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Bruce MacKenzie offers to help Gladys Berejiklian win back Port Stephens

MAYOR’S OFFER: Port Stephens Mayor Bruce MacKenzie has offered to campaign for the Liberal Party against Labor at the 2019 state election. PICTURE: Max Mason-HubersIN 2015 he threatened to blow up Stockton Bridge. Now, the mayor of Port Stephens, Bruce MacKenzie, is offering to campaign for the Liberal Party at the next state election.

Following the state government’s decision to scrap proposed council mergers in regional areas –including the mooted amalgamation between Newcastle and Port Stephens –Cr MacKenzie has lent his support to the Liberal government’s reelection cause.

In a letter to new Premier Gladys Berejiklian, Cr MacKenzie said the governmenthad his support in the “winnable conservative seat” of Port Stephens in the 2019 election.

“I realise as much as anyone how difficult it can be to muster the political will and support to make the right decisions consistently,” Cr MacKenzie wrote to Ms Berejiklian.

“But I think I can safely say you have started your Premiership in the right fashion.”

It marks a dramatic shift in the outspoken mayor’s attitude to the government in the wake of the merger controversy.

After the government announced its merger plansCr MacKenzie became the focal point of a bitter campaign against the move, telling the government it would not win back the seat of Port Stephens for more than a decade if it went ahead with the plan.

Port Stephens was won by Labor’s Kate Washingtonin 2015. No friend of Cr MacKenzie, she said she was not worried about him helping the opposition.

“I would think him throwing his support to any local Liberal candidate can only help my cause,” she said.

“Butif Gladyshas any moral fibre she should be saying thanks but no thanks.”

Meanwhile, Labor has announced it will run endorsed candidates at the next local government election in Port Stephens due later this year.

Councillors at the local level in Port Stephens traditionally stand as independents, a practice that theNewcastle Heraldhas previously revealed often obscures existing allegiances.

“The Labor Party will be running a Labor Party ticket when this election occurs,” local branch official Giacomo Arnott said.

“Our community is sick of people hiding behind the word ‘independent’ to put forward their hidden agendas.”

He said others considering running should “show the community what their true colours are”.

Heather Letham, Labor’s Tomaree branch president,said the community“hashad enough of the Mayor and many current Councillors ignoring the will of residents”

“Residents of Port Stephens are sick of being dictated to, and want the opportunity to elect people who will be local champions, rather than head-nodders, in council,” she said.

While Cr MacKenzie has been coy on his future in local government, his strong voting bloc since 2012 has given him a mandate to make a number of decisions popular among supporters but bitterly opposed by Labor.

In his letter to Ms Berejiklian Cr MacKenzie said he understood what it was like to have to make difficult decisions.

“I have been a mayor, councillor and businessman in Port Stephens for many years and, as such, I very much understand the need to be economically rational and make hard decisions, even when they’re not popular,” he wrote.

He said he applauded Ms Berejiklian’s decision to stick with Sydney mergers while recognising the different situation in regional areas like the Hunter.

“As a popularly elected mayor in a winnable conservative seat, I trust you will accept my offer of assistance and show faith in your government,” he wrote.

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