Two years since the Dubbington amalgamation – where are the results?
At 12.10pm on 12 May 2016 the Governor of New South Wales, with the advice of the Executive Council of the NSW State Government, proclaimed the amalgamation of 42 Council areas down to 19 new Council areas, including dissolving Dubbo City Council and Wellington Shire Council to form Western Plains Regional Council (later renamed Dubbo Regional Council).
Residents of amalgamated Councils, and in particular Dubbo Regional Council, are quite rightly asking to see the supposed positive results of this amalgamation. The NSW State Government originally laid out plans for 35 mergers which would have reduced the state’s 152 Councils to 112. Legal proceedings and the eventual resignation of the three men pushing the mergers meant that many of the pending amalgamations were abandoned and the State now has 129 Councils.
Former Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, at the time was facing a tough fight for the seat of New England and had argued against a proposed merger of Tamworth and Walcha councils based on his election chances. The former Deputy Premier, Troy Grant, admitted to speaking to Mr. Joyce about the proposed Tamworth and Walcha merger on two occasions but denied he had done Mr. Joyce a favour.
At the time of the amalgamation, the former Premier, Mike Baird, said the decisions would benefit ratepayers. “I think having smaller head offices and more money that goes towards childcare, parks, sporting facilities, frontline services, I think that’s a great thing for the state.” The administrators appointed to run the new organisations will appoint “Implementation Advisory Groups” made up of former mayors and councillors. “Any councillor or any mayor that wants to participate in this, and I don’t care about their political badge, anyone that wants to play a constructive role in this, they can,” Mr Baird said. Despite this assurance, the three former Mayors of Dubbo, with 16 years of Mayoral experience and 54 years of Council experience, were not deemed worthy by the State Government to be a member of the IAG.
The former Deputy Premier, Troy Grant, said the creation of the Western Plains Regional Council would deliver improved services and better representation for local communities. The communities would benefit from $10 million provided by the NSW Government. “The communities of Western Plains Regional Council will have direct input into what services and projects will be delivered under this fund and I will be consulting the community to identify their needs and make sure these are firmly communicated to the new council. These projects could include revitalising the Dubbo CBD and promoting the local tourism industry,” Mr Grant said. “The benefits for ratepayers start today.”
Mr Grant said local residents would also benefit from their strong, new council immediately, through the NSW Government’s policy of a rate protection commitment for new councils. “We have ensured that residents will pay no more for their rates for the next four years, than they would have under their old councils.”
The State Government applied a freeze on rates for four years but Council is increasing other charges outside the rates. Regardless of what it is called, the residents of Dubbo are now paying more to their Council then they were before the amalgamation. The proposed Development Tax from Dubbo Regional Council is just another example of an increased burden on residents.
“A community vote showed that 80 per cent of Dubbo residents and a similar number of Wellington residents were against the amalgamation yet the NSW State Government continued with the flawed process regardless. With promises of significant benefits from the amalgamation, it is time for the Government to clearly demonstrate those benefits. Residents are still waiting for the original KPMG report that recommended the amalgamation but after two years it is time to demonstrate the supposed benefits to our community,” said former Mayor, Allan Smith.
The last ever Mayor of Dubbo City Council, Mathew Dickerson, said, “It is no surprise that the three men who pushed the flawed amalgamation through the State Parliament are no longer in those positions. I believe the State Government forgot their role – any democratically elected Government should represent the people that elected the Government. I believe that the Dubbington amalgamation was a classic case of the party coming before the people and that is to the ongoing detriment of residents in Wellington and Dubbo and the entire Orana Region.”
Allan Smith Mathew Dickerson
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