A new coalition of residents and community groups from across NSW, including those from Hilltops, Gundagai, Tumbarumba and Bombala, are supporting councils seeking to demerge after the NSW Government forced amalgamations in 2016.
Launched on Tuesday (9 November), behind the NSW Parliament in Sydney and beneath the Tree of Knowledge, the group has stated it will back individuals and politicians who commit to giving their community a say on demerging in upcoming council and state by-elections.
The Demerge NSW Alliance (DNA) say a large number of the merged councils are now failing to deliver financially, services have declined and rates are rising.
Spokesperson and former Bombala Council director and Save Bombala president Grantley Ingram, said that in 2020, 60 per cent of the merged councils were in deficit — not in surplus, with the estimated $2 billion in savings by the NSW Government not evident.
“Eight of the merged councils — 40 per cent — applied for special rate increases for 2022 compared with just two of the councils which were not forcibly merged,” he said.
“After five years of merged councils, communities remain angry about the remoteness of the mega councils, the rate increases, the failure to deliver financially and lack of representation,” he said.
“They want their local councils back.”
Mr Ingram said the NSW Local Government Act was amended this year to allow councils to follow a pathway to demerge, with the new law also stating the NSW Government will pay for any demerger.
He said the NSW Minister for Local Government Shelley Hancock had rejected the Tumbarumba community’s demerger proposal – which the NSW Boundaries Commission supported – without giving any reason.
“In Gundagai and Cootamundra, the minister rejected the demerger proposal supported by the then leader of the Nationals, John Barilaro, and the local member Steph Cooke — again no reason was given,” Mr Ingram explained.
“Bombala once had their own council with $10 million in the bank and a community that knew where they belonged,” he said.
“Now we’ve got a disaster that has a cumulative debt of more than $20 million and we now live in a place called the Snowy Monaro region.”
He said Shelley Hancock had ignored the wishes of the community, the government’s own process and its own party members.
“Any demergers must be supported by the majority of the community and the government must respect the wishes of the community.
The gathering was also attended by placard-brandishing Demerge Gundagai, Save Tumbarumba Shire and Save our Council NSW representatives, as well as Labor Shadow Local Government Minister Greg Warren, Greens MLC David Shoebridge, Shooters, Fishers and Farmers MP Robert Borsak and NSW Member for Wagga Dr Joe McGirr.
All these MPs support councils demerging if communities want that and supported the new legislation, Mr Ingram said.
Sydney’s Inner West Mayor Rochelle Porteous said she was proud her council would be holding a demerger poll at the December 4 local government elections while efforts to hold a similar poll in Snowy Monaro and Queanbeyan-Palerang resulted in split votes, with both mayors voting them down.
In Hilltops, councillor Matt Stadmiller said his notice of motion requesting a poll was rejected by his fellow councillors in September.
The DNA has undertaken to support candidates in upcoming council elections who commit to giving their community a say on demerging, support MPs committed to enacting legislative changes to introduce binding plebiscites on demerging and campaign at upcoming state by-elections and promote candidates who support demergers.
Mr Ingram said DNA would immediately swing into action behind the Yes campaign for the Inner West council.
“After that, we will be on the by-election campaign trail,” he said.
“I’m here to tell you today this group is not going away,” Mr Ingram said.
Last week, the NSW electoral commissioner warned funding constraints may delay a host of by-elections to replace outgoing MPs until mid-February.