures.
The millionaire property developer was initially convicted of negligent driving but then was acquitted on appeal.
He is also facing charges of intimidation for allegedly threatening to kidnap the children of a Lindt Cafe siege survivor’s father.
That matter remains before the courts.