Even marches, petitions, public meetings and Alan Jones in full flood could not stop nineteen new NSW councils being created, and run by administrators, until local government elections in September next year.
NSW Governor David Hurley proclaimed the new councils yesterday as 45 councils became 19.
[See full list at the end of this article].
Premier Mike Baird called it “the most comprehensive local government reform in more than 100 years” while others called it a betrayal of local government and their communities.
“We are ensuring our communities have stronger and more efficient councils, which will free up money for important projects such as local roads, parks, playgrounds and footpaths,” Mr Baird said.
“Our plan to create stronger new councils in Sydney and regional NSW will be supported by NSW Government investment of about $500 million.”
Merging councils have been promised $10 million each towards the cost of merging and $15 million to invest in community infrastructure through the Stronger Communities Fund.
Twenty three councils received a stay of execution because their nine merger proposals are still the subject of legal challenges but Local Government Minister Paul Toole has said he backs these mergers ‘in principle’ and wants them to go ahead. Those on death row include Woollahra, Mosman, Botany Bay and Ku-ring-gai, councils which remain adamant they will not be merged.
Three mergers proposals were late bids by councils who submitted alternative merger proposals and the verdict is not yet known. Fourteen mergers were dropped by the government.
Who will run councils?
Councillors and mayors have been sacked wholesale but thrown the consolation prize of being invited to join advisory groups and local representative committees.
Mr Toole backed away from dispensing of general managers after receiving advice that it would prove too costly to buy out their contracts. Instead, an interim GM will be chosen in each new council and the remaining general manager will stay on board until the 2017 local council elections.
Local Government NSW President Keith Rhoades said the whole sector felt betrayed by the state government’s decision.
“If it wasn’t for a range of vehement campaigns by grassroots communities and the local government sector, the Baird Government would have bulldozed through an even more extensive and undemocratic reform process long ago,” Mr Rhoades said.
“The process itself has been one long litany of mistakes and miscalculations and dubious dealings by the Government, and it’s telling that both IPART and now the Boundaries Commission have felt compelled to disassociate themselves from the political decisions being made,” he said.
But Mr Toole disagreed: “Many people have taken the opportunity to have their say during the consultation process, by speaking at inquiries or making written submissions. The NSW Government has listened to community concerns and created new wards that reflect the identity of existing communities,” he said.
He said services would operate as normal in new council areas and planning protections would remain in place with existing Local Environmental Plans enforced under the new councils.
Impact on the federal election
Mr Baird has backpedalled on a number of politically controversial mergers, especially those that appear to be in marginal Coalition federal seats, such as the wildly unpopular merger between Kiama and Shoalhaven in the federal seat of Gilmore or the merger between Tamworth and Walcha, where Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce is beating back a challenge from Independent Tony Windsor to keep his seat.
But a late proposal to merge Walcha with Armidale-Duresq, Guyra and Uralla looks set to proceed – the delegate’s report recommended it should – but the government has said the decision is “pending”, presumably until after the July 2 federal election.
Meanwhile, talkback host Alan Jones accused Mr Baird of sabotaging Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s chances on the hustings. Opposition Leader Luke Foley has promised to give people the oportunity to de-amalgamate their councils, if he is elected in 2019.
Mr Rhoades said: “You can’t pretend it’s not inherently political when the only councils to escape amalgamation are those that happen to fall into marginal federal electorates in the middle of an election campaign.”
“It’s now a matter for voters, many of whom may well choose to express their anger and sense of betrayal at the ballot box at the first opportunity,” he said.
Labor accuses Baird of imposing dictatorship by boundary rigging and gerrymandering
NSW Opposition Leader Luke Foley immediately attacked the forced mergers, directly accused Mr Baird of forming new councils based on political motivations rather than what communities wanted, with boundaries drawn-up along partisan lines.
He told ABC 702 that mergers in Sydney were based on diluting Labor voter influence and concentrating the Coalition’s base.
“This is just a gerrymander for the Liberal Party’s electoral interest, it’s boundary rigging plain and simple,” Mr Foley said. “It’s a travesty of democracy.”
Mr Foley specifically called out the case of Kogarah, Hurstville and Rockdale that could have formed a “genuine” St George council.
“Instead they bring only two together, Kogarah-Hurstville [and] keep Rockdale out. Why? Too many Labor voters,” he said.
“Put Rockdale with Botany … they are only separated by Botany Bay and an international airport. What’s the community of interest?” Mr Foley said.
He said elected representatives had been sacked by the stroke of a pen and replaced by hand-picked appointees.
Mr Foley said administrators had been given “dictatorial powers” and said the appointees were not accountable to ratepayers.
The Opposition leader then recycled former Queensland Premier Campbell Newman’s position, saying that if elected he will let communities decide their own fates and allow referenda to de-merge councils.
“I’m not opposed to mergers,” Mr Foley said. “I’m opposed to the breathtaking lack of democracy where elected representatives are sacked and replaced by hand-picked unelected administrators with dictatorial powers.”
More to follow
Mergers proceeding immediately
Armidale, Dumaresq, and Guyra councils to become Armidale Regional Council
Bankstown and Canterbury councils become Canterbury-Bankstown Council
Gosford and Wyong councils become Central Coast Council
Parramatta and part of Hills, Auburn, Holroyd and Hornsby councils become City of Parramatta Council
Auburn and Holroyd councils become Cumberland Council
Conargo and Deniliquin councils become Edward River Council
Corowa and Urana councils become Federation Council
Hurstville and Kogarah councils Georges River Council
Cootamundra and Gundagai councils become Gundagai Council
Bombala, Cooma Monaro and Snowy River councils become Snowy Monaro Regional Council
Boorowa, Harden and Young councils become Hilltops Council
Ashfield, Leichhardt and Marrickville councils become Inner West Council
Gloucester, Great Lakes and Greater Taree councils become Mid-Coast Council
Murray and Wakool councils become Murray River Council
Jerilderie and Murrumbidgee councils become Murrumbidgee Council
Manly, Pittwater and Warringah councils become Northern Beaches Council
Queanbeyan and Palerang councils become Queanbeyan-Palerang Regional Council
Tumut and Tumbarumba councils become Snowy Valleys Council
Dubbo and Wellington councils become Western Plains Regional Council
Mergers still supported by the Baird Government but held up in court
Botany and Rockdale
Randwick, Waverly and Woollahra
Bathurst and Oberon
Ku-ring-gai and Hornsby
Mosman, North Sydney and Willoughby
Blayney, Cabonne and Orange
Hunters Hill, Lane Cove and Ryde
Burwood, Canada Bay and Strathfield
Shellharbour and Wollongong
Merger Proposals still pending (kicked into touch)
Newcastle and Port Stephens
Dungog and Maitland
Armidale-Dumaresq, Guyra, Walcha and Uralla
Comment below to have your say on this story.
If you have a news story or tip-off, get in touch at email@example.com.
Sign up to the Government News newsletter