July 25 - 31, 2021: Issue 503


Pittwater residents will persevere in demerger campaign despite NSW government decision on other councils

July 24, 2021

Pittwater residents will persevere in the fight for a council demerger despite the NSW government ignoring resident’s wishes in two separately amalgamated council areas by refusing their proposals for demergers.  

NSW Local Government Minister Shelley Hancock announced on Tuesday that the boundaries of Snowy Valleys Council and Cootamundra-Gundagai Regional Council would  remain in place after their proposals for demergers had been assessed. 

The decision followed the assessments by the independently established Boundaries Commission into the proposals from the two separately amalgamated councils, which presented its reports into the mergers to the government in February.  

Mrs Hancock also announced on Tuesday an independent statutory review into the Local Government Boundaries Commission. 

The review would examine the effectiveness of the membership composition, functions and processes of the commission, the minister said. 

“The NSW Government will not proceed with the demerger proposals for Cootamundra-Gundagai Regional and Snowy Valleys councils,” Mrs Hancock said in a media release distributed to a limited number of outlets.    

“The reports do not provide a clear consensus on the issue of demerging and do not provide me with the necessary confidence to make these important decisions. 

“This provides both councils with certainty and a plan for the future.” 

However, the commission itself in the case of Snowy Valleys recommended the demerger should go ahead - with three commissioners for and one dissenting. 

In the case of Cootamundra Gundagai, the commission formally recommended against the demerger - after four commissioners were evenly split and the chair used their casting vote against. 

Save Our Councils Coalition president Brian Halstead today said that Mrs Hancock had totally disregarded the wishes of the communities as well as ignored the Boundary Commission’s recommendation by rejecting the Tumbarumba Proposal. 

The Boundary Commission had undertaken independent research into community attitudes which was contained in its reports, he said. 

The figures for agree and strongly agree to demerge were 88 per cent in the former Tumbarumba Shire and 51 per cent in Tumut Shire. 

In the former Gundagai Shire they were recorded at 82 per cent for, and 70 per cent in Cootamundra Shire. 

“This shows the communities support the demergers and in some of the former council areas very strongly,” Mr Halstead said.

“That these attitudes continue five years after the amalgamations shows the strength of the feeling within the communities.”  

Mr Halstead said the anger within the communities could be seen in their social media posts (see below).  

SOCC continued to support communities being given a say in binding referendums on the demerger issue, he said.

It appeared that the minister’s decision had been delayed sufficiently that it would have been too late for the councils involved to seek a poll at the next local government elections - as is being carried out by the Inner West Council.

“Given that the local government elections have now been delayed, it may be possible for merged councils to seek a poll when they are held,” he said.

“In light of the minister’s treatment of the communities’ wishes, the best answer may be the reintroduction of the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party demerger bill that was previously defeated in the lower house last time.

“We would call on the two Nationals (NSW Deputy Premier) John Barilaro and Steph Cooke, who have stated their support for the demergers, to cross the floor and support their communities.”

Cootamundra MP MS Cooke is the Parliamentary Secretary for Regional Health, and the Nationals' Whip.

Mr Halstead said it did not appear that the Minister had detailed the reasons for her decision or the delay in coming to a decision.

The media release had been sent only to selected media and the Council, but was not sent to the community members who had made the proposal - which was disgraceful, he said.

"It is not clear what 'consensus' means (in the minister's statement) and how this decision provides a plan for the future," Mr Halstead said.

The Protect Pittwater Association issued a statement today condemning the government’s decision and its waste of public resources.

The residents of the former Tumbarumba, Tumut, Gundagai and Cootamundra Shires had jumped through the many hoops the NSW government had placed in front of them attempting to follow the legal process for a demerger.

“The NSW government ignored what the community wanted when it first amalgamated councils and it continues to do so,” the group said.

“The whole process has been marked by delays and now the government has ignored its own commission. On top of that, given an answer it didn’t like, it’s decided to call a review of that body.

“This has been an enormous waste of public money and the time of community members.

“Protect Pittwater will continue collecting signatures for our proposal but the only thing that will satisfy and give communities real certainty now are binding plebiscites in every former council area that has been amalgamated.”

UTS local government specialist Joseph Drew today told Northern Beaches Radio that the amalgamations were not working and demergers were inevitable.

Associate Professor Drew, from the Institute for Public Policy at UTS, said expenditure for amalgamated councils had increased on average by 11.2 per cent and for staff by 15 per cent compared to those of their constituent councils.

That compared to estimates by the government’s advisors on the mergers, KPMG, who had said costs would go down.

Amalgamations creating larger councils had led to the need for additional staff, particularly in middle management, and harmonisations, where the highest individual levels of service from previous councils would be adopted across the whole of a merged authority. 

“People (in the NSW government) relied on amateur work done by paid consultants and ignored the peer reviewed work that was available,” Assoc. Prof Drew told interviewer Michael Lester.

Central Coast Council was already in administration and another half dozen were also on the verge of collapse, he said.

“When there’s a change of government, some of these communities will seek justice and they’ll get it,” he said.

Miranda Korzy

Assoc. Prof Drew interview with Michael Lester available at: www.mixcloud.com/michael-lester5/council-amalgamations-revisited-evaluated-assoc-prof-joseph-drew-uts-public-policy-volunt180/

Why demerge Pittwater?

