Report by Miranda Korzy
The NSW government has opened up a new opportunity for fully funded council demergers, updating local government laws to allow for council-initiated proposals within a fixed time frame.
Save Our Councils Coalition vice president Sue Young today said that under changes recently passed by both Houses of the NSW Parliament in the Local Government Amendment Bill 2021, councils amalgamated in 2016 would be able to launch demerger bids within 10 years of their establishment.
The cost of any de-amalgamation of the new area resulting from a business case submitted under the new provision would be fully funded by the state government, Ms Young said.
However, she questioned the usefulness of the amendment unless a majority of councillors supported a demerger.
“The amendment may not be a viable pathway for Pittwater residents wanting to de-amalgamate from the Northern Beaches Council,” Ms Young, a former Pittwater councillor said.
“I consider the benefit for Pittwater is that the community proposal should be treated in the same manner as a proposal from an amalgamated council and fully funded by the government, with limits on response and processing times.”
Protect Pittwater president Bob Grace welcomed the development but said locals wanting to demerge from Northern Beaches Council should take matters into their own hands.
“We must determine our own destiny and fight to demerge Pittwater,” Mr Grace said.
“We can’t wait around for a majority of Northern Beaches councillors to recognise the failure of the council and initiate a de-amalgamation.
“Anyone who wants Pittwater back should sign our petition, which is currently the only realistic route for a demerger.”
The bill, which is awaiting the state governor’s assent, was passed on May 13, the day after the fifth anniversary of Pittwater Council’s dismissal and amalgamation into Northern Beaches Council.
The NSW government merged 42 councils into 19 on May 12, 2016.
Under the new changes to the Local Government Act, a council must submit a written business case to the local government minister with a proposal for its de-amalgamation, either by reconstituting the former areas or setting up different areas.
The new amendments also contain strict time limits for processing these proposals, so that the local government minister must, within 28 days of the business case being submitted, refer the de-amalgamation proposal to the Boundaries Commission and direct it to hold an inquiry into and report on the proposal.
This would avoid situations like that confronted by Protect Pittwater, where a proposal – also known as a petition – that it submitted to the minister in May 2018, disappeared for nearly two years.
The minister would also be required to publicly release the Boundaries Commission report and within 28 days provide a written response to the council, saying whether or not they support the proposal and the reasons for this.
The amendments would also prevent delays in decision making as has occurred with de-amalgamation proposals for two other councils: Tumbarumba from Snowy Valleys; and Gundagai from Cootamundra Gundagai Regional Council.
Although they had progressed through Boundary Commission inquiries and reports were provided to the current NSW Local Government Minister Shelley Hancock in February, she has failed to release them or announce her decision regarding the demerger proposals.
That’s despite the NSW Upper House passing a Standing Order earlier this month, that required the government to release the reports by Friday, May 19. Some commentators expected the decision to be revealed after the NSW Upper Hunter by-election on Saturday.
The petition is below and can be printed out, and returned, once full, to the address therein.