Our Say: The messy mergers and the long hangover

SO is that it, then?

Has the NSW Coalition received its kicking from voters unhappy about the council merger program? Has everyone got it out of their system?

Premier Gladys Berejiklian will certainly be hoping so.

NSW opposition leader Luke Foley was a happy man on Sunday as he ran his eye over the results coming in from Saturday’s council elections, saying the Liberals’ loss of council seats in some of its heartland areas in Sydney was a punishment for its messy merger program.

In the hyper-fast world of modern politics, where parties aim to win the day, not the week, Mr Foley was always going to seize immediately on any piece of bad news for the Coalition from Saturday’s elections.

But he would also know he’s on a winner whenever he tells voters he understands their anger about the forced amalgamations – and urges them not to forget.

Forgetting is what the Coalition will be hoping for now that those merged councils – and those that were going to be merged, but didn’t – have new councillors to replace their Government-appointed administrators.

Voters have seen all sides of the Coalition since then-premier Mike Baird told councils they would have to prove they were Fit for the Future or face a forced amalgamation.

They have seen the tough Coalition, which dissolved councils and appointed administrators; the defiant Coalition, which defended its merger processes in court; the shocked Coalition, which took the loss of the Nationals’ Orange seat to the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party particularly hard; and the apologetic Coalition, which called off those mergers being disputed and ruled further mergers off the table after a change of premier and deputy premier.

Now they are likely to see a watchful Coalition, which will hope the merged councils can be fully bedded down and some of the much-talked-about savings will become obvious before the 2019 state election.

It will also hope the whole issue goes away. But, in some centres on Saturday mergers were still there as a voter issue. Part of a big increase in informal votes in the Dubbo Regional Council poll was linked to merger opposition. In another centre, a majority of voters opposed their merger in a locally-run “plebiscite” alongside the poll.

Residual resentment will hurt the Coalition. And it’s long ceased being Mr Baird’s problem.