"Save Our Councils Coalition (SOCC) was formed two years ago in opposition to the state government's forced mergers of local councils. We believe in local democracy," Carolyn Corrigan from SOCC told a rally outside the office of resigned Liberal MP Julia Skinner on February 5.
"Forced council amalgamations are a stitch-up. Big business and big developers are behind it. We want the stitch-up to be ripped up," she added, to rousing applause.
SOCC spokesperson Phil Jenkyn added, "Forced amalgamation is a deeply flawed process. Let's end this quickly.
"There's no need for plebiscites to resolve this. We say, get on with it and withdraw all the forced mergers."
Other speakers included David Shoebridge from the Greens; Peter Primrose from NSW Labor; Fred Nile from the Christian Democrats; Robert Borsak from the Shooters and Fishers Party; and other independent councillors. All supported an immediate end to the forced amalgamations of all councils in NSW.
After a meeting between SOCC representatives and new local government minister Gabrielle Upton on February 6, Jenkyn said the group conveyed their position that all 11 proposed mergers be abandoned and for the 20 merged councils to be de-merged.
Jenkyn said SOCC strongly rejected the option of plebiscites in communities where merger proposals are pending. He said the plebiscites made "no political sense" and the proposals must be "taken off the table straight away".
The SOCC has pledged to campaign heavily against the government in the looming North Shore byelection, caused by Skinner's resignation. An independent candidate backed by SOCC could be a real threat to the Liberals in that seat, with SOCC promising a “Put the Libs Last” campaign more broadly in future polls.
Meanwhile, hundreds of country residents picketed the Queanbeyan office of Deputy Premier and NSW Nationals leader John Barilaro on February 10. Busloads of protesters from Gundagai, Tumbarumba, Cootamundra, Harden, Young and Boorowa gathered to demand an immediate end to forced council mergers.