July 31 - August 6, 2022: Issue 548


Proposals For De-Amalgamation Of Merged Councils Increase: protect Pittwater members to attend august 9 rally

Community members from merged councils across the state will be in Sydney on August 9th to hear state Labor’s position on the future of merged councils. In addition to the Labor party there will be speakers from the Greens, Shooters Fishers and Farmers as well Independent MP’s and Councillors. 

The rally is being jointly organised by the Demerge NSW Alliance and Residents for De-amalgamation and will be held outside Parliament House in Macquarie Street commencing at 1.00 pm.

Councillors in merged councils are also being invited to attend to hear what is happening in other merged councils. Rate rises and cost of living pressures are expected to feature on the day as well as the outcome of the Cootamundra - Gundagai demerger proposal.

“Our groups are also hearing from frustrated councillors who are being locked out of decisions by voting blocks that have formed in many merged councils” Save Bombala President, Mr Grantley Ingram said.

The business case for the demerger of the Inner West Council is also expected to be discussed as well as the outcome from the Canterbury Bankstown Council demerger report currently being considered by that council. 

“We are very pleased to have Shadow Minister for Local Government Greg Warren open the proceedings”, Mr Ingram said. “Labor have been solid in their commitment to holding binding plebiscites to let the community decide on the future of their council and I am looking forward to hearing from the shadow minister on this.” Mr Ingram concluded.

Pittwater Council Councillor Sue Young, who was sacked by the state government when the three councils of Manly, Warringah and Pittwater were forcibly amalgamated on May 12th 2016, said this week;

''Residents wishing their merged councils de-amalgamate will be heartened by last week’s Boundaries Commission report recommending the de-amalgamation of Cootamundra-Gundagai Regional Council. The Minister for Local Government has 28 days to respond. 

Also, last week Canterbury-Bankstown Council voted to prepare a business case to de-amalgamate. The Inner West Council is conducting community consultation on its business case after a 62.5% YES vote to demerge in a poll held at the 2021 council election.

Please come and join the Keep Councils Local rally organised by Residents for De-amalgamation and the Demerge NSW Alliance at 1PM on Tuesday August 9 in front of NSW Parliament House. Pittwater banners and t-shirts will be available.

With a state election early next year. Now is the time to act.''

Sue Young at Demerge NSW Alliance (DNA) launch. Photo: Peter Boyle

The amalgamation was opposed by 89% of Pittwater residents. Pittwater Council had passed a resolution on April 18, 2016 to take immediate legal action over the forced amalgamation on the grounds of lack of procedural fairness, absence of a full public inquiry, denial of natural justice and failure to release the full contents of the state govts KPMG report recommending council mergers.

However, an extraordinary general meeting was called for April 21, with less than 24 hours notice, and two councillors away. The decision of three days earlier was overturned at this meeting – with only Councillors Sue Young and Bob Grace voting to support the original motion. 

This meant the merger of the three local councils could proceed unchallenged and reduced Pittwater representation from a standalone council of nine to three Pittwater councillors on a local government of 15.  

The Protect Pittwater Association was formed to reinstate Pittwater Council and has since delivered an official demerger proposal to the NSW government  in 2018, and finally heard in 2021 that they needed to get signatures from 10% of residents of the newly created council area, not the former LGA, as they had previously been advised.

Proposals for demergers of the Snowy Valleys Council and Cootamundra-Gundagai Regional Council were submitted to the state government about the same time as Pittwater’s. They were also knocked back because of insufficient signatures, but within a much shorter time frame, enabling them to progress more quickly.  

Then Local Government Minister Shelley Hancock referred their proposals to the Boundaries Commission.

On July 28th, 2022 Wendy Tuckerman – Minister for Local Government announced the Boundaries Commission reports on the demerger Cootamundra-Gundagai Regional Council had been released.

''I have received and published the Local Government Boundaries Commission reports on the proposed demerger of Cootamundra-Gundagai Regional Council.

In line with my statutory obligations, I will now consider the recommendations from the independent Commission and respond to the demerger proposal in due course.

The Government must provide a written response to the recommendations from the Commission within 28 days of receiving the reports.'' the NSW Minister for Local Government said in an issued statement

On May 13th, 2021 the NSW government wrote a new opportunity for fully funded council demergers, updating local government laws to allow for council-initiated proposals within a fixed time frame. 

Save Our Councils Coalition vice president Sue Young said then that under changes passed by both Houses of the NSW Parliament in the Local Government Amendment Bill 2021, councils amalgamated in 2016 would be able to launch demerger bids within 10 years of their establishment. 

The cost of any de-amalgamation of the new area resulting from a business case submitted under the new provision would be fully funded by the state government, Ms Young said.  

However, she questioned the usefulness of the amendment unless a majority of councillors supported a demerger. 

“The amendment may not be a viable pathway for Pittwater residents wanting to de-amalgamate from the Northern Beaches Council,” Ms Young said. 

“I consider the benefit for Pittwater is that the community proposal should be treated in the same manner as a proposal from an amalgamated council and fully funded by the government, with limits on response and processing times.” 

