By Paul Hemsley
New South Wales Minister for Local Government Don Page has strenuously denied that the O’Farrell government is covertly conspiring to ram through amalgamations, vowing that the government will stick to its promise of not forcing council mergers.
The pledge to not force amalgamations on NSW councils was a core promise from the Coalition prior to the March 2011 state election, however the government has since December 2012 been overtly flirting with ways to achieve efficiencies and rationalisation in the tabloid press.
It was reported in December 2012 that the O’Farrell government would break that its election promise by forcing amalgamations, a position now repudiated by Mr Page.
In the face of the “buzz” among mayors that Mr Page did not name, he slammed the “numerous claims” of a potential forced council merge in NSW as “erroneous” and “unwarranted”.
“I note that a number of mayors are unnecessarily alarming councillors, workers and ratepayers with claims the government is secretly plotting forced council amalgamations,” Mr Page said.
“While I welcome mayors coming together, their time could be better spent striving to improve services to their respective communities and ensuring the financial sustainability of their local government areas rather than scaremongering about bogus claims of forced amalgamations”.
Mr Page noted that some councils are spending large sums of ratepayer’s fund “battling” forced amalgamations that he claims are not going to happen and that some mayors are holding protest meetings against forced amalgamations “that are not going to happen”.
He stressed that the government is sticking to its policy of no forced council amalgamations by pointing to the Independent Local Government Reform Panel’s Future Directions report which is due to go public in April 2013.
The Independent Panel was set up in 2012 after a request by the Local Government and Shires Associations of NSW, which has since merged to become Local Government NSW.
Mr Page said that part of the Terms of Reference of the Independent Panel is to take into account the government’s 2011 policy of no forced amalgamations.
He gave councils the option to amalgamate if they wanted by advising them to talk to the Independent Panel.
“We are still committed to reforming the local government sector, subject to this policy,’’ he said.
He said the government would continue to work together with councils, unions and the community to improve services in local government areas.
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