NSW backs down on council merger plans in country areas
IT'S a decision that divides New South Wales in two.
After more than a week of prevaricating, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has chosen to have a bet both ways on the state's controversial council mergers policy.
The reforms, which many blame for decimating the Nationals' majority in the recent Orange by-election, will be abandoned in regional areas. But the amalgamations will be full steam ahead in Sydney, the ABC has reported.
The announcement will dismay councillors in the blue ribbon authority of Woollahra. The Liberal stronghold council in Sydney's ritzy eastern suburbs has been fighting against the Coalition Government in Macquarie St that wants to merge it into its neighbouring authorities of Randwick and Waverley.
State govt will push ahead with 5 council mergers in Sydney, unless they win their court cases. But no further mergers in bush #nswpol— Sarah Gerathy (@sarahgerathy) February 14, 2017
A solidly Liberal voting string of councils on Sydney's north shore - including Mosman and the tiny Hunters Hill - are also now likely to be absorbed into larger authorities.
But a clutch of pending mergers in the bush - including an amalgamation of Blayney Shire, Cabonne and Orange City councils as well as a link between Shellharbour and Wollongong city councils - may now be off.
The council mergers, dubbed the 'Fit for the Future' reforms have been a headache from the get go with recalcitrant councils unwilling - but ultimately forced - to amalgamate. The controversy was seen as one of the factors that led to previous Premier Mike Baird's plunging popularity.
Already the revised proposals have been criticised.
One rule for the bush, another for the city - official government policy now apparently #NSWpol— David Shoebridge (@ShoebridgeMLC) February 13, 2017
On Tuesday, NSW Greens upper house MP David Shoebridge tweeted that it was akin to 'One rule for the bush, another for the city'.
Labor politician Darcy Byrne, who was mayor of Leichhardt before it was merged into the new Inner West council, has also been a vocal critic.
A number of mergers have already taken place including the creation of new councils in the NSW Central Coast, Sydney's northern beaches and the City of Canterbury-Bankstown.
In regional areas, 11 new councils have been created including those on the Mid North Coast and in the Central West city of Dubbo.
It's understood these merges will remain in place.
Last week, Coogee MP Bruce Notley-Smith - whose local council of Randwick has a merger pending - said the Government should press ahead and ignore those councils holding out.
"You can't unscramble the egg", the Daily Telegraph reported Mr Notley-Smith as saying. "We should stand up to the Nats and send them packing."
News.com.au has contacted the Minister for Local Government for comment.