Show of force by rebel NSW councils

angry councils


Premier Mike Baird will know the full extent of the NSW local government rebellion against his push to merge many of the state’s councils by this Wednesday.

Of the 139 Fit for the Future proposals received by Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART), which handed down its findings last month, 87 councils were labelled as ‘not fit’ to stand alone.

Mr Baird gave these recalcitrant councils 30 days to submit a merger proposals – or suffer the consequences.

The government has been vocal about the merger incentives on offer for councils, including between $5 and $10 million towards merger expenses and up to $15 million cash for community infrastructure for each new council, as well as access to cheap loans.

The government also appears to have been darkly hinting at the consequences for those councils who refuse to fall into line.

Along with missing out on pots of cash, councils that do not put forward a merger option before the deadline appear to have been threatened with being turfed out before next year’s local government elections and their communities locked out of key decisions if forced mergers proceed.

Mr Baird and Local Government Minister Paul Toole sent council mayors a letter last week praising those councils that had “done the right thing by their community and agreed to merge”.

“Councils that have demonstrated an ability to work together in reaching agreement to merge will have the opportunity to shape the future of the new council and serve the community until the end of their current term,” said the letter.
“This will include input to decisions on service levels, branding, jobs, location of key administrative centres and/or local representation.

“These councils will have the best opportunity to shape the future of the new council.”

With less than 48 hours to submit merger proposals, many councils are holding extraordinary meetings to canvas community views.

Coolamon Council in the Riverina meets tonight to discuss its future and whether that might include forming a new council with Bland Shire and Temora (which has already voiced its opposition to the plan).

Wagga City Council, on the banks of the Murrumbidgee River, also meets tonight to discuss a possible union with Junee, Coolamon and Lockhart.

Deniliquin Council, also in the Riverina, meets tonight to consider a merger with Conargo, Murray and possibly Wakool Shires.

Cutting it even finer, Fairfield City Council meets tomorrow night to decide whether or not to capitulate.
Some councils have already made their dissent plainly known.

Mosman Council in Sydney’s lower north shore used its 50-word statement to the government to outline why it opposed any form of merger.
Mosman Mayor Peter Abelson said his council and community had an “extreme aversion to a multi-council amalgamation” and would challenge any attempts to force it to merge.

“It is abundantly clear that a large majority of our residents support independence and oppose any amalgamation and 74 per cent of respondents indicated that Council should not provide to the State Government any merger options,” Mr Abelson said.

“We are supporting our community’s stance which reflects the decisive democratic views of well-informed citizens and we will do as they wish in the face of an extravagant State Government-funded advertising blitz based on misinformation.”

North Sydney Council has also waded into the fray and laid its cards on the table.

A North Sydney Council spokesperson said: “North Sydney Council has resolved to continue to vigorously oppose Council amalgamation and not to enter into any discussions on amalgamations with any councils except for discussions relating to anti amalgamation campaigns.”

The council has also vowed to “immediately commence a legal challenge” and fend off any move by Mr Toole to force it to merge with other councils, including if he attempts to sack councillors and appoint administrators.

Other NSW councils have also come out swinging.

Holroyd Council Mayor Greg Cummings said his council had a mandate from the community to resist forced mergers.
“The Baird Government is holding a gun to our heads, but rest assured, we won’t be bullied into selling out our communities,” Mr Cummings said.

“We will be telling Mr Baird and his Local Government Minister Paul Toole that we won’t give up the fight. If they want council mergers then allow democracy to prevail by putting it to a referendum.

“Let the people decide, not the politicians.”

Other councils have also registered their resistance, including Liverpool City, Strathfield and Woollahra Councils.
The unrest is not just confined to metropolitan areas. Many regional and rural councils are also refusing to back down.

Regional councils including Temora, Queanbeyan, Cabonne, Kyogle, Gundagai and Narrandera have indicated that they will not provide the government with a merger option.

Meanwhile, some councils, such as Ashfield, Marrickville and Leichhardt in inner west Sydney who had previously virulently opposed a merger – have reluctantly put forward proposals because they fear being sacked, put into administration and forced into larger mergers.

Gosford City and Wyong Shire Councils agreed to voluntarily merger as a Central Coast Council yesterday (Monday) and Hornsby Shire Council has said it will opt for its second preference of a merger with Ku-ring-gai.

Parramatta Council has always been keen to pursue a Parramatta-based regional council involved all of Holroyd and part of Auburn, Ryde, the Hills and Hornsby Council but has met with strong resistant from some of its neighbours.

Local Government NSW (LGNSW) President Keith Rhoades said that it was hard to quantify how many councils would put in last-minute merger proposals and he said he was “picking up a drift both ways.”

“Councils know what they want to do but they’re just leaving it until the last minute to get reactions from communities,” he said.

“There’s a lot out there not changing their position where they were failed on scale and capacity for not being fit.”

It was essentially a decision for each council to make, he said, based on the wishes of the residents and ratepayers.

“While many are bitterly opposed to any amalgamation, others believe they can make it work. Both groups have LGNSW’s full support – but the Association strongly believes this is a decision that should only be made by local communities and the councils that represent them.”

However, he said that the process had been rushed and had not allow for proper community consultation.
“To meet with their neighbours and communities and to have 20 working days to do that is just an absolute disgrace from government.

Mr Rhoades said the Premier and minister was not just feeling the heat from councils and ratepayers but they were also under pressure from their own MPs.

“We’re finding that each day another one or two government MPs are coming over to the side of not supporting forced amalgamations.

“There is probably five or six Nationals that have made public statements in recent weeks that they will not be supporting the government’s position.”

Save Our Councils NSW is organising a Local Democracy Rally at Martin Place this Wednesday at 12pm.

A SOCC spokesperson said: “Baird is deliberately trying to undermine the long-standing excellent relationships neighbouring councils have and their strong cooperation by holding a gun to their heads and seeing if one of them will buckle or not.”

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2 thoughts on “Show of force by rebel NSW councils

  1. The TV add says amalgamating 2 unviable Councils will make 1 viable Council does not make much sense – What it will create is 1 big, unviable Council. While it will have double the resources it will also have double the responsibilities, including double the costs imposed by state government cost shifting. The state government passes endless laws and then dumps them on the local council to fund and implement so the viability of every council is diminished with each new law. Tax increases by proxy

  2. Leichhardt Councils’ community has virulently opposed a merger from the start. Not so sure about the Councillors. They have resolved to pursue merger proposals on two occasions already. First, Canada Bay and Ashfield who did not respond to Leichhardt and now Marrickville and Ashfield. Neither proposal was put to the Leichhardt community for consultation. Leichhardt Council is split 7 to 5 (Labor and Liberal voting together on preferred merger options while Greens and Independent oppose.) Most people have figured out the reason for the unbreakable Labor-Liberal alliance on these proposals.

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