Election dampens demerger push

Snowy Valleys Council’s mayor and general manager have declared last Saturday’s election win to the Coalition allows the council to draw a line in the sand on uncertainty about its future amid the continuing push from Tumbarumba residents to demerge.

Gladys Berejiklian claimed 48 seats in the parliament to form a majority government, ending hopes from demerger advocates that the election would prove a catalyst to splitting up Snowy Valleys Council and reinstating Tumut and Tumbarumba councils.

All parties other than the Coalition signalled they would allow a plebiscite to communities that were forcibly amalgamated, and there was optimism among demerger advocates that a Labor government – or even a minority Liberal government relying on cross-bench support – would provide a political pathway to breaking up amalgamated councils.

However, Ms Berejiklian has formed government in her own right and the Snowy Valleys Council leadership team said it welcomed the result, and is now focused on building a sustainable future as a merged entity.

The mayor, James Hayes, said the council can now draw a line in the sand and concentrate on the future.

“The outcome of last weekend’s elections provides a clear forward motion for us and we know the majority of people just want us to get on and continue our focus on service delivery and representing the whole community,” he said.

General Manager Matthew Hyde said the outcome of the election provides staff with a solid foundation to move forward as one team.

“It presents a significant turning point for all staff, removing any uncertainty and allowing us to truly focus on operating as a cohesive unit no matter which location or office we work in,” he said.

Save Tumbarumba Shire’s Neil Hamilton has a very different point of view and said his group’s not about to give up the fight, despite Ms Berejiklian maintaining that there will be no reversal of the unpopular forced mergers.

“It’s a disappointment,” Dr Hamilton said of the election result. “It means there will probably be a delay in getting our shire back, but it won’t change the end result.”

Dr Hamilton said the STS movement would not have to wait until the next state election to succeed, with the current council structure already proving not feasible.

“This council is going to implode,” he said. “If they can’t manage their finances in the first year, I can’t see how they’re going to be even remotely sustainable when they’re predicting losses for the next nine years.

“[The council] doesn’t meet treasury benchmarks, and it’s not going to survive – there’s going to be a change.”

Dr Hamilton said the group already has strategies in mind to begin implementing this week, with the focus now moving to the upcoming council elections.

“There’s also a federal election coming up, and we will sit down and talk with the Liberals, the Shooters, Labor, and everyone else,” he said.

While the Liberals’ Justin Clancy took the seat of Albury very comfortably, with 54.04% of the primary vote, less than one quarter of Tumbarumba voters chose the incumbent party.

Mr Clancy received just 294 of the total 1235 votes at just under 24%, compared to 619 votes for Country Labor’s Lauriston Muirhead.

Dr Hamilton said the result shows the unpopularity of the Liberals’ forced merger policy in the local area.

“The sensible thing now is for Gladys to completely defuse this,” he said. “She should see how low the vote [for the Liberals] was in Tumba.

“Gladys should realise that Tumbarumba is a special case. It should never have been merged and this is an opportunity to fix that.”

Cr Hayes however countered that the council had enjoyed unprecedented access to state ministers and premier over the last year and been rewarded with significant investment in the region.

“We will continue to build relationships within all sectors of government and remain agile and ready to capitalise on any and all opportunities,” Cr Hayes said.

“A key focus is to continue to advance our advocacy plan, and with the federal election just around the corner we will be working very hard to seize the opportunity to escalate and promote the community’s priority projects in an effort to secure funding and support.”

So far, at least, the council’s access to politicians hasn’t yielded any wins when it comes to securing government funding for the 11 projects outlined in the advocacy plan.

Those projects range from funding the Brindabella Road upgrade through to education, softwoods, road and digital connectivity investments.

It’s been a different story in the neighbouring Snowy Monaro electorate, where deputy premier John Barilaro was returned with a significant swing his way after announcing a raft of projects, including a multi-million dollar sports centre in Cooma, a $20m upgrade to a dirt road linking Adaminaby with Canberra, and significant upgrades to a number of schools in his electorate.

That hasn’t gone over well with some Snowy Valleys Councillors, including the deputy mayor John Larter.

“Our advocacy plan has essentially been ignored,” Cr Larter said. “I’d urge the deputy premier to look at what’s going on this side of the mountains.

“I’m sick of the disparity and so is this community”.