NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has dumped pending regional council mergers but told Sydney councils they’ll have to win in court to stop their amalgamations from going ahead and the 20 completed mergers will stand.
Ms Berejiklian and her Cabinet made the decision in an extraordinary Cabinet meeting this week.
Deputy Premier and Nationals leader John Barilaro – who was installed late last year after a disastrous Orange by-election result for Nationals leader Troy Grant, partly due to council mergers – called for a selective halting of regional council mergers in January.
But while Mr Barilaro was keen for some amalgamations to be shelved – namely, Blayney Shire, Cabonne and Orange; Dungog and Maitland; Bathurst and Oberon; Uralla and Walcha- he was silent on other regional council mergers.
The Cabinet’s decision means that mergers such as Shellharbour and Wollongong and Newcastle and Port Stephens will also be abandoned.
The outcome is a massive blow to merger opponents in Sydney.
There will be no plebiscites for those 19 councils who were merged in May last year [and the new Bayside Council in September], while Sydney councils still battling their mergers in court will have to win their cases or merge.
Regional councils can now drop their expensive legal battles but the five metropolitan councils currently in the courts will need to win theirs to halt mergers, with another round of appeals likely to be heard in the NSW Supreme Court later this month.
This includes councils such as Mosman, Woollahra, Strathfield, Hunters Hill and Ku-ring-gai.
Premier is taking a significant political gamble in refusing to wind back mergers or hold plebiscites.
Two Sydney by-elections are looming where voters may punish the State government at the ballot box for forced amalgamations.
Former Health Minister Jillian Skinner’s North Shore seat is up for grabs, which includes the local government areas of Lane Cove, Mosman and North Sydney – all of which are the subjects of merger proposals.
Former NSW Premier Mike Baird’s Manly seat will also spark a political contest. Northern Beaches Council was formed in May 2016 from Manly, Warringah and Pittwater Councils, a move vociferously opposed by some locals, who vowed to punish the government at the earliest opportunity.
Both seats have been hotbeds of resistance to council mergers and are vulnerable to incursions by independent candidates.
Council mergers may also have some influence on another imminent by-election.
The resignation today (Tuesday) of Labor Gosford MP Kathy Smith due to ill health means a by-election in a marginal seat: Ms Jackson won Gosford by 200 votes in 2015 and Gosford City and Wyong Shire Councils merged to become Central Coast Council in May last year.
More to follow.