It is no shock that the Nationals have back-pedalled on the issue of forced council mergers.
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The Baird government powered ahead like a tank and rolled over wide community opposition, particularly in the regions (also known as “rusted-on Nationals’ seats”) to enforce its amalgamation policy. It was determined and would not listen.
The all-powerful government tank went off its tracks when the Nationals lost the Orange byelection. Fierce anti-merger sentiment and the blowback from the on-off greyhound racing ban were significant contributing factors.
The trio of then Premier Mike Baird, then Deputy Premier Troy Grant and Local Government Minister Paul Toole were main drivers of the policy.
Mr Baird resigned on Thursday for family health reasons.
Mr Grant quit as Nationals leader and Deputy Premier in the wash-up of the Orange election disaster. Mr Toole’s Cabinet role is under question.
Mr Grant’s replacement as Deputy Premier and Nationals leader, John Barilaro, on Friday withdrew his party’s support for forced mergers, 12 of which are in regional areas and causing anger and uncertainty.
He will make that point forcefully to the next premier. Those regional communities will be impressed and relieved.
But, what about communities which were strong-armed into merging? Young, Boorowa and Harden, as wlel as Dubbo and Wellington in our area have all been impacted.
A merger of Young, Boorowa and Harden is already well underway.
What happens now for these council areas?
Mr Barilaro did not say anything to give hope to these communities which went under the tank tracks.
There was no suggestion of a review or even a hint that de-mergers would be considered or possible. The amalgamations removed grassroots democracy, even if it is only in the short term.
These councils did not spend hundreds of thousands of ratepayer dollars fighting the government in court as has been the case with Cabonne, Orange and Blayney.
What is the Nationals message to these communities: we’ve changed our mind after Orange but you just have to wear it?
The party will have to do better. Surely what is good for the goose is good for the gander, as the saying goes.
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