In a decision that surprised everyone, the Premier, Ms Berejiklian confirmed on Tuesday that the 20 Councils already merged would stay merged and the government would go ahead with the five merger proposals for Sydney based councils currently pursuing court action.
However, merger proposals for regional councils not yet merged will be abandoned, including the merger of Orange, Blayney and Cabonne councils.
Regional mergers already completed, for example Dubbo and Wellington, will stay that way.
This effectively means that only those non city councils who chose to fight mergers in the courts (including Cabonne) will be allowed to continue to stand alone.
This represents a partial win for NSW National Party leader, John Barilaro, who vowed to overturn regional council mergers after he replaced Troy Grant as Nationals Leader following the disastrous Nationals showing in the Orange by-election.
It was thought that Barilaro would win approval for councils already merged to vote to de-amalgamate via a plebiscite.
However, mergers completed, including in his own electorate of Monaro (Queanbeyan/Palerang, Yass and Bega) and the nearby merger of Dubbo / Wellington and Harden / Boorowa / Young (around National’s Katrina Hodgkinson’s electorate) will not be undone.
Barilaro and Hodgkinson will come under pressure from anti amalgamation groups at the next State election in 2019. The Labor Party have pledged to undo any forced mergers via community plebiscites if elected in 2019.
Ms Berejiklian has accepted the decision to differentiate between city and regional councils will cause problems in upcoming city by-elections, including North Sydney, following the resignation of Mike Baird. Ms Berejiklian justified the partial backdown as an acknowledgement the government’s “one size fits all model” was the wrong approach.
She said evidence had shown the benefits in Sydney were “about six times greater than they are outside of Sydney”. “There is no doubt that the circumstances we have in Sydney, in relation to reforming local government, are very different to the issues outside of Sydney.”
In a comment that will make regional eyes roll Ms Berejiklian said “Had we had our time over, we would have naturally dealt with councils in Sydney very differently to councils outside of Sydney.”
An ecstatic Cabonne Mayor Ian Gosper has welcomed the announcement that the NSW Government will not proceed with a proposed merger with Orange and Blayney Councils, describing the decision as a great victory for local democracy.
Cr Gosper said the decision vindicated Cabonne’s stand against the forced amalgamation and the subsequent legal action the Council took.
“We have always stood up for the majority of Cabonne residents who have made it very clear over the past four years that they are strongly opposed to any amalgamation,” he said. “Our communities indicated they are worried about the lack of rural or small town representation an amalgamation with a city council may deliver. “Cabonne residents let the Government know that in last November’s Orange by-election.
I have no doubt the opposition to the merger was the major reason the Nationals lost one of their safest seats – a defeat that led to the resignation of then the Nationals leader Troy Grant.”
Cr Gosper thanked Cabonne residents who had strongly supported the Council’s amalgamation fight, particularly the ANTY (Amalgamation No Thank You) group which waged a high profile campaign against the proposal. He also paid tribute to Nationals leader John Barilaro, whose promise last month to end further mergers in the bush forced the new Berejiklian Government to reconsider its amalgamations policy. “When Mr Barilaro replaced Troy Grant he met with Cabonne Council and community representatives. He promised to listen to our concerns and have ‘a good, hard look’ at council mergers,” the Mayor said.
And, he did!