“I don’t have a magic wand”: Local Government Minister questioned about council de-amalgamation
The Minister for Local Government has been questioned today about his intentions for councils where there is community support to de-amalgamate.
In 2016, the NSW Coalition Government forced the amalgamation of dozens of local councils to form 19 new local government areas. Communities in Bombala, Canterbury Bankstown, Central Coast, Guyra, Inner West, Pittwater, Hilltops and Tumbarumba continue to campaign for the restoration of local democracy.
In Budget Estimates today, Dr Amanda Cohn, Greens NSW spokesperson for Local Government, questioned Minister for Local Government Ron Hoenig about whether the NSW Government intends to amend legislation to enable councils to demerge.
"Minister, you've given us three different excuses for not progressing legislative change to better enable demergers. One of them was that the cross-bench wouldn't support it in your view. The second one is that you haven't been in office long enough. The third one was about how long the process might be. But will you work on it? Do you see that there is actually a need to improve this process for communities?” asked Dr Cohn.
“The Local Government Act in itself is a mess. It's not easy just to amend one provision. It's not that easy," replied Minister Hoenig.
“I'm a Minister of the Crown and I have an obligation to follow legal processes and statutory processes. I don't have a magic wand,” said Minister Hoenig.
The Minister was asked why the NSW Government has backflipped on its pre-election promises to support councils to demerge, specifically referencing Cootamundra-Gundagai Council.
“If I go down the legislation path, it’s too complicated,” said Minister Hoenig.
“You're talking about a huge amount of time (spent on amending legislation) for a National Party council (Cootamundra-Gundagai Council) that the National Party merged that I'm trying to unpick,” said Minister Hoenig.
This prompted follow-up questions about whether because the Cootamundra-Gundagai Council was not a Labor council, that he did not care about it.
“No, I'm saying that there was no political priority for me to do so. There was a priority for me to do what's right,” said Minister Hoenig.
After the hearing, Dr Amanda Cohn spoke about the Minister’s lack of commitment to take real action for struggling communities.
“The NSW Government cannot neglect their responsibility to support local communities just because their suffering is a result of poor decisions by a previous government, or because they are not Labor-run councils,” said Dr Cohn.
“The Local Government Act as it stands is not fit for purpose to enable council demergers. Minister Hoenig is putting these communities in the too-hard basket instead of fulfilling NSW Labor’s election promises to support councils to demerge.
“I'm about to table a bill in Parliament to amend the Local Government Act to give communities a voice and make sure the Minister must act where there is community support to demerge,” said Dr Cohn.
In August 2023, Dr Cohn gave notice of the Local Government Amendment (De-amalgamation Plebiscites) Bill which would allow binding plebiscites to be held in relation to the de-amalgamation of local councils. The Bill is expected to be tabled on the 22nd of November.
Media contact: Josh Appleton - [email protected]