The State government contemplates ditching forced amalgamations

Related content: Great Lakes, Taree and Gloucester councils to merge

Newly anointed premier Gladys Berejiklian has only been in the top job for a matter of weeks and she already has to contend with a leaky cabinet.

Rumours are swirling she plans to dump her predecessor’s controversial policy of forcing NSW councils to amalgamate.

Ms Berejiklian is apparently planning to abandon the amalgamation of councils – including 29 councils fighting mergers in court – and is thinking about reversing the amalgamation process set up by Mike Baird.

There also is talk a plebiscite would be held later this year when merged councils go to the polls giving local ratepayers the opportunity to vote on the seemingly unpopular issue.

Former Great Lakes councillor, Jim Morwitch, believes a case exists for unwinding the forced merger of Great Lakes, Greater Taree and Gloucester councils.

In late January Mr Morwitch forwarded a detailed submission to the premier, deputy premier and Minister for Local Government Premier and forwarded a copy to local member Stephen Bromhead.

“I believe that agreement to this proposal to de-merge MidCoast Council would demonstrate the Nationals’ commitment to constituents in this part of regional NSW,” Mr Morwitch said.

“My proposal constructively deals with an important long term structural issue for this region warranting urgent and favourable action.

“Although public reports indicate the merger, eight months on, is proceeding well administratively I strongly object  to the overbearing government approach leading up to and ultimately enforcing the merger.

“Politically difficult issues of administration and  finance should not be a barrier to responsible corrective action.”

Despite resounding ratepayer opposition to the proposed merger, the government went ahead with the amalgamation of the three councils into a so-called super council.

Former Great Lakes councillor and proud Stroud resident, Karen Hutchinson believed the community would be ecstatic if the State government reversed its decision.

“The community felt they were not listened to during the community consultation process,” Ms Hutchinson said.

She said Great Lakes councillors thought they were being punished because Great Lakes was deemed ‘fit for the future’.

She equated the government’s response to being in the classroom and getting the cane for doing the right thing.

One-time mayor Jan McWilliams believed MidCoast Council would continue to operate at lease until the 2019-2020 local council elections.

“You can’t unscramble eggs,” Ms McWilliams said.

“We are too far down the track; I can’t see it happening.

“But, I would prefer to stand alone.”

However, Ms McWilliam said she would continue to lobby the State government to reverse the previous premier’s decision and to return autonomy to the Great Lakes.

She said if the government made a decision to reverse the forced amalgamation of Great Lakes, Greater Taree and Gloucester it would be along similar lines of those in Queensland – 3-4 years after local government elections.

Ms McWilliams refuted the State government’s claim the amalgamation of three councils into the MidCoast super councils is a success, saying ‘there are a lot of unhappy people around’.

This story Government could ditch forced amalgamations first appeared on Great Lakes Advocate.