Council amalgamations Archive

4

NSW council mergers hit a wall – and may go backwards

After multiple years of making plans and implementing them, the NSW government is now on the verge of announcing something which should have come much sooner. For councils that have already been amalgamated, there will be plebiscites where voters will be asked to decide on whether the amalgamation should be wound back and the former councils restored. In addition, all of those amalgamations which have yet to be implemented appear likely to be cancelled. That means no amalgamations for the eastern suburbs of Sydney, the north shore, Newcastle or Wollongong, along with a scattering of other council areas.

This decision leaves the NSW government’s amalgamation plans in a complete mess. Councils that were facing mergers have been divided into two classes based on whether lawsuits were launched by those councils delaying the amalgamations. Regardless of their merits, amalgamations won’t go ahead where they haven’t yet been implemented, meaning in some cases we will see tiny councils like Hunters Hill and Burwood surviving alongside much larger neighbours.

I’ve made no secret that I am supportive of some enlarging of councils in the eastern half of Sydney, although many of the proposed amalgamations were unnecessary or unwise, but it was always problematic to implement the decision without a democratic mandate. It’s not surprising that elected councils would oppose amalgamation: I don’t think it should be necessary for the council to support a proposal. But a proposal agreed to by the state government should go to a plebiscite of the people in that community before being implemented.

I suspect quite a few of the mergers would have been successful if plebiscites had been held, at least in Sydney. Now we face the possibility that unwise mergers will be undone after a lengthy period of pain and after the spending of large amounts of money on the amalgamations.

We have recent experience of multiple local councils in Queensland de-merging following overwhelming plebiscite results, but all of these cases were in regional areas. I do expect that most of the regional council mergers will be undone by plebiscites, although some may survive.

We have no real sense of how plebiscites will go in Sydney, or how unpopular the amalgamations have been. There are some that on their face merge councils that are already quite large (Canterbury-Bankstown, Hornsby-Ku-ring-gai) or combine areas with no common interest (Bayside council) but I suspect that a lot of local voters are happy with the new councils in Parramatta, Inner West and Georges River, to take some examples. We will never find out if voters in the eastern suburbs or north shore would have supported amalgamating their councils – such a plebiscite could have decided the issue and saved a lot of political pain a few years ago.

The results of the plebiscite could end up being messy. What if Ashfield votes to stay in the Inner West but Marrickville votes to leave? Things will be particularly messy in the Parramatta-Cumberland area, where pieces of each council were broken up. I live in Parramatta and the new council is not much larger than the old council: it just covers different areas.

What if the voters in the heartland of Parramatta vote to reject the amalgamations, but the new additions from the Hills, Hornsby and Auburn councils vote to stay? What if Granville votes to return to Parramatta council, but the former Holroyd and Auburn councils (which don’t share a border) want to stay as Cumberland?

Whatever happens, this should produce some interesting electoral contests. Up until now, the campaign against council amalgamations was focused on the forced nature of the mergers. Will there now be room to debate the merits of particular council sizes and boundaries in the context of a fair democratic fight?

3

Council mergers string out NSW elections for four more years

The NSW state government has written to councils laying out the timetable for council elections for those councils which have not yet been amalgamated. This timetable could well see council elections held in every one of the next four years, with the possibility of some new councils not facing election until the next regular council election in 2020.

There are eleven new councils which have been proposed but have not yet been implemented, mostly because of pending court cases. This is in addition to twenty new councils which have already been proclaimed.

The proclaimed councils will have their elections held in September 2017, and the NSW Electoral Commission will be planning to hold elections in September 2017 for those unmerged councils if their mergers haven’t been implemented before the 2017 election.

But for those councils which are amalgamated any later than this month, their election will be postponed until March 2018 or September 2019. The government has even flagged the possibility of elections being postponed until September 2020, when most council elections are due.

Thanks to this announcement and the ongoing legal conflicts, it now appears likely that the newly-created councils will face their first elections gradually over the course of multiple years.

In other council amalgamation news, I had missed the state government’s amalgamation of Rockdale and Botany Bay councils into Bayside council in September. I believe it’s the only council to be amalgamated since the first wave of amalgamations earlier this year.

It’s also quite possibly the most outrageous of all of the new councils.

The two old councils are on either side of Sydney airport, and have very little in the way of community of interest or transport corridors. The absurdity of the boundaries become more obvious when you look at the new ward boundaries. The new Mascot ward stretches across the airport, covering the suburb of Mascot along with the suburbs of Arncliffe, Turella and Wolli Creek.

The Bexley ward also has ridiculous boundaries. The pre-existing boundary between the old Kogarah and Rockdale councils wasn’t the most logical boundary, and it would’ve made sense to erase it by merging Rockdale, Kogarah and Hurstville into a single St George council. But instead that boundary has been kept while inexplicably creating a council which crosses the airport, and it produces a very messed-up ward on that boundary.

In other news, two of the newly-merged councils have already changed their names. Western Plains has reverted to be Dubbo, and the merged Gundagai council has been renamed Cootamundra-Gundagai.

The relevant maps on the maps page have been updated to include the new Bayside wards and these updated council names.

2

Map update – ward maps for NSW and Victoria

Screen Shot 2016-07-18 at 5.46.39 pm

As we get close to the conclusion of the federal election, I’ve started work on some upcoming elections.

There will be council elections in New South Wales in September this year, and in Victoria in October. These elections will cover the whole of Victoria, and roughly half of all NSW councils. Those NSW councils up for election in 2016 are those unaffected by the council amalgamations. Those which have been amalgamated (or who escape amalgamation) are due to have elections in September next year.

I’ve now completed my ward map of Victoria.

I’ve also completed a local government area map of NSW showing the amalgamated councils and, where no decision has yet been taken, the proposed new council.

I’ve also completed a ward map of NSW for all of those councils with confirmed wards. This map includes wards for all of those councils which have elections in 2016, as well as wards for all of those new councils which have been formally created.

For those new councils already formally created, the NSW state government announced new ward boundaries at the same time as the amalgamations were announced. There is a series of councils where the state government has indicated in-principle support for amalgamation pending court challenges, or where no decision has yet been taken, so no wards have yet been announced for these councils.

The Hills Shire is a special case. It won’t be amalgamated, but has lost its southern edge to Parramatta, which means it will require new wards. Those wards have not yet been decided.

I will keep updating the local government area and ward maps of New South Wales as council amalgamations are finalised in the lead-up to the 2017 elections.

I will return with more analysis of these 2016 council elections as we get closer to election day.

5

NSW council amalgamations round one

This is a quick post. I’ll come back later tonight with an updated map showing the new councils and their partisan breakdown, along similar lines to this post from December.

Some quick points about what has happened.

  • 19 new councils have been created, with the pre-existing councils in this area having been abolished as of today.
  • All nineteen new councils have had administrators appointed. Elections for these councils, along with other councils which have been considered for amalgamation, are delayed until September 2017. This leaves those amalgamated councils without elected representation for sixteen months.
  • The minister has also “agreed in principle” to nine other council amalgamations, but hasn’t acted on those proposals due to pending legal challenges.
  • Details about the new councils are available at this website.
  • No decision has been made about three council amalgamation proposals, including the two Hunter proposals. Interestingly, a new Armidale council has been formed out of two councils, while a broader proposal on creating a larger Armidale council out of four existing councils (including two abolished today) has not yet been resolved.
  • Most of today’s decisions aligned with the original proposals, except on the North Shore and Northern Beaches. Mosman has been included in a proposed new council with North Sydney and Willoughby, instead of joining a greater Manly council, while Manly, Warringah and Pittwater have been merged into a single Northern Beaches council. The original proposal would have seen Warringah split in half and the pieces given to Manly and Pittwater.
  • A bunch of amalgamation proposals have not proceeded, including:
    • Kiama and Shoalhaven
    • Hawkesbury and the Hills
    • Tamworth and Walcha
  • The number of councillors and wards for each new council has already been proclaimed.
  • Where wards will be created, those ward boundaries have already been released, and they can be downloaded from the new council’s page on the Stronger Councils website.
  • It appears that all of the urban councils have wards, and all of the rural councils have no wards.
  • All warded councils will have five wards of three councils, and a mayor elected by the councillors.
  • Despite the government expressing support for directly elected mayors in the past, a number of councils with directly elected mayors have been merged into councils without a directly elected mayor, including Canterbury, Manly, Hornsby and (if the minister goes through with further amalgamations) North Sydney and Willoughby.

That’s it for now. I’ll return later with a new map of the state, showing each council and its political bent.