Protect Pittwater president Bob Grace welcomed the development but said locals wanting to demerge from Northern Beaches Council should take matters into their own hands. 

“We must determine our own destiny and fight to demerge Pittwater,” Mr Grace said. “We can’t wait around for a majority of Northern Beaches councillors to recognise the failure of the council and initiate a de-amalgamation. 

“Anyone who wants Pittwater back should sign our petition, which is currently the only realistic route for a demerger.”   

May 12th, 2022 marked six years since the state government forcibly amalgamated Wyong and Gosford Councils. The Central Coast Council was placed under administration in October 2020 and residents there will not get to vote for representation until September 14th, 2024. 

There are calls for de-amalgamation there as well.

The Central Coast Friends of Democracy (CCFoD) is also calling on the NSW Government to pay the $100M it says is owed to fund the real cost of the merger and conduct a poll about the future of Central Coast Council.

“On May 12, 2016, the NSW Liberal Government merged Gosford and Wyong Councils to become Central Coast Council,” CCFoD Coordinator and former Mayor, Jane Smith, said.

“Six years later, staff have been sacked, rates are rising, community assets have been sold, services have been cut and local democracy has been taken from our community.”

Ms Smith said by October, 2020, the failures of the NSW Government merger process were clear.

“The 20 amalgamated councils around NSW faced losses of $1.03B in three years and ratepayers faced hikes in rates and cuts in services,” she said.

“Eight out of 10 of the worst performing councils in NSW were merged councils.

“In May 2021, IPART determined rate increases for seven merged councils ranging from 8 per cent to 53 per cent.

“The NSW Government must answer questions about its failed council mergers across the state.”

Ms Smith said CCFoD is calling for: The NSW Government to pay the $100M it owes the Central Coast community and the Council to cover the true cost of its forced amalgamation; the NSW Government to hold a poll to ask the community if they want to stay as one Central Coast Council or demerge whilst maintaining some shared services; and the Parliamentary Inquiry into the 2016 mergers, as promised by NSW Labor, to proceed before the state election in March, 2023.

“In November, 2020, Greg Warren, NSW Shadow Minister for Local Government, said the Opposition, with support from the cross benches, would establish a parliamentary inquiry into the failing merger process and identify options the government must take to repair the damage done to councils and their communities,” Smith said.

“For the Central Coast, staff estimated the true cost of the merger process in the order of $100M – but the NSW Government provided only $10M for the process.

“In contrast, the State Government used the Stronger Communities Fund, intended for merged Councils, to give $90 to Hornsby Council which was not merged.

“There are questions of integrity around that decision and the Stronger Communities Fund.”

Ms Smith said the Central Coast community has been treated with contempt.

“The Public Inquiry into Central Coast Council provided very few answers for our community and ended up being a ‘tick a box’ exercise to allow the NSW Government to remove our local democracy,” she said.

“The figure of $565M debt has been used to create a false narrative.

“Improvements were necessary but claims of budget mismanagement and deficits have been contradicted in comments from independent experts on Council’s Audit, Risk and Improvement Committee.”

Ms Smith said communities around NSW are calling for the right to reclaim their councils.

“A poll at the 2021 Inner West Council election resulted in 62 per cent of the community wanting to de-merge,” she said.

“In 2021, Cootamundra-Gundagai Council resolved to submit a proposal for a demerger which the Boundaries Commission is currently considering.

“This follows the merger experience in Queensland where council amalgamations took place in 2008.

“Although some were considered successes, four council areas (Noosa, Douglas, Livingstone and Mareeba) were de-merged in 2014 after referendums were held.”

Former Mayor Jane Smith said the Central Coast community deserves to have a say about the future of its Council.

CCFoD has established a community survey on the future of Council and a petition calling on the Premier to deliver $100M to cover amalgamation costs. These can also be found at: www.ccfriendsofdemocracy.com.

In the same vein Save Bombala community members released a Media Statement on April 22nd 2022 which reads:

Forced Mergers Blamed for Increased Costs / Deficits

Snowy Monaro Regional Council recorded a record annual deficit of $24.8 M last financial year and are on track to deliver another sizable deficit this year.

Save Bombala President Grantley Ingram said “we must address the long-term solution which I believe is to demerge”

Local group Snowy Monaro Advocates are calling on Local Government Minister Wendy Tuckerman to intervene before SMRC ends up like the Central Coast Council disaster. The Minister recently dismissed the councillors from the merged Central Coast Council over the financial crisis that saw the state government provide over $6M in emergency funds to pay wages after the council was unable to do so.

“Councils do go broke and inevitably the community are left to pay the cost” Mr Ingram said. ”Now that the state government, by law, must pay the cost of demerging SMRC must give serious consideration to the financial benefits a fully funded demerger would deliver to our communities.”

At last week’s meeting SMRC resolved to allocate a $10 000 budget to prepare a scope for an independent financial audit to be undertaken by an external consultancy.

“I believe the $10 000 would be better spent on preparing the business case for a demerger to identify how much the Minister must pay to fix this mess and restore our councils back to their pre-merger state” Mr Ingram concluded.

The following posters were forwarded to support the ongoing work of residents to return Pittwater Council: