What if we don’t amalgamate voluntarily?

Cr Vicky Scott (second from left) from Gosford and Cr Doug Vincent (fi fth from left) from Wyong campaign to stand alone outside Gosford Council building recently

 At an extraordinary meeting of Gosford Council called to consider council amalgamation , councillors discussed the process of removing Gosford Council if it did decide to stand alone.

Held on November 16, Cr Hillary Morris, who voted against the motion to elect to amalgamate with Wyong Council, said in order to remove Gosford Council, the minister for local government would have to follow a specific legislative process.

During the debate Cr Vicky Scott stated that some councils across the state had already informed the NSW Government that they were not willing to voluntarily amalgamate and that their preference was to continue as stand-alone entities.

The meeting was told that, in order to remove an elected local council, the matter would need to be referred to the NSW Boundaries Commission. Cr Hillary Morris said the process in place for removing a council was “rigorous” and would include a public hearing.

She said Gosford Council’s own research suggested that 70 per cent of the community did not support an amalgamation. “If those 70 per cent of the people get to have their say, we may not get amalgamated,” she said.

Cr Gabby Bowles asked CEO Mr Paul Anderson several specific questions about the role of the Boundaries Commission including how it is made up, what is its required quorum and who does the decisionmaking power ultimately come back to?

According to Mr Anderson, the commission is currently made up of four people including a person nominated by the minister for local government, a representative from the NSW Office of Local Government and two pre-qualified councillors from the Local Government Association.

“If the panel is unable to come to a consensus, the chair can use their veto,” Mr Anderson said. “The commission makes a recommendation to the minister and asks the state governor to make a proclamation creating a new Local Government Area.

According to Mr Anderson, there had been some debate about what would happen to the commission if elected councillors throughout the state were sacked by the NSW Government.

Cr Craig Doyle asked whether the state government’s “threat to dissolve councils across the state” would mean the end of the Local Government Association and therefore the end of the Boundaries Commission.

However, Mr Anderson said the commission can have a quorum of two people, so long as one of those is the chair. “The commission could still go forward with a quorum of two,” Mr Anderson said. Cr Doyle replied: “The bottom line is even that gate has been closed by direction or subterfuge so the minister will have the deciding vote.”

Mr Anderson confi rmed that the decision would ultimately be made by the minister who has to ask the governor for a proclamation. Cr Burke added that even when amalgamations were first muted by Mr Toole and then premier Mr Barry O’Farrell, councillors were told boundary adjustments would not be considered.

“The two options were amalgamation, voluntary or forced,” Cr Burke said. Cr Burke said that maybe, in the event of a voluntary amalgamation and at the discretion of the minister, councillors could stay on in their roles until the next election and the CEOs might be able to stay.

“In a forced amalgamation, we could be dismissed, the CEO could be dismissed and an administrator will be appointed and will make all the decisions for the community without consultation,” he said.

Cr Bowles concluded: “Unfortunately, the way the boundary commission is constructed…I do not share [Cr Morris’) confi dence that should we head down that path our odds are improved.”

Meeting transcript,
Nov 16, 2015
Gosford Council
ordinary meeting
Jackie Pearson, journalist