Wagga Wagga MP Dr Joe McGirr favours an independent assessment of the council amalgamations that were forced by the NSW Government in 2015 and said he’s open to the idea of demergers.
Dr McGirr, who will stand as an independent at the upcoming State election in March, tackled a couple of the thornier issues in this part of his electorate when he fronted the Tumut Community Association on Wednesday night.
Council mergers and brumby management in Kosciuszko National Park are two of the hot-button topics that have emerged in recent years, and Dr McGirr made his stance on both issues clear.
During the meeting, Dr McGirr made a point of highlighting that his status as an independent meant he wasn’t beholden to any particular party policies on contentious issues, enabling him to form his own views.
On the council amalgamation front, Dr McGirr said he favoured an independent evaluation of the mergers after the state election.
That assessment would take into account community sentiment on the merger, as well as examining whether the mergers had benefitted communities.
Tumut and Tumbarumba were merged in May of 2015 to form the Snowy Valleys Council.
The Tumbarumba community was fiercely opposed to the union and has waged a campaign ever since to demerge.
Dr McGirr said he was not in favour of the forced council mergers.
“I don’t support the mergers,” Dr McGirr said “I think we should undertake an evaluation. It should take into account community sentiment. And it should be independent.
“Some consideration should be given into looking at how these mergers have worked and the option of demerging.”
Labor has promised to offer a plebiscite to those communities who want one to determine support for a demerger should it win power after March.
The Coalition has consistently said it had no intention to unwind those amalgamations that had taken place.
Dr McGirr said his position was not a reflection on the performance of the new Snowy Valleys Council.
“It’s not a criticism of the Snowy Valleys Council, or the councillors – I’ve been very impressed with Snowy Valleys council,” Dr McGirr said.
“I know Tumbarumba has been quite critical of the council, and I certainly don’t share that view.
“I do feel that discontent must be a drain on the efforts of the council.”
Dr McGirr said while the position of Tumbarumba residents was clear, he was interested in hearing the views of the people of Tumut. While the former Tumut Shire is in his electorate, the community of Tumbarumba is not, forming part of the Albury electorate.
Col Locke, Tumut Community Association president, said he’d seen little change from the old regime to the newly merged entity, which now stretches from the Victorian border to the ACT border.
“It doesn’t really affect me,” Mr Locke said. “One thing I don’t like is the Tumbarumba community always taking potshots at our councillors, when it was a state government decision.
“The council’s doing the best they can … to my eyes, it looks like Tumbarumba is getting plenty of cream from the grants being handed out.”
There was a perception that the Tumut community was largely apathetic to the prospect of a merger and there’s been little evidence of any significant change in sentiment in the three years since the new council was formed.
To that end, the Snowy Valleys merger has largely mirrored other amalgamations in this area, where it’s been the smaller communities that have railed against the forced unions, while the larger centres have tended to take a more neutral stance– such as at Cooma in the merger that brought in the smaller Snowy River and Bombala councils; at Cootamundra with its amalgamation with Gundagai; and at Young, which joined with Boorowa and Harden to form Hilltops.