Mt Druitt - St Mary's Standard (East) - - NEWS - Adam Bell

NSW’S peak lo­cal gov­ern­ment body has warned the Baird Gov­ern­ment of a voter back­lash over forced coun­cil merg­ers, but sim­i­lar re­forms in Vic­to­ria and Queens­land pro­vide con­trast­ing lessons.

The gov­ern­ment’s pro­pos­als would roughly halve the num­ber of coun­cil­lors across greater Syd­ney to about 220 with sup­port­ers point­ing to neigh­bour­ing states to bol­ster their case.

For ex­am­ple, greater Bris­bane is a city of 2.2 mil­lion peo­ple with just four coun­cils and 62 coun­cil­lors while Syd­ney has 41 coun­cils, 4.8 mil­lion peo­ple and more than 400 coun­cil­lors.

Keith Rhoades of Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment NSW, a fierce op­po­nent of forced merg­ers, claims Queens­land’s re­cent ex­pe­ri­ence with forced amal­ga­ma­tions “sim­ply didn’t work”.

“In Queens­land rates have in­creased by 27.4 per cent on av­er­age since they pushed through amal­ga­ma­tions in 2008-09,” Mr Rhoades said.

“There is no ev­i­dence what­so­ever that big­ger is bet­ter.”

Queens­land forcibly merged 156 coun­cils into 77 ations with new sys­tems and tech­nol­ogy, you don’t need as many peo­ple there.”

Mr Kennett, who slashed coun­cils in Vic­to­ria from 210 to 78 and from 53 coun­cils in Mel­bourne to 26, urged NSW to adopt his model.

“When we did it in Vic­to­ria, we sacked coun­cils over- night, put in com­mis­sion­ers for two years hav­ing al­ready worked out the bound­aries, and the com­mis­sion­ers worked out the syn­ergy gains,” he said. “The trou­ble with vol­un­tary merg­ers is they’re of­ten for self-in­ter­est, not for what is nec­es­sary for the best gov­er­nance in­ter­ests of the state.”

Mr Rhoades pre­dicts halv­ing the num­ber of coun­cils in Syd­ney via forced merg­ers threat­ens grass­roots democ­racy.

“The com­mu­nity is pas­sion­ate about lo­cal iden­tity. So I think a lot of MPs will be very ner­vous if Baird goes through with this. It won’t be for­got­ten come March, 2019 [the next state elec­tion].”

Mr Rhoades dis­missed Kennett’s views as self-serv­ing and pre­dictable.

“I al­ways say to him, ‘How many terms did you serve Jeff?’”

Kennett slashed coun­cils in Vic­to­ria in 1994 and, de­spite wide­spread protests, was re­turned for a sec­ond term in 1996.

Mr Kennett be­lieves the vast ma­jor­ity of the NSW pub­lic will qui­etly sup­port merg­ers.

“The no­tion that this de­stroys lo­cal democ­racy is ab­so­lute BS,” he said.

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