Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Marrickville ratepayers' $3.7m bill for Israel boycott By Amos Aikman and Imre Salusinszky

 A move by a Greens-controlled council in Sydney's inner west to boycott goods and services from Israel will cost ratepayers at least $3.7 million and force the council to abandon Holden cars and Hewlett Packard computers, among many other disruptions.

                                                                                                                         Picture: Jane Dempster
Independent Marrickville councillor Victor Macri described the boycott as ludicrous.

 The stark warning on the cost of the council's decision to support the global boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign earlier this year is contained in a paper by the council's manager of services, Gary Moore, which is due for discussion next week and has been obtained by The Australian.
 Marrickville, the only council in Australia that has approved an Israel boycott, has been a hotbed of political controversy since its Greens Mayor Fiona Byrne said she would push for a statewide version of the Israel boycott if elected to the NSW lower house at last month's election.
 During the election campaign, Ms Byrne made contradictory remarks about the boycott, which was a factor in her failure to wrest the seat of Marrickville from Labor MP and former deputy premier Carmel Tebbutt.
 Ms Byrne could have the casting vote next Tuesday on whether to continue with the campaign and slug ratepayers with the added cost, when a motion to repeal the boycott is put forward.
 Mr Moore's paper details goods and services the council would have to forgo in order to comply with its directive, such as Hewlett Packard computers, Holden and Volvo cars, telephones and other equipment from Motorola and concrete from Fulton Hogan.
 These companies, according to the council's original motion to join the global BDS movement, "support or profit from the Israeli military occupation of Palestine".
 The report estimates the cost of replacing certain IT assets at $3.5m, and the annual cost of using a different concrete supplier at $250,000. It does not attempt to estimate the cost of replacing vehicles, and says changing waste-disposal service providers may not even be possible.
 Mr Moore's paper admits staff have been unable to fully research ties between companies providing goods to the council and Israel and have largely relied on - an anti-Israel website.
Independent councillor Victor Macri described the boycott plan as ludicrous. "We weren't elected to do this; we were elected to look after the streets and trees and pick up garbage," Mr Macri said.
 "People vote federally to direct foreign policy. A boycott of Israel will hurt Marrickville ratepayers far more than it will Israel."
 The costs will likely be exacerbated after Randwick council in Sydney's east passed a motion last month that excluded Marrickville from collective purchasing agreements because its boycott would limit other councils' ability to negotiate for the best price.
 Mr Moore's report found the boycott measure would lead to "substantial" impacts on council's operations. "Significant change would have to be planned for and managed to enable council operations to be maintained whilst new sets of providers of computer hardware, concrete, waste services, some vehicles and some other construction materials and consumables are obtained and existing contracts are completed/suspended," the report said.
 It noted the council might need to spend $5000 to $10,000 in legal fees just to determine whether the original motion on the boycott was lawful under anti-discrimination laws. A council source said a "conservative approach" had been used in determining the cost of implementing a boycott.
 "It's fair to say that the report is measured - built around realistically what the council is able to look at replacing," the source said. For example, the costs of breaking existing contracts or finding a replacement water supply to the Kurnell desalination plant, which is operated by Veolia, another company on the global BDS blacklist, are not included.
 Mr Macri said if a complete divestment campaign were implemented, the council might as well "shut its doors".
 Spread over Marrickville's roughly 40,000 homes, the costs estimated work out at about $100 a household. The council has an annual budget of about $72m.
 Mr Macri said contrary to council policy, the BDS motion was not attended by detailed costings when passed in December.
 Mr Moore's report described the cheaper option of phasing out goods and services as they expired, rather than divesting them completely, but found such a decision would "still have significant impacts on council's operations".
 A council source told The Australian the cheaper option would cost at least $1m. Labor councillor Emanuel Tsardoulias said the costs associated with both options were "outrageous".
 Mr Tsardoulias, who initially supported the boycott but later changed his mind, said he and others had had hundreds of complaints since the council's motion began getting attention.
 Council is said to have received a petition of 4600 signatures.
 Of Marrickville's 12 councillors, four Labor and two independents are expected to support Tuesday's motion to repeal the boycott; one independent is set to side with the five Greens in opposing the motion, although The Australian understands one Green is having second thoughts.


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