Minister hears about merger challenges

The Minister for Local Government Shelley Hancock met with Snowy Valley Councillors and community members in Tumbarumba on Tuesday to hear the concerns of residents and the challenges faced following the 2016 amalgamation.

Ms Hancock met with the mayor James Hayes and councillors Bruce Wright and Julia Ham, Independent Member for Wagga Wagga Dr Joe McGirr and Member for Albury Justin Clancy to hear feedback about the council.

The minister also met with members of Save Tumbarumba Shire and community groups to hear their perspectives.

All groups and councillors have agreed that while the Minister was hugely receptive, she had made it clear that she could hold no promises for the future.

Cr Hayes said the consultation was a positive opportunity to discuss issues faced by the council and local residents and that she was receptive to concerns raised.

“The biggest topic of discussion was the challenges of the two merged councils and dealing with people who aren’t necessarily happy about the amalgamation,” Cr Hayes said.

“I was really pleased that she took the time to come down and hear the concerns of the community. I’m sure whatever decision she makes will be helpful and will provide assistance.

“She didn’t promise anything. She simply listened and was very receptive and I thought she was a nice lady,” he said.

Cr Julia Ham said it was an excellent opportunity to engage with the minister.

“We had about ten people there and everyone was given an opportunity to speak,” Cr Ham said.

“There were many people who were sad about the merger and I think Peter Marshall speaking about the caravan park was a particularly sad story to hear from his perspective,” she said.

Cr Ham admitted that she had suspected that the Minister might be defensive of the amalgamation process and was happily surprised to find that she was genuinely open and empathetic.

“She was very sympathetic to the situation and although there was no resolution in the end, she made a point that these issues were under consideration and she thanked the crowd for sharing their stories,” she said.

“I feel the fact that she has only been in her position for six months and is already making strides to visit and engage with our community, shows that she is proactive.

Save Tumbarumba Shire (STS) advocates felt that the discussions were frank, open and held in a cordial atmosphere, and that the minister listened intently to explanations provided by STS.

“She explained that she intended to meet with the premier and deputy premier to discuss the demerger issue and we hope that they are able to make a decision on the Tumbarumba demerger proposal signed by more than 2,100 residents within a month,” secretary of Save Tumbarumba Shire Doug Gee said.

  Ms Hancock also consulted with Wagga Wagga and Cootamundra-Gundagai councils on the day.

Many local MPs have shown support of a review into forced council mergers, including Independent MP Joe McGirr who had indicated his preference for a review of the Snowy Valleys merger.

“I’ve always been against the idea of amalgamation and I think the views of the people in the electorate who have expressed concern about the process have been justified,” he said.

In early September the minister responded to criticism during budget estimates that merged councils should “move on and move forward.”

She said that communities who had been forced to amalgamate were “now accepting” of the forced mergers despite multiple communities around the state pushing for de-mergers.

The Shadow Minister for Local Government Greg Warren was critical in his response to her claims, saying that one of the worst examples of the government’s forced mergers policy was in the Snowy Valleys.

“Let’s make this crystal clear, residents in communities like Tumbarumba, Cootamundra and Gundagai have not and will not accept this government’s forced mergers policy which has inflicted immense damage on these close knit communities,” he said.

Following the budget estimates hearing in September, Ms Hancock said that the issues of de-mergers was a matter she would ‘decide upon in the coming weeks and months.”