Demerger activists from Tumbarumba this week secured an important foothold in their fiercely fought battle to break up Snowy Valleys Council, when the Minister for Local Government announced their proposal to reinstate the Tumbarumba and Tumut councils would proceed to the next stage of a formal assessment process.
Years of intense lobbying from the Tumbarumba community opposing the forced merger had largely fallen on deaf ears within the government – until now.
Local Government Minister Shelley Hancock said a process would now begin examining demerger proposals for both Snowy Valleys Council and the neighbouring Cootamundra-Gundagai Regional Council.
Gundagai, much like Tumbarumba, has sustained an intense campaign opposing the forced amalgamation of its council since the mergers were announced in 2016.
The minister said she’d listened carefully to the views in both communities.
“The elector proposals have been initially assessed by the Office of Local Government against criteria under the Local Government Act and found to be valid,” Minister Hancock said in a statement.
“This included confirming with the NSW Electoral Commission that signatories to the proposals were enrolled electors.
“As required under the Act, I will now give public notice of the proposals to allow the councils and electors to make submissions.”
She said that by law she is required to consider submissions made by both councils to her office before formally referring the proposals to the Local Government Boundaries Commission for examination and report.
“I have also asked the Office of Local Government to continue to work closely with Snowy Valleys and Cootamundra-Gundagai councils and monitor their performance,” she said.
A statement from Snowy Valleys Council noted that it acknowledged the democratic rights of the community and would welcome a formal assessment in the public interest.
“We are fully committed to co-operating with the Office of Local Government and actively participating in the assessment process with integrity and objectivity,” Council stated.
“There will be no impact to our service delivery during this process and we ask that the public continue to be respectful of Council staff.
“Our teams have the best interests of their communities in mind and will continue to operate business as usual.
“It is our continued commitment to developing Snowy Valleys Council as a high performing, sustainable council for those people in the wider community we serve,” it stated.
It also stated that it would not be providing ongoing commentary during the assessment process.
During an ordinary meeting in December last year, the council had resolved that it would not support a demerger process, despite the heated campaigning from community groups such as Save Tumbarumba Shire to do so.
Independent MP Dr Joe McGirr welcomed the review, claiming it as a win for the electorate and praising the efforts and hard work of Snowy Valleys Council to provide services to its townships.
But, the Wagga Wagga MP said the move had inadvertently placed a lot of pressure on councillors and the wider community.
He said backlash from residents of the former Tumbarumba Shire Council had been taken into account, but noted his priority had been to ensure the issues and concerns raised, relating to the Wagga Wagga electorate, were addressed.
Dr McGirr said Minister Hancock’s call to engage the Local Government Boundaries Commission would hopefully act as a circuit breaker.
“During a number of meetings with the Minister, I shared my support for such a review to be undertaken,” Dr McGirr said.
Dr McGirr said he was grateful to Minister Hancock for her careful consideration of the issue.
“I’ve been saying it for a long time now, and I welcome this decision.”
Albury MP Justin Clancy, who represents the Tumbarumba community, was also pleased with the outcome.
“This is long-awaited news for the community and I thank the Minister for listening carefully to the views across the community, particularly in her recent visit to Tumbarumba where she held meetings with objectors, current and former councillors, and business operators,” said Mr Clancy.
“This is what people have been looking for – an examination and report on the boundaries issue from a thoroughly independent statutory authority.
Save Tumbarumba Shire secretary Doug was understandably delighted with the news.
“STS is obviously very pleased that Minister Hancock and the government have finally taken notice of the strength of the Tumbarumba community’s drive to have its council returned,” Mr Gee said.
“This is the first formal acknowledgement by the government that we have a strong case, and that the demerger proposal will move to the next step.
“There is still a long way to go but we are cautiously optimistic.”
The Save Tumbarumba Shire said it’s started planning a community engagement campaign to support those who wish to make a submission.