‘Get on with the job’: Local Government Minister Paul Toole. Photo: Dean SewellLocal Government Minister Paul Toole has ruled out polling voters about council mergers at the state election in March.
Mr Toole told the state’s councils “you know your communities now”, when asked at the Local Government Association conference in Coffs Harbour if he would support councils wanting to include a question on the contentious issue when the electorate headed to the polls.
“You know what they’re looking for from the council,” he told delegates on Tuesday.
“You already know that answer. It’s something now you’ve just got to go and actually have that conversation in whatever way it’s going to be.”
The government has argued that amalgamations would help address the dire financial state of the local government sector. Two-thirds of NSW’s 152 councils were operating in the red last year. Last month, financial incentives worth $258 million were announced to encourage voluntary mergers – a proposition opposed by many councils.
“We have spent the last three years discussing the need for change and planning the best way to approach it,” said Mr Toole, who also told the conference that many supported the reforms “privately”.
“Now is time to get on with the job.”
Councils have until the end of the financial year to put forward submissions about how they intend to be “fit for the future” – including by nominating to merge. The make-up of the panel that will assess those proposals is expected to be announced by the new year.
However, the state government has left open the door to forcibly reducing the number of councils if its reforms are not successful. Labor, which opposes forced amalgamations, has called on the state government to come clean before March regarding its position on the issue.
Local Government NSW president Keith Rhoades said Mr Toole had not clarified what would happen to councils if they failed to make a submission. The association was still waiting to be consulted about the next stage in the process, he said.
“What can only be perceived as a taint of secrecy is concerning nearly all councils in NSW because some of them still can’t sit at the table and explain to their communities … why they’re going to be better if they merge,” Cr Rhodes said.
But Steve Russell, the Liberal mayor of Hornsby Shire Council, which is in favour of amalgamating with neighbouring Kur-ring-gai, said while he was leaving the conference with greater clarity, he did not think many other of the delegates had heard the message.
“The message is: change is inevitable and we need to get ready for it,” Cr Russell said.
“A lot of people didn’t hear it because they didn’t want to hear it.”
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.