21 July 2021

Hancock says no to demergers 'due to lack of information'

| Edwina Mason
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Save Tumbarumba Shire and Gundagai Council in Exile

Save Tumbarumba Shire and Gundagai Council in Exile’s years of campaigning have ended in a no from NSW Local Government Minister Shelley Hancock. Photo: Save Tumbarumba Shire.

Snowy Valleys and Cootamundra Gundagai Councils will not be allowed to demerge, with the NSW Local Government Minister Shelley Hancock instead turning her attention to a review of the Local Government Boundaries Commission (LGBC).

The minister has said reports from the LGBC lacked the information necessary to determine whether each of the councils could demerge.

Shelley Hancock

NSW Minister for Local Government Shelley Hancock. Photo: Supplied.

“The reports do not provide a clear consensus on the issue of demerging and do not provide me with the necessary confidence to make these important decisions,” she said.

“The NSW Government will not proceed with the demerger proposals for Cootamundra-Gundagai Regional and Snowy Valleys councils,” she added.

The NSW Government has now announced an independent statutory review into the LGBC whose function is to examine and report on any matter referred to it by the minister in relation to the boundaries of local government areas and the areas of operation of county councils.

The review will examine the effectiveness of the membership composition, functions and processes of the Local Government Boundaries Commission.

The commission’s four existing members are chairman Bob Sendt, Grant Gleeson, Temora mayor Councillor Rick Firman and Burwood Council deputy mayor Cr Lesley Furneaux-Cook.

Mr Sendt was nominated for the position by the Minister for Local Government. Mr Gleeson, director, legal at the Office of Local Government, was nominated by his chief executive. Councillors Firman and Furneaux-Cook were nominated by a Local Government NSW panel.

A reviewer will be announced shortly.

READ MORE Towns sweat on demerger decision ahead of local government elections

Six weeks out from the 4 September NSW Local Government elections, Ms Hancock said the decision provided “both councils with certainty and a plan for the future”.

Not so, according to Cootamundra-Gundagai mayor Abb McAllister, who is apoplectic.

Cr McAllister (second from left) has led a series of delegations to the NSW Parliament. Photo: Supplied.

“They didn’t even do the courtesy of calling me; I’ve heard from everyone else,” he said.

“We asked the minister to look at this, then she asked the Boundaries Commission – the people who report back to her – to look at it and to come up with this as a response. This is just a joke.

“As long as we have been fighting this battle, we have given her everything in terms of information, we have laid it out in front of her, and when that wasn’t enough, she asked for an independent review, which took another, what, 18 months?

“I’m filthy,” Cr McAllister said.

“Our community has been treated with contempt by them holding onto that report for five months, and this decision treats them with total contempt.

“We’ll go on – we’ve already lost $28 million, we’ve just hit the ratepayers with 53.5 per cent over four years, our long-term view is that we’ll lose $17.5 million in the next 10 years but don’t worry about our people – just keep hitting them up again,” he said.

Cr McAllister said the minister hasn’t heard the last of this.

“We’ll keep fighting this,” he said. “Don’t you worry about that!”

The decision comes after years of campaigning by the Gundagai Council in Exile and Save Tumbarumba Shire.

Snowy Valleys Council CEO Matthew Hyde said today’s announcement by the minister follows significant and ongoing community discussion, focus and action since the amalgamation decision in 2016.

“Council acknowledges the minister’s decision, but I recognise the decision may not be welcomed by all parts of the Snowy Valleys community,” he said.

“However, the decision has now been made, and we will continue to operate as Snowy Valleys Council in the best interests of the community.”

READ MORE Barilaro supports call to delay council elections until demerger decision

He implored the community and lobby groups to acknowledge that the determination rests with the state government and to take up any issues with them directly, leaving staff to continue to deliver services.

“We do not have any clear direction on the details surrounding the Local Government Amendment Act and de-amalgamation, aside from the fact that a council can resolve to undertake the process,” he said.

“The minister’s decision means that any further work to progress a de-amalgamation will have to be addressed by the new council; however, we are yet to receive any guidance from the Minister and Office of Local Government about how this action could be progressed,” Mr Hyde added.

A comment had not yet been forthcoming from Save Tumbarumba Shire.

The Boundaries Commission reports into the Cootamundra-Gundagai Regional and Snowy Valleys councils are available at the Office of Local Government.

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