Ambivalence about demerger in Tumut

Discussions about a proposed demerger of the Snowy Valleys Council have been circling local communities, with the most vocal arguments heard in Tumbarumba. In Tumut, the conversation is taking place at a much lower volume, according to Tumut Community Association President Col Locke.

“There doesn’t seem to be a great deal of personal interest in it from the Tumut end,” he said. “It’s driven a lot by the Tumbarumba end.”

Mr Locke said he was personally in favour of a demerger, restoring the former Tumut and Tumbarumba Shires and the individual identities that the two towns once had.

“There’s something about country areas, they seem to get their identities from their business centre,” he said, explaining that he feels like the centralised SVC is more top-heavy than the former shires. 

“I think people feel as though they’ve lost their identity because of the bureaucratic management of the community. For example, when it comes to things like the roads – the Gocup intersection – the community got behind a different idea and ‘no’. Everything the community gets behind is ‘no’. They feel a bit disempowered.”

Mr Locke pointed to the Lawson report, which showed that Tumbarumba residents receive more services in relation to the rates they pay to the SVC than Tumut residents and said Tumut residents seem to feel as though they’ve been disadvantaged through the amalgamation.

“I don’t think it’s worked. Personally, I don’t think we’ve achieved the economies of amalgamating the administration. I think it probably wasn’t well thought out in the beginning.”

Instead, Mr Locke suggested there could have been a single administrative service to cover the Tumut, Tumbarumba and Gundagai Shires, while keeping each town’s services and shires separate.

“There’s a fair bit of bad vibe coming out of Tumbarumba, because they feel hardly done by and lost their identity, but as far as Tumut people; they’re fairly accepting of the concept, but not happy with the economics of the outcome.”

Mr Locke doesn’t expect that the SVC will actually demerge. He described the Local Boundaries Commission public hearings (to be held November 3-5) as “lip service” and said he felt like the SVC will remain intact.

Tumut resident and business owner Matt Lucas said he’s in favour of keeping the SVC, but agreed that he’s one of the few to publicly support the council in its current form.

“I feel that a larger council has the opportunity to do a much greater good with combined resources rather than two smaller councils,” he said.

Mr Lucas, who owns and operates The Coffee Pedaler, said that the financial pressure on local councils’ budgets will only increase in the coming years, as grants become harder to source since the federal government has taken on significant debt to support the country through the Covid-19 pandemic. He said the towns stand a better chance of surviving if they band together and continue to promote the tourism appeal of the Snowy Valleys.

“The SVC local area is going into a very difficult economic time with the slowing down of the softwoods timber industry [after the fires] and a coordinated tourism focus will hopefully reduce the economic impact. If that’s not coordinated by a single body, but rather by two smaller bodies, it’s simply not going to generate the same level of economic viability,” he said.

Mr Lucas said the communities of the two former shires have benefited from being seen as a single area, which has helped promote the region to travellers and government agencies.

“The area has been much better identified [as the SVC] rather than being two separate areas,” he said. “It’s one area from the edge of Gundagai right the way through to Khancoban.”

Mr Lucas said he believes the amalgamation is so important for the economic future of the Snowy Valleys, that he will be testifying at the LBC hearings in Tumut, even if he’s the only one speaking in favour of the SVC.

Right: Save Tumbarumba Shire protesters confront Gladys Berejiklian. There’s been decidedly less passion about the make-up of the local council among Tumut residents.