Should we stay, or should we go?

TALKING POINT: Mathew Dickerson, Troy Grant and Stephen Lawrence
have each had their say on the anniversary of council amalgamations.
TALKING POINT: Mathew Dickerson, Troy Grant and Stephen Lawrence have each had their say on the anniversary of council amalgamations.

Council amalgamations are again a hot topic, with various sides of politics commenting on the value of the process.

On the two-year anniversary of the amalgamation of Dubbo and Wellington councils, among others across NSW, former mayors Allan Smith and Mathew Dickerson came out asking what the benefits of the merger were for the communities in the new local government area.

That was followed on Monday when Labor’s candidate for next year’s state election, Dubbo councillor Stephen Lawrence, issued a release outlining his position on the issue.

“The two-year anniversary of the forced merger is significant and a time to reflect on what happened and the consequences,” he said.

“Country Labor’s policy is that we don’t support forced mergers, or forced demergers. 

“A Foley Labor government will assess whether there is sufficient community support for the holding of referendums on de-amalgamation.”

As a councillor elected at the poll that merged the former councils outside of administration, Mr Lawrence conceded that he was torn on the issue.

But he added that due process was necessary.

“As a councillor I feel I serve the entire local government area and am fully committed to making the regional council a success,” he said.

“Demergers is not something I intend to push or campaign on. I am focused on making what we have a success. But the mergers were done badly and undemocratically and the community should be consulted at the appropriate time.”

Member for Dubbo Troy Grant, who was deputy premier at the time the amalgamations occurred, countered criticism by declaring that spending in the region has never been as high as it has been over the past two years.

“There's no doubt the council merger issues across the state was controversial and that was true here in my patch, so I went to Wellington often throughout the process and the consultation and the decision making, and I'll be honest, there's a lot of people in Wellington who were very unhappy with me,” he said.

“I go to Wellington now and I get hugged in the street. I get thanked very much.

“Dubbo was fine to stand on its own, there's no doubt about that, it was clear in all the reports. Wellington was heading to insolvency, that's the reality.

“They had 20-plus vacancies so they didn't fill positions in order to try and make the books look good for the process.

“Development is going gangbusters. Real estate agents, go and talk to them in Wellington, they've got a smile on them like a split watermelon they're that happy.

“When considering impacts on local economies it is also important to look at the real estate market. Wellington is performing above any town in the region, with looking median house price growth for the year to march. Figures show that there is more activity in Wellington now, then before the amalgamation.

“The days on market has more than halved and the median price growth for the year exceeds any town in the region, including Dubbo. Economic confidence in Wellington has clearly improved since the merger.

“There are those true believers that are going to fight to the death to say that it's wrong and their entitled to their view but the proof's in the pudding.

“Some of the infrastructure in parts of Wellington was third world in some regards.

“The swimming pool was about to collapse. We were about to have a Country Championships there where the council had to bolt the wall together just simply so that the powder chlorine they were using didn't leak into the pool and kill people.

“That's the state of disrepair Wellington was in and now, because of the support of the premier they're getting a $9 million new pool.”