Grantley Ingram, convenor of Demerge New South Wales Alliance (DNA), believes the New South Wales local government minster’s support for Cootamundra-Gundagai Regional Council (CGRC) to demerge opens the way for forcibly merged councils across NSW to deamalgamate.
“The decision is the result of six years of hard work by the Gundagai Council in Exile group, supported by the communities of Cootamundra and Gundagai,” Ingram told Green Left.
“The minister must now, by law, pay for the cost of the demerger — estimated at $ 1.75 million.”
Local government minister Wendy Tuckerman announced on August 24 she would allow the regional council to demerge, saying her decision was based on the merits of the demerger proposal.
She acknowledged that CGRC had not achieved lower costs, better infrastructure or better services as an amalgamated council.
CGRC had a previous application to demerge rejected by the former minister Shelley Hancock. It had been given approval to raise its rates by 53%.
He said that NSW Labor, NSW Greens, Shooters, Fishers and Farmers and key independents support demergers and now even the Coalition government is supporting one.
“It doesn’t matter which way you look,” Ingram said, “demergers are gaining support politically.
“The community should be given a choice on whether or not they want to be merged,” Ingram said.
“After six tumultuous years, numerous public meetings, hundreds of written submissions and letters and two public inquiries, Cootamundra-Gundagai Regional Council will finally be demerged,” the Gundagai Independent said under the headline “Independence Day” on August 25.
The NSW Boundaries Commission heard that 82% supported deamalgamation in Gundagai and 79% in Cootamundra. Seven Regional news interviewed residents who were happy about the announcement, but angry that it took “seven wasted years”. “We should not have been there in the first place,” one resident said.
Three other NSW councils — Inner West, Canterbury-Bankstown and Snowy Valleys (Tumbarumba-Tumut) — have formal, council-promoted, demerger proposals underway.
Independent Inner West Councillor John Stamolis said despite the strong vote to demerge at the December poll the council is not supporting the community’s wishes.
“In fact, the Inner West Council is spending large amounts of ratepayers' money on consultants to try to undermine your strong vote for a demerger,” he said on August 27.
He said the IWC was predicting “an absurd amount to demerge … around $200 million over 20 years”. He said the mergers had led to high rate rises, including an approved 36% increase in Canterbury-Bankstown. That council is now working on its own business case to demerge.
“If Inner West Council stays merged, an increase in rates is a distinct possibility and this needs to be openly discussed,” Stamolis said.
Ingram said the government must listen to communities: “The demerger issue must be resolved before any of the forcibly merged councils proceed to raise rates, or make changes to change land use or waste management plans.”
DNA is calling for demerger polls to be conducted in all merged councils before or at the state election next March.
“Unless the community’s desire for councils to be made local again, the anger will continue to gnaw away as will our communities’ inability to grow and plan for the future,” Ingram said.