New bill provides a demerger pathway for NSW councils

November 28, 2023
Greens MLC Amanda Cohn (third from left) with community representatives after the second reading of the de-amalgamation plebiscite bill. Photo: supplied

New South Wales Greens MLC Amanda Cohn presented a bill on November 22, which would provide a pathway for councils to de-amalgamate. It seeks to give voice to the many communities across NSW who say the forced amalgamations of 2016 have not worked.

The Local Government Amendment (De-amalagamation Plebiscites) Bill 2023 aims to remove roadblocks on councils. Specifically, it would enable the de-amalgamation of Cootamundra-Gundagai Shire Council, as recommended by the NSW Boundaries Commission and approved by the previous Minister for Local Government.

The bill, which was developed in conjunction with communities across the state, has the support of cross bench MPs. It will be debated next year and the Demerge NSW Alliance is seeking to talk to Labor and Liberal MPs about supporting it.

The bill sets out a plebiscite process for communities to have a direct say in whether to de-amalgamate. It would allow councils to demerge if 10% of the residents vote that way. It affirms that the NSW government, not the individual council, would pay the one-off cost to demerge.

If a plebiscite returns a majority saying Yes to demerge, the minister must recommend de-amalgamation to the governor within 28 days.

The bill would also allow the minister to act without a plebiscite if there is clear evidence of residents’ views — such as in the NSW Electoral Commission-run council poll in Inner West Council in 2021.

“The bill would allow for the Inner West community to either seek to have the 2021 poll recognised, or start a new plebiscite,” Brian Halstead, from Demerge NSW Alliance, told Green Left.

“It would also allow residents of one of the former council areas, such as Leichhardt, to gather enough signatures to hold a poll and, if successful, re-establish the old council boundaries.”

He said the one-off de-amalgamation costs would cover the immediate costs of the plebiscite and de-amalgamation. He anticipated that to be much less than the $10 million and $15 million grants made to councils when they were forcibly amalgamated.

“This bill marks years of community work for more transparent and representative councils,” Halstead said, adding he hopes that Labor would see that communities are not going to let it slide. “This bill has been framed with NSW Labor policy in mind.”

Meanwhile, the NSW Boundaries Commission is holding a public consultation on the Inner West Council’s flawed business case to demerge on December 6.

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