NSW Local Government Minister Paul Toole gets an icy reception from protesters against forced council amalgamations at the Local Government NSW annual conference at Rosehill Gardens Racecourse in Sydney. Photo Chris Calcino
NSW Local Government Minister Paul Toole gets an icy reception from protesters against forced council amalgamations at the Local Government NSW annual conference at Rosehill Gardens Racecourse in Sydney. Photo Chris Calcino Chris Calcino

Stacked panel cries down forced council mergers

A DEBATE on the merits and folly of forced amalgamations at the Local Government NSW annual conference was typically one-sided, given the forum's overall mood.

The Q&A-style conversation focused on the problems regional and rural councils faced trying to prove their financial ability when their services were stretched so thin.

Shooters and Fishers representative on the local government parliamentary inquiry, Robert Borsak, said councils in the bush were already at breaking point.

He argued the economic criteria used in the Fit for the Future reforms were unsuitable for rural councils because they covered huge areas but often had tiny populations.

"The trouble is that given the geographical spread you're dealing with, you simply do not get an economy of scale," he said.

"You still have to maintain a road, whether you've got one shire or two.

"The local government sector is probably the largest employer in the town.

"The starvation of the local government sector by the State Government is the key issue, as far as I'm concerned."

Greens MP David Shoebridge argued against the forced mergers because "the biggest council in Sydney is Blacktown, and it's running at a chronic budget deficit".

The panel touched on constitutional recognition for local government and whether it would ever eventuate.

"It's doable if we choose to do it," Labor MP Peter Primrose said in support.

LGNSW was criticised after the debate for stacking the panel with anti-amalgamation proponents, all of whom were men.

Especially since Local Government Association of Queensland president Margaret de Wit, who had supported forced mergers in the northern state, was in the crowd.

-APN NEWSDESK



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