  • Undemocratic dismissal of Pittwater Council against the wishes of 89 per cent of Pittwater residents (as shown in a survey by the former council).
  • Amalgamation and creation of Northern Beaches Council without a vote by the community and separation of Pittwater residents into different wards.
  • Lack of self-determination for Pittwater residents – only three out of 15 councillors come from Pittwater, and they can be outvoted on any decision affecting our ward.
  • NBC in top 10 worst performing councils. LSI Consulting, October 2020, states NBC’s  accumulated losses were more than $103m since the merger. An analysis by Save Our Councils Coalition found a shortfall of $7.4m on the government’s proposed Operating Results before capital grants for 2018-19. This was even before Covid.
  • Pittwater business rate rises of 24 per cent have been passed and are being applied from July 1st by Northern Beaches Council.
  • Partial responsibility for Manly car park debt and building Collaroy seawall.
  • Pittwater budget approach different to NBC’s – we borrowed money under low interest rates to invest in community facilities to be paid off over time.
  • Unnecessary spending – eg council logo, garbage bins, too much cement.
  • Lack of spending on essential maintenance– eg potholes in roads, uneven footpaths. 
  • Loss of environmental focus at local level which was at the core of Pittwater Council: eg concrete being laid in parks and sensitive environmental zones; loss of trees; weed infestation in suburban streets, parks and bushland reserves. 
  • Lack of planning for sea level rise. 
  • Council-wide planning for Local Strategic Planning Statement and Local Environment Plan rather than ward by ward to highlight special features of each area - as Pittwater MP and Planning Minister Rob Stokes had indicated would be possible.
  • Council area and population too large – councillors making decisions about sites and issues in wards they aren’t familiar with; too big to represent discrete communities with vast differences in needs for housing, transport, environment, community facilities and culture from end to end.
  • Dysfunctional council – 2021 extraordinary meeting walkout; disrespectful behaviour in meetings and on social media. 
  • Lack of transparency – too many decisions made behind closed doors and infrequent meetings; staff making decisions and publishing them before council voting occurs. 
  • Enormous agendas for council meetings – often totalling 2,000 pages including appendices – impossible for most councillors, especially those with fulltime jobs, to read in allotted timeframe.
  • Long meetings, late at night, voting by exception and in political blocks likely to contribute to poor decision making.
  • Distance to council meetings at Dee Why.
  • Parking fiasco – demerger promise of one parking sticker but Manly and Palm Beach have new restrictions anyway.
  • Lack of support from NBC on state issues relevant to Pittwater – eg retaining emergency and acute services at Mona Vale Hospital; problems at Northern Beaches Hospital, including with Covid lockdown and crowded emergency room, show that having just one hospital was misguided; no push back on state government housing targets - in fact loading Pittwater to become a 'medium density' carrier of the load; transport.
  • COVID lockdown revealed community cohesion and cooperation in Pittwater - we are NOT the “Northern Northern Beaches” - WE ARE PITTWATER!

The Office of Local Government has advised Pittwater campaigners that the new petition will need 18,400 signatures to be considered. 

Supporters can find the link on Facebook on the Splittwater page or in the Protect Pittwater group. Names and addresses should be entered exactly as they appear on the Electoral Roll – and those signing must live in the Northern Beaches Council area. 

A PO Box address appears on the information sheet included with the petition for their return. However, Protect Pittwater is also looking for a few central locations where residents will be able to hand in sheets.

They will also hold stalls where the petition can be signed in coming months, once lockdowns have ceased and it is safe to do so. A copy of the petition may be downloaded below.

Facebook reaction to Local Government Minister Shelley Hancock’s announcement - provided by Brian Halstead, President SOCC

From Save Tumbarumba Shire Group;


Don't just get mad, get on the phone and on line to voice your anger. Call for an immediate reversal of decision not to allow a demerger. 

From Save Gundagai Shire Group;

you had all the information, all the data all the experts advice. And you come up with this. 

Not good enough, the people relied on your fair judgement. 

This is not a plan for the future, all you have given us is condemned us with your incompetence. 

from Save Tumbarumba Shire FB page

Local Government Boundaries Commission’s independence must be guaranteed

Thursday July 22, 2021

NSW’s peak body for councils has called for a commitment that the process of determining council boundaries remains independent, unbiased, and uninfluenced by political opinion following the NSW Government’s announcement of a review into the Local Government Boundaries Commission.

The review follows the NSW Government’s ruling that the demerger of Snowy Valley Council and the Cootamundra-Gundagai Regional Council, both proposed by their local communities and reviewed by the Commission, will not proceed.

Local Government NSW (LGNSW) President Linda Scott said the NSW Government must ensure that any review of the Commission must not reduce its independence.

“Local Government Minister Shelley Hancock says the review is being conducted because the Commission’s final recommendations on the latest demerger proposals were conflicted,” Cr Scott said.

“However, more than four years after the forced amalgamations, communities remain conflicted about the benefits or otherwise of being forced together.

“The Local Government Boundaries Commission provides an essential service advising the Local Government Minister on boundary issues and is designed to ensure these communities have their say.

“The boundary commissioners, made up of local and State government representatives, give 100 per cent to their role and act with honour, integrity and decency in all the work they undertake.

“Any review into the processes of the Commission must not threaten its ability to provide frank and fearless advice and not defang this important independent body.”

Cr Scott said local government was the closest form of government to its community and a vital source of local leadership, and that local communities did not want their ability to govern in the interest of residents threatened by forced mergers.

“You only have to look at the level of passion surrounding the most recent calls to demerger in Snowy Valley and Cootamundra-Gundagai to realise how important this issue is, no matter what side of the fence you fall in on the issue,” she said.

“Boundary reviews are so important to local communities and are about more than what is most expedient. They are complex issues because they go to the heart of a community’s identity, a council’s ability to provide local leadership and rulings have lasting impact.”

Cr Scott said she would be writing to Local Government Minister Shelley Hancock seeking a commitment that the local government sector would be involved in any review process.

“I will also be asking to Minister for an assurance that the review process will not jeopardise the Commission’s ongoing role as an independent umpire in local government area boundary decisions,” she said.