Six years on - a failed council merger

12 May marked six years since the Baird-Liberal-Government failed council merger – our community should be asked about the future direction of local government on the Central Coast.

13 May 2022

 

THE Central Coast Friends of Democracy (CCFoD) is calling on the NSW Government to pay the $100 million that it owes our Central Coast community and conduct a poll about the future of our Council.

 

On 12 May 2016, the NSW Liberal Government merged Gosford and Wyong Councils to become Central Coast Council. Six years later, staff have been sacked, rates are rising, community assets have been sold, services have been cut and local democracy has been taken from our community.

 

Central Coast Council is not alone. By October 2020 the failures of the NSW Government merger process were clear.

 

The 20 amalgamated councils around NSW faced losses of $1.03 billion in three years and ratepayers faced hikes in rates and cuts in services. Eight out of 10 of the worst performing councils in NSW were merged councils. In May 2021, IPART determined rate increases for seven merged councils ranging from 8.0% to 53%.

 

The NSW Government must answer questions about its failed council mergers across the state.

 

CCFoD is calling for:

 

  • The NSW Government to pay the $100 million it owes the Central Coast community and the Council to cover the true cost of its forced amalgamation;

 

  • The NSW Government to hold a poll to ask the community if they want to stay as one Central Coast Council or demerge whilst maintaining some shared services; and

 

  • The Parliamentary Inquiry into the 2016 mergers, as promised by NSW Labor, to proceed before the state election in March 2023.

 

In November 2020, Greg Warren, NSW Shadow Minister for Local Government, said the opposition, with support from the cross benches, would establish a parliamentary inquiry into the failing merger process and identify options the government must take to repair the damage done to councils and their communities.

 

“For the Central Coast, staff estimated the true cost of the merger process in the order of $100 million – but the NSW Government provided only $10 million for the process,” said Jane Smith, Coordinator of CCFoD and former Mayor.

 

“In contrast, the State Government used the Stronger Communities Fund intended for merged Councils, to give $90 million to Hornsby Council, which was not merged. There are questions of integrity around that decision and the Stronger Communities Fund.

 

“The Central Coast community has been treated with contempt."

 

The Public Inquiry into Central Coast Council provided very few answers for our community and ended up being a “tick a box” exercise to allow the NSW Government to remove our local democracy,” said Ms. Smith.

 

The figure of ‘$565 million debt’ has been used to create a false narrative. Improvements were necessary but claims of budget mismanagement and deficits have been contradicted in comments from independent experts on Council’s Audit, Risk and Improvement Committee (ARIC) including:

 

“...So I’m not saying I’m happy with having $500 million worth of debt, but when we came into this and you are asking me about the three years accounts, there is nothing in those accounts in terms of debt, in terms of operating result, that is a concern to me as an independent professional”. (Gordon, Public Inquiry 2021)

 

Communities around NSW are calling for the right to reclaim their Councils.

 

A poll at the 2021 Inner West Council election resulted in 62% of the community wanting to de-merge. In 2021, Cootamundra-Gundagai Council resolved to submit a proposal for a demerger which the Boundaries Commission is currently considering.

 

This follows from the merger experience in Queensland where Council amalgamations took place in Queensland in 2008. Although some were considered successes, four council areas (Noosa, Douglas, Livingstone and Mareeba) were de-merged in 2014 after referendums were held.

 

Our community on the Central Coast deserves to have a say about the future of our Council.

 

CCFoD has established a community survey on the future of Council and a petition calling on the Premier to deliver the $100 million that the government owes the Central Coast.

 

You can also access the survey and petition at: www.ccfriendsofdemocracy.com

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