23 March 2023

Demerger, HumeLink and disaster plans top Snowy Valleys state election wish list

| Edwina Mason
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Protesters with placards

There’s one big wish list item residents of Snowy Valleys local government area seek from the 25 March state election, a demerger. But with feet in two electorates, the devil will be in the detail. Photo: Save Tumbarumba Shire Inc.

This weekend lean in with a microscope to examine the election outcomes for the state seats of Albury and Riverina as voters around Tumbarumba head to the polls with a demerger topping a critical mass wish list of needs.

Principally in the northern reaches of the Justin Clancy-held Albury electorate – a traditionally Liberal stronghold – the predominantly rural community still look out to a largely charred landscape that is the result of the 2019-2020 Black Summer bushfires.

But while billions are being thrown their way to fix what was broken and burnt, many – including the local mayor Cr Ian Chaffey – say that in a future where flood, fire and drought will arrive with greater force and frequency, assurances towards a prevention rather than a recovery plan are critical.

Here where agriculture melds into the western Snowy Mountains, farmers sweating bullets over Transgrid’s planned installation of aboveground electricity transmission towers across prime agricultural land which, to any tourist or proud local, would, productivity losses aside, maraud some of the most breathtaking views in the state.

Mayor Chaffey says any incoming government should see the long-term environmental and cost benefits of the locally desired outcome which is an underground solution to Transgrid’s Humelink transmission network.

READ ALSO Cost of living tops concerns as Monaro voters flag grassroots issues in election run-up

And anyone with money to bank is hard pressed to find a branch anywhere close, even Tumbarumba which has seen the loss of Westpac, ANZ and National Australia Bank branches in recent years; but that’s one thing, says the mayor, but not if getting to town is a chore.

“We’re always just catching up with the road networks out here,” he said, “but what’s the good of networks connecting towns with an eight tonne truck capacity when trucks 60 to 80 tonnes are using them?”

But there’s no matching the resentment a state government decision to merge two councils under one roof has created in their community.

In 2016 the two large shires of Tumut and Tumbarumba – each with their coterie of small villages – some of them not so small – Khancoban, Batlow, Talbingo and Adelong – were forcibly told to live under one roof called Snowy Valleys in the interests of a more streamlined means of governing locally that would result in $2 billion in savings over 20 years across NSW.

This amounted to a reversal of a Baird government promise that protected the local councils from such action, but, despite protests, Tumut and Tumba numbered among 44 existing NSW councils who would be forcibly merged into 20 mega councils by Baird’s successor Paul Toole.

Tumbarumba already had its protesters – the Orange Army – who rally their placard-carrying troops in times of great need, usually protests outside State Parliament or whenever the Local Government Boundaries Commission representatives are in town on one of their fact-finding missions.

Up there, roadside, fences, buildings, front yards, even cattle yards, bear the flaming banners of the Orange Army which simply say “DEMERGE!”.

Any savings for the state have splashed mud into the faces of the masses.

Last year the formerly individually relatively healthy councils of Tumut and Tumbarumba posted a $21m net loss with Snowy Valleys ratepayers required to step into the fray to keep it in motion through a 26 per cent special rate variation.

Mayor Chaffey said Snowy Valleys Council had voted in favour of preparation of a business case, capable of being submitted to the Minister for Local Government on the advantages and disadvantages of deamalgamation. This is likely to be finalised in April.

In the meantime, the mayor says, despair comes in the form of locals lamenting the truly local representation and connection that previously allowed them to engage with councillors on the street.

READ ALSO Lack of firefighters ignites pre-poll action

Justin Clancy has held Albury for the Liberals since 2018 and on 25 March faces challenges from six candidates in Greens’ Eli Davern, Asanki Fernando of the Animal Justice Party, Ross Hamilton from Sustainable Australia, Peter Sinclair from the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers and Liberal Democrats’ Geoffrey Robertson.

It’s been 35 years since Harold Mair ended his decade-long reign in Albury for Labor but in 2023 Marcus Rowland has focused campaign efforts along the border from Albury across to Mulwala. It’s an electorate that covers 16,286 square kilometres and doglegs up into the heart of the Riverina near Morundah.

Tumut, on the other hand, sits in the seat of Wagga Wagga, held by the Liberals since 1957, it was delivered into the hands of Independent MP Dr Joe McGirr after being vacated by Liberal Darryl McGuire who resigned in 2018, forcing a by-election.

Dr McGirr was re-elected in 2019.

Pundits suggest Dr McGirr should have no trouble retaining Wagga Wagga but it’ll be one to watch with him pitted against two Snowy Valleys councillors in Julie Ham for the Liberals and Tumut businesswoman Adrianna Benjamin for the Nationals.

Both candidates are under no illusion a demerger, HumeLink and the frequently lambasted local road network will loom large in voters’ minds this Saturday.

Another Wagga local Keryn Foley is Labor ‘s candidate while Christopher Smith carries the hopes of the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers, Raymond Gentles the Public Education Party and Ray Goodlass the Greens.

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