Vote dumped

February 17, 2017

A proposal to review and possibly de-merge amalgamated councils has been abandoned by the NSW Government.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced on Tuesday afternoon ‘‘all merged councils across New South Wales will remain in place’’.

It comes just two weeks after she suggested plebiscites could be considered for merged council areas.

In a joint press release with her deputy John Barilaro and Minister for Local Government Gabrielle Upton, Ms Berejiklian said upholding the mergers would allow ‘‘communities to continue to enjoy the benefits of savings and improvements to services’’.

In the same announcement, the trio confirmed they would be abandoning forced mergers of regional councils currently fighting the decision in courts.

Sydney-based mergers, also currently in the courts, will be progressed as planned, the Premier stated.

Former Conargo Shire councillor and now Edward River Council local representative committee member Donald Henderson Jr said residents of his former shire would find the decision ‘‘disappointing’’.

"It’s the same word he used to describe the government’s decision to merge Conargo with Deniliquin Council in the first place,’’ he said.

‘‘It is typical of the government up there — they don’t listen and they don’t visit. I doubt they would even know where Conargo is.

‘‘It is terribly disappointing (to have been forced to merge) when we had done everything in our power to run a good council.

‘‘The Premier should have the courage to come here and tell us why (she abandoned the plebiscite proposal), just as (former premier) Mike Baird should have done when he implemented them.

‘‘It’s easy to make decisions for communities seven hours away if you don’t have to face them.’’

Mr Henderson suggested this latest ‘backflip’ from the NSW Government would be another blight on the Coalition’s record.

‘‘They should be starting to take notice.

‘‘Surely the outcome of the Orange by-election and the changes to the party that followed was a wake up call, and if it wasn’t they really have their heads in the sand.’’

Edward River Council Administrator Ashley Hall said the decision to abandon de-merger proposals meant councils could get on with the job at hand.

‘‘We’ve come so far since the May 2016 proclamation and to put a potential plebiscite in peoples’ minds created some uncertainty.

‘‘I can understand why people may have welcomed a vote, but I think we have been working together effectively and put in a lot of hard work.

‘‘In reality, in the long term, I think this merger will be as good for Conargo residents as it is for Deniliquin, and I think Edward River Council will be a very powerful council in years to come.’’

Mr Hall said with councillor elections coming up in September, the focus is on developing a good platform for the new council.

With the plebiscite off the table, former Murray Shire mayor Tom Weyrich has backed calls for councillor elections to be brought forward.

His former shire was merged with Wakool Shire to form Murray River Council.

Former Conargo Shire mayor Norm McAllister has written to the Premier and Ms Upton also calling for elections to be held as soon as possible, and not delayed until September as planned.

Mr Weyrich said the whole merger process ‘‘has been disastrous from start to finish, and we need our democracy restored.

‘‘We need to be treated with a little bit of respect.

‘‘These mergers don’t really appear to be good for anyone expect the NSW Government, and collateral damage is all we are.’’

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