The NSW Government has finalised its forced amalgamation agenda, with councils across the state sacked and administrators brought in until elections slated for September 2017 – a full year later than elections for councils not being merged.
The announcement has raised eyebrows due to its timing during a federal election campaign, with high-profile radio broadcaster Alan Jones accusing NSW Premier Mike Baird of “chucking a bomb” at Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.
In what could work to further confuse the community on the relationship between state and federal politics, rumours are circulating that retired federal minister Bronwyn Bishop will be announced as the administrator for the new Northern Beaches Council.
“Is the NSW Government … on a deliberate campaign to torpedo Malcolm Turnbull?” the 2GB host asked his audience.
Councils that no longer exist are: Ashfield, Leichhardt, Marrickville, Manly, Pittwater, Warringah, Hurstville, Kogarah, Parramatta, Auburn, Holroyd, Bankstown, Canterbury, Hornsby, Armidale, Dumaresq, Guyra, Gosford, Wyong, Conargo, Deniliquin, Corowa, Urana, Cootamundra, Gundagai, Bombala, Cooma Monaro, Snowy River, Boorowa, Harden, Young, Gloucester, Great Lakes, Greater Taree, Murray, Wakool, Jerilderie, Murrumbidgee, Queanbeyan, Palerang, Tumut, Tumbarumba, Dubbo and Wellington.
In their place are 19 new councils, with more expected to be announced at the conclusion of legal action being taken by councils including Botany, North Sydney and Wollongong.
There had been more amalgamations on the agenda, however political pressure surrounding the federal election seems to have saved the most contested from going ahead.
Those saved include Tamworth and Walcha, in federal National Party leader Barnaby Joyce’s seat of New England, who is expecting a fierce battle with independent Tony Windsor.
“Seemingly you need to be in a federal marginal seat for Mr Baird to hear your voice,” NSW Opposition leader Luke Foley told reporters.
Kiama and Shoalhaven have been spared too, as have Hawkesbury and the Hills.
The Save Our Councils community group, which has been fighting the government’s push, was understandably scathing.
President Caroline Corrigan said the move was about “blatant, grubby political grabs”.
“Mike Baird isn’t cracking the whip,” she said. “He is slaughtering local democracy and local communities, but he needs to understand these communities will not give up and die without a fight.”
The news, however, was welcomed by the development lobby.
The Urban Taskforce said amalgamation would mean stronger councils that could help deliver growth.
“The NSW government has taken on a reform agenda for local government that has been needed for decades and is now delivering on this,” Urban Taskforce chief executive Chris Johnson said.
“The most important thing is to quickly finalise the transition process to the new councils so that operations including strategic planning and development assessment are not disrupted.”
Councils and community groups have been fighting the amalgamation push since the Liberal National state government came to power in 2011, though at that stage it had promised there would be no forced amalgamations.
However, with its re-election in 2015 the government released a package of sweeteners for councils that decided to amalgamate, though the government said forced amalgamations were on the table for those that didn’t act.
- Armidale Regional Council (Armidale, Dumaresq and Guyra)
- Canterbury-Bankstown Council (Bankstown and Canterbury)
- Central Coast Council (Gosford and Wyong)
- City of Parramatta Council (Parramatta and part of Hills, Auburn, Holroyd and Hornsby)
- Cumberland Council (Auburn and Holroyd)
- Edward River Council (Conargo and Deniliquin)
- Federation Council (Corowa and Urana)
- Georges River Council (Hurstville and Kogarah)
- Gundagai Council (Cootamundra and Gundagai)
- Snowy Monaro Regional Council (Bombala, Cooma Monaro and Snowy River)
- Hilltops Council (Boorowa, Harden and Young)
- Inner West Council (Ashfield, Leichhardt and Marrickville)
- Mid-Coast Council (Gloucester, Great Lakes and Greater Taree)
- Murray River Council (Murray and Wakool)
- Murrumbidgee Council (Jerilderie and Murrumbidgee)
- Northern Beaches Council (Manly, Pittwater and Warringah)
- Queanbeyan-Palerange Regional Council (Queanbeyan and Palerang)
- Snowy Valleys Council (Tumut and Tumbarumba)
- Western Plains Regional Council (Dubbo and Wellington)
Councils to be merged dependent on the outcome of legal challenges:
- Botany and Rockdale
- Randwick, Waverley and Woollahra
- Bathurst and Oberon
- Ku-ring-gai and Hornsby
- Mosman, North Sydney and Willoughby
- Blayney, Cabonne and Orange
- Hunters Hill, Lane Cove and Ryde
- Burwood, Canada Bay and Strathfield
- Shellharbour and Wollongong