Coffs Harbour councillor and LGNSW President Cr Keith Rhoades AFSM.
Coffs Harbour councillor and LGNSW President Cr Keith Rhoades AFSM.

Government called to announce Council amalgamation policy

THE Local Government NSW (LGNSW) said the State Government must come clean on forced council amalgamations well before voters go to the polls.

Coffs Harbour councillor and LGNSW President Cr Keith Rhoades AFSM said the State Government had not confirmed whether councils across the State would be forced to merge under its Local Government reform package.

"If the State Government has no intention of forcing council amalgamations it should come out and say so," Cr Rhoades said.

"All parties were given ample time to respond to LGNSW's election priorities, which were released last December, and yet we are still awaiting a formal response.

"The Opposition responded, promising no forced amalgamations, and we know the Shooters and Fishers Party opposes local job losses via forced amalgamations.

"But the Government and other parties are yet to commit to no forced amalgamations and that's just not good enough.

"Voters have a right to know each Party's position before March 28, so they can cast an informed vote that reflects the future they want for their families and communities."

The Government's Fit for the Future reform plan requires councils to indicate by June 30 whether they want to stand alone, merge with neighbouring councils or be classified as a rural council.

"What happens after June 30 is less clear," Cr Rhoades said.

"If councils and communities want to voluntarily merge that's a great thing and it deserves 100% support.

"But if communities do not want their council to merge, then that decision should not be forced on them - and it certainly shouldn't be forced upon them by stealth."

Cr Rhoades said some LGNSW members had so far indicated they were keen to merge, while others believed they could better serve their communities by standing alone.

"It's not an easy decision to make, because there's the potential for increased efficiencies versus the potential of additional costs - all these things must be taken into account, which is why any amalgamation must be a voluntary choice."

Cr Rhoades said amalgamations have been unpopular in Western Australia, and local communities were outraged when the Queensland Government forced Council amalgamations in 2007.

"Residents were furious that the right to decide was out of their hands, and ratepayers in places like Noosa subsequently voted to de-amalgamate," he said.

"We're calling on the Baird Government and all parties contesting the election to be upfront about future intentions in regard to Council amalgamation, and to let the people choose."

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