A new alliance to help New South Wales councils and residents’ groups seeking to demerge their forcibly amalgamated councils has been formed.
The Demerge NSW Alliance (DNA) said on September 26 it had already attracted support from residents from a majority of the state’s 20 merged councils, including Guyra in the north, Bombala on the South Coast, the Central and Mid North Coast, Botany Bay, Inner West, Pittwater and Canterbury Bankstown.
The DNA’s coordinator, Grantley Ingram, from Bombala, said that after years of real experience, communities want to go back to the drawing board.
“After five years of merged councils, communities remain angry about the remoteness of the mega councils, the rate increases, the failure to deliver financially and lack of representation”, Ingram said. “They want their local councils back.”
Discontent has been brewing since the councils were merged by the Mike Baird Coalition government in 2016 without communities being given a democratic vote on whether they supported the move.
“NSW Local Government Minister Shelley Hancock’s July rejection of demerger proposals from Tumbarumba (amalgamated into Snowy Valleys Council) and Gundagai (merged into Cootamundra-Gundagai Regional Council) has shocked and dismayed their residents”, Ingram said.
An investigation into the case of Snowy Valleys by the NSW Boundaries Commission recommended that the demerger should go ahead, he added. “Furthermore, NSW Deputy Premier and Nationals leader John Barilaro and his Nationals colleague Cootamundra MP Steph Cook demanded in June that the state government split the Cootamundra-Gundagai Regional Council.”
DNA supporter Katrina Pearson said, “the issue will not go away until democracy is restored and polls are held, either by councils voting to hold a poll, as the Inner West has done, or after the next state election by parliament setting up a legislative process”. The Inner West Council decided in May to hold a poll on de-amalgamation, giving residents a direct say in what should happen next.
The DNA has sent a letter to all councillors in amalgamated councils asking them to support motions for a residents’ demerger poll at the local government elections on December 4. The DNA has also sent letters to NSW parliamentary parties asking for their policy and urging them to support giving residents a direct say.
Labor’s shadow minister for local government Greg Warren said on September 24 that the merger policy was a “dismal failure” and that the operating performance ratio (OPR) — which compares a council’s operating expenditure and operating income — bore this out. He said the government data shows that four of the 10 worst performing councils were merged councils — including Cootamundra-Gundagai — while another four were featured in the top 20 worst performing councils.
The DNA said, should residents vote for a demerger at the December elections, the newly elected councils must then put a demerger proposal to the minister. It said recent amendments to the Local Government Act had “decreed that the cost of any demerger through that process would be funded by the NSW government”.
[If you would like to stay in touch or support the work of the Demerge NSW Alliance, email firstname.lastname@example.org.]