NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced on Tuesday that she will not continue with the six country council mergers with cases before the courts.
However, those already in place will remain.
The attempted forced mergers of Blayney, Cabonne, and Orange; Bathurst and Oberon; Wollongong and Shellharbour; Newcastle and Port Stephens; Armidale Dumaresq, Guyra, Uralla, and Walcha; and Dungog and Maitland councils will not proceed, and each shire will remain it’s own separate council.
However, there is no such luck for those councils who did not take their forced mergers to the courts, including the Snowy Valleys Council, made up of the former Tumut and Tumbarumba shires.
Those who have already lost a court case, including Gundagai, will also remain merged.
“Since becoming Premier, the Deputy Premier and I have been travelling across NSW, listening to the views and considering the evidence,” Ms Berejiklian said.
“In addition to maintaining all existing mergers, we will push ahead with those councils in Sydney that are before the courts.”
The Premier and Deputy Premier said that mergers did not necessarily fit the profiles of regional councils – echoing the opinions of many locally that are against the amalgamation.
“Whilst there have been a number of significant improvements in merged regional councils, we accept that a one size fits all model does not always apply outside Sydney,” Ms Berejiklian said.
“The financial benefits over the next 20 years will be six times greater in the Sydney councils than those in regional areas.”
“Local councils in the bush have done their fair share to contribute to stronger local government in NSW, and today we draw a line under local government amalgamations in the regions,” NSW Deputy Premier and Leader of the NSW Nationals Party Mr Barilaro said.
“This decision has been made to ensure that we put an end to the confusion and uncertainty for those councils locked in drawn-out legal battles. I am looking forward to the local government elections in September to restore local decision-making to our regions.”
The resignation of former Premier Mike Baird, who spearheaded the forced local government amalgamations in May last year, and the reshuffling of the Local Government Ministry, reignited hopes in regional Australia that their mergers could be undone.
Now it seems that is only true for some.
The discontent surrounding the forced mergers is unlikely to go away, with representatives from the former Tumbarumba shire bussing to a mass protest against the amalgamations in Queanbeyan – John Barilaro’s electorate – last Friday.
Mr Barilaro vowed after the resignation of former Premier Mike Baird that he would “put an end to local government mergers in the bush.”
However, it seems that that only extends to mergers that have not already been initiated, and those in amalgamated shires that are unhappy with the decisions being made around them will just have to make do – or make their voices heard in the state election in 2019.
Sydney Councils with a merger before the courts are also not being let off, and their fate rests with the decision of the judiciary.
Burwood, Canada Bay and Strathfield; Hornsby and Ku-ring-gai; Hunter’s Hill, Lane’s Cove and Ryde; Mosman, North Sydney and Willoughby; and Randwick, Waverley and Woollahra councils currently have a case before various branches of the courts.
Woollahra is the electorate of new Local Government Minister Gabrielle Upton.
The Liberals face upcoming by-elections in two councils they are still attempting to forcibly merge.