Communities call for binding plebiscites on NSW council demergers

August 24, 2023
Members of Demerge NSW Alliance at NSW Parliament with Dr Amanda Cohn (centre right) and Grantley Ingram (centre). Photo: Peter Boyle

Grantley Ingram from the Demerge New South Wales Alliance (DNA) called on NSW MPs on August 23 to support amendments to the Local Government Act for binding plebiscites on council deamalgamations. Ingram, from the Save Bombala Group, said the 2016 forced amalgamation of councils has been a “failure”.

“Communities have had seven years to weigh it up: we are suffering a loss of representation, a loss of accountability and our rates have gone up — sometimes exponentially.”

The proposed changes tabled by Dr Amanda Cohn, Greens spokesperson for local government, bind the local government minister to proceed with deamalgamations in former council areas which have returned a majority vote in a plebiscite.

“The minister must take democracy seriously: if a majority votes in a plebiscite to deamalgamate their council, the minister must direct the Office of Local Government to prepare a road-map to deamalgamate,” Ingram said.

Cohn said that as councils provide essential local services — libraries, sports facilities and community centres, and make decisions that shape the future of our built and natural environments — they need to “function effectively”. To do that she said “communities must be empowered to participate in the decisions that impact them”.

Cohn said communities from across the state “have made their voices heard loud and clear”: some forced council amalgamations have been a real disservice. “Those communities must have their views respected by the government.”

Barbara Coorey, from Residents for Deamalgamation Canterbury-Bankstown, said that an August 20 meeting of residents in Campsie had voted unanimously to deamalgamate, after hearing from speakers about the loss of services, representation and rapidly increasing rates.

Jane Smith from Central Coast Friends of Democracy said seven years after the merger of Gosford and Wyong Councils “staff have been dismissed, rates have risen, community assets have been sold, services have been cut and local democracy has been removed”. The council has been in administration for several years.

Representatives from Protect Pittwater, Save and Grow Guyra, Gundagai Council in Exile, Save Tumbarumba Shire, Residents for Deamalgamation Inner West and a former Hilltops Mayor all spoke about the loss of local representation, staff, services, democracy and morale.

Ingram called on the government to support the amendments, which are in line with the policy Labor took to the March elections. Better Local Governance (1.1108) included that: “NSW Labor does not oppose the merger or demerger of councils, but insists that this must be done voluntarily with the clear support of local residents as confirmed through a local plebiscite. NSW Labor will legislate to put in place independent mechanisms to enable this to occur.”

“It is urgent to start the process now, so that local government elections in September 2024 can include polls for councillors for the newly deamalgamated councils, should their communities vote for deamalgamations in plebiscites,” Ingram concluded.

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