14 September 2023

Snowy Valleys demerger business case heads for minister's desk

| Edwina Mason
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people holding protest placards and posters opposing the merger of Tumbarumba and Tumut shires

The forced merger of Tumbarumba and Tumut shires into Snowy Valleys in 2016 gave rise to local civil unrest with the Save Tumba Shire “Orange Army” staging public protests. Image: Save Tumba Shire.

Snowy Valleys Council has submitted its de-amalgamation business case to the NSW Minister for Local Government Ron Hoenig, marking the second official bid to have the former council areas of Tumut and Tumbarumba restored.

The announcement came on Wednesday (13 September), seven years after the two shires were forcibly merged into the mega council known as Snowy Valleys, a move that has long been vehemently opposed by residents.

Tumut and Tumbarumba were among 44 shire councils in NSW that were compulsorily integrated into 20 mega councils by the state government in 2016, in its effort to streamline local government and bring about $2 billion in savings over 20 years across the state.

The immediate efforts of locals to have that decision reversed were defeated by Local Government Minister Shelley Hancock, who in July 2021 denied them a demerger despite recommendations to the contrary from her own advisory body, the NSW Local Government Boundaries Commission (LGBC).

At the time, the minister said reports from the LGBC lacked the information necessary to determine whether each of the councils could demerge.

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Just 12 months later – in August 2022 – after Minister Hancock’s predecessor Wendy Tuckerman greenlit the dissolution of Cootamundra-Gundagai Regional Council (CGRC), citing escalating tensions between the Cootamundra and Gundagai communities, Snowy Valleys Council moved again, voting in favour of preparation of a business case.

Snowy Valleys mayor Ian Chaffey said the council commissioned Newcastle University academic Professor Joseph Drew to prepare the business case looking at all the options, impediments and opportunities that existed for a demerger.

The new submission heading to the minister’s desk will include a copy of Professor Drew’s report, Snowy Valleys Council – Evidence Regarding Advantages and Disadvantages of De-amalgamation, as well as an overview summary.

Presented to the Tumut and Tumbarumba communities at public meetings in April, that report recommended, on the balance of evidence, that Snowy Valleys Council should be de-amalgamated as quickly as possible.

Professor Drew said the continued risk posed to the mental and physical well-being of staff, representatives and the community arising from the unsuitable configuration of the local government area demanded urgent redress.

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Cr Chaffey said the new submission was necessary to provide certainty for the community and council staff.

“The stress levels of the community and staff warrant that the de-amalgamation proposal be determined promptly,” he said.

“The council is of the opinion that Professor Drew’s report clearly articulates the views and concerns of a significant number of residents and ratepayers.”

Meanwhile, progress on the Cootamundra-Gundagai Regional Council demerger – according to the official roadmap – should be well underway towards its goal of a May 2024 operational stop, in time for the September 2024 local government elections.

CGRC mayor Cr Charlie Sheahan said the minister was expecting a legal response to the proposed process later this week and he would know more after that regarding the matter moving forward.

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