Three-council merger postponed; Baird cops court costs

Next stop amalgamation?


A merger between Burwood, Canada Bay and Strathfield Councils has been postponed after the Land and Environment Court ruled the NSW government could not rely on the Boundaries Commission’s report to make a merger case.

NSW Local Government Minister Paul Toole was forced into an embarrassing climb down today (Tuesday) as the court ordered that he should not to rely on delegate Richard Colley’s report on the merger between the three Sydney Councils. The Minister was also ordered to pay Strathfield Council’s costs.

Mr Toole said the report was rejected “due to a legal technicality in the delegate’s report” and he said the delegate would “consider the matter and reissue his report.”

But Greens MP and Local Government spokesman David Shoebridge said the report was “thrown out” by the court, most likely because the delegate had made errors in his report and was legally flawed, “The Minister can say what he likes but the community will expect much more than a tick and flick.”

Because consent orders involve an agreement between two parties, rather than a court judgement, it is difficult to know what the report’s flaws were and whether this case will affect similar court cases involving forced council mergers.

There are nine merger proposals currently before the courts, most of which involve councils alleging that the merger and public inquiry process has not been fair.

Mr Shoebridge called the consent orders “a disaster for Mike Baird” and said councils embroiled in court cases with the state government on merger proposals would be scrutinising delegates’ reports particularly closely in the light of this.

“When a government tries to do a job on local communities and cut legal corners and rush through an undemocratic process it is no wonder they trip up,” Mr Shoebridge said.

“Effectively the government has given up on trying to defend the delegate’s report. This puts the merger plan for the Strathfield, Burwood and Canada Bay councils in legal limbo while the government struggles to work out its next step.”

The terms of the proposed order, read by the Government in court today were:

  1.       Order restraining the first respondent Minister from recommending implementation of the proposal to amalgamate the local government areas of Strathfield, Burwood and Canada Bay dated January 2016 in reliance on the purported report titled “Examination of the Proposal to merge Burwood City Council, City of Canada Bay Council and Strathfield Municipal Council” dated March 2016.
  2.       Minister to pay the applicant’s costs.

NSW Governor David Hurley issued a proclamation to create 19 new NSW councils (from 45) on May 12. Twelve other merger proposals are pending, two-thirds of which are currently in court.

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