Media Release: Dark Day for Local Democracy

18 Dec 2015

It’s been one of the worst-kept secrets in NSW history, but today’s announcement on forced council amalgamations has set a number of communities on the warpath with the Baird Government.
Premier Mike Baird and Local Government Minister Paul Toole today released maps proposing a reduction of NSW councils from 152 to 112. Regional councils would decrease from 109 to 87, while metropolitan councils would decrease from 43 to 25.
However, some councils found “fit” to stand alone under the Government’s own criteria are slated for forced amalgamation, while a voluntary merger proposal by Cootamundra and Harden councils has been overruled in favour of a different approach.
Local Government NSW President Keith Rhoades said the final number of amalgamations was significantly less than originally planned by the Government - testament to the strong voice of the sector and local communities.
“It’s also a win that the Government has agreed to follow the review process set down in the Local Government Act, instead of the wholesale sackings they floated earlier this year,” Local Government NSW President Keith Rhoades said.
“LGNSW will continue to hold the Government to account throughout this process, which must be followed to the letter if the Minister wishes to avoid legal challenges.
“But it’s important to note that even though the review process offers an opportunity for community input, the Minister is in no way bound by its findings or recommendations, or that of the Boundaries Commission.
“As long as it has ticked all the procedural boxes as set out in the Act, the Government can essentially proceed to forced amalgamations at will.”
Clr Rhoades said the announcement had come as a shock to some councils who were confident they would not be forcibly merged – and to councils which had invested significant time and effort in developing and submitting a voluntary amalgamation proposal.
And he said the Government’s oft-repeated claims that the decision follows years and years of consultation was a misrepresentation at best.
“This whole process has run off track since the initial coming together of the State and Local Government to nut out reform that would genuinely benefit the residents and ratepayers of NSW.
“Back then, the Coalition Government committed itself in writing to no forced amalgamations, and worked collegiately with councils to come up with wide-ranging reforms which would resolve systemic funding problems such as cost-shifting and rate exemptions.
“Now, it’s clear for all to see this bully-boy farce is about removing genuine local representation, and completely ignoring the expressed wishes of local communities.
“It’s a cruel joke, and unfortunately the joke is on the people of NSW because they are the ones likely to lose any meaningful input on the issues that impact on their day-to-day lives.”
Cr Rhoades said today’s announcement would have a real political price – both for the State Government, and for Federal MPs who will go to the polls in 2016.
“Community anger over a potential forced amalgamation resulted in a 14% swing against the Liberal Party in the recent Federal by-election for the seat of North Sydney,” he said.
“There are currently a lot of Coalition electorates at both the State and Federal levels with margins far slimmer than that.”
Media Enquiries
LGNSW President, Cr Keith Rhoades AFSM: 0408 256 405
Media Toni Allan: 0412 774 441