Inner West Council urged to help regional councils wishing to demerge

February 9, 2022
Campaigning for the YES to demerge case at the local government elections. Photo: Residents for Deamalgamation / Facebook

A group representing councils across NSW that want to demerge has urged Inner West Councillors to work together to force the NSW government to pay for the demerger.

A high 62% of residents voted “Yes” to a question at the council election on December 4 asking if they would like to return to the Marrickville, Ashfield and Leichhardt Councils.

Grantley Ingram, coordinator of the Demerge NSW Alliance (DNA), addressed the Inner West Council meeting on February 8 where two de-amalgamation motions and another motion relating to the upcoming NSW Local Government Conference were tabled.

Labor Mayor Darcy Byrne moved a two-paragraph Mayoral Minute on the demerger, and Greens Councillor Justine Langford moved a 13-point motion setting out the broad framework for the fight that would be needed to realise residents’ wishes.

The Labor councillors, who hold eight of 15 positions on the council, would not allow the two motions to be considered together. The amended Mayoral Minute was adopted unanimously and, later, Labor voted down the Green’s motion.

Amendments to the NSW Local Government Act last year allows for councils to demerge within 10 years of being forcibly amalgamated. The process includes councils producing a business case to lodge with the statutory NSW Boundaries Commission, which then has to make a recommendation to the NSW Minister for Local Government.

However, as the failed attempt by the Gundagai-Cootamundra Council to de-amalgamate shows, this process is insufficient. In that case, the government has refused to act on the Boundaries Commission recommendation to demerge.

Save Our Councils campaigner Brain Halstead told councillors that because the community had voted “so strongly to demerge”, it now has a chance of “building a first class demerger proposal” that “can build on the new systems and processes developed over the last four years and proposals from across the state, including Tumbarumba, which was accepted by the Boundaries Commission”.

He urged the council to include the community in the process of creating the business case. He said communities across NSW are looking to the IWC as the first test case in the demerger process.

Inner West resident Pip Hinman, who campaigned for the YES to demerge case, urged councillors to adopt the Greens’ motion, but especially to: outline the specifications for a YES business case after consulting broadly; ensure it is delivered to the Minister for Local Government by the end of the year; and thwart any attempt to impose an administrator and have all three councils re-established by the start of the next term.

“Labor councillors could decide everything — you have the numbers — but residents would prefer you to adopt a collegiate approach,” she said to the meeting.

NSW Labor, The Greens, The Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party and independents running in the February 12 Monaro electorate, where Ingram is campaigning, agree that communities must be allowed to hold binding plebiscites on demerging.

Ingram told Green Left he had received a positive response from five of the six candidates, with only the Nationals declining to reply.

“With the Liberal-National Coalition already in a minority, the loss of even one seat could lead to a change in government and on the issue of council demergers. DNA is closely following the by-election campaigns and is supporting those candidates that commit to a binding plebiscite on demergers,” he said.

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