By Julian Bajkowski and Paul Hemsley
The head of the NSW Local Government Shires Association, Keith Rhoades, has downplayed a front page Daily Telegraph report that the O’Farrell government is preparing to backflip on a key election promise and ram through forced council amalgamations.
A move to embark on forced mergers would have significant consequences for many councils, particularly in Sydney, and risks derailing often delicate consensus and compromises now being negotiated under the Independent Review Panel process.
“[The Telegraph] are obviously picking up on a report that was put out by the Review Panel some two weeks ago, so it’s fairly old news and it was stating where one of the things being looked at was the possibility of boundary alterations,” Mr Rhoades said.
“Some people call them amalgamations and so forth, so they decided they would run with the story saying that this is what’s going to happen.
“It’s been talked about for some years. It’s one of the issues that’s on the table for the Independent Review Panel to look at along with every other issue affecting the operation and the performance of councils right across NSW,” Mr Rhoades said.
A move to break-off so-far largely productive consultations with the local government sector in NSW in favour of compulsive measures would be highly courageous for the O’Farrell government because it would likely alienate many constituents in areas where there is strong opposition to any heavy handed moves by the state government to back property developers.
Council mergers forced through by the previous Labor state government in Queensland have in many cases proved deeply unpopular because the often they failed to deliver on promised service improvements and resulted in rate increases.
“Our position has always been if you are going to have a voluntary boundary change, there must be financial incentives for the councils involved, Mr Rhoades said. “Bigger does not necessarily mean better.”
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