Thursday, 12 May 2016
Today is one of very mixed emotions for local councils and communities in our region.
I am delighted for the Uralla and Walcha communities, which have both won their hard-fought battles to retain their stand-alone councils.
I thank particularly the Uralla community for its passionate yet professional campaign to retain independence – through turning out in droves at community meetings, signing petitions, of which I tabled one in the Parliament this week, and a concerted letter and email writing effort.
The overwhelming wishes of the people of Uralla Shire were respected and I was very pleased to play a role in that result.
For the Guyra Shire community, which like Uralla was steadfast in its opposition to the merger proposals, I feel absolutely gutted.
I am bitterly disappointed with the decision of the government to merge Guyra Shire Council with Armidale Dumaresq Council – it is not a decision that I support. I was proud to stand side-by-side with council and the community in making the case for collaboration, not amalgamation, and fight hard to stave off two merger proposals. Sadly, we lost that fight.
It is unfortunate and regrettable that my efforts and those of the council and Guyra community were constantly being undermined by other political voices in the region.
I think most of the Guyra community will struggle with the fact that two independent delegates reports recommended that Guyra and Walcha councils be merged – yet one is and one isn’t, with no clear rationale for the difference.
Despite my disappointment and anger, the final decision has now been made and at least certainty has finally been provided to councils and communities in our region.
Therefore, my focus is now on ensuring that we make the best of this situation and ensure the new council is a success, particularly for the smaller communities outside the city of Armidale. Our region needs this council to be strong and successful.
I have already spoken with both affected councils and am committed to helping both teams of Councillors through the transition phase with Administrator Ian Tiley. I will be meeting personally with all involved next week.
The Implementation Advisory Group and Local Representation Committees will be crucial to the success or failure of this phase.
I will be flagging with the Administrator, as I have already with the government, the start of community consultation on the name of the new council, with a view to changing today’s gazetted name. Ultimately, this decision should be one that has the support of the community.
Also, the wishes of the Tingha community have to be respected and moves to allow that community to move into the Inverell LGA should be pursued without undue delay.
I will also be pursuing the fair and reasonable allocation of the $10 million fund, to address needs in the community, particularly in the rural and remote areas.
For better or worse, through the good times and the bad, I have always stood up for my communities and worked constructively with them and despite today’s bitter pill, I remain steadfastly committed to that task.