THE clock is ticking for Riverina councils.
It hit pause, briefly, when former premier Barry O’Farrell declared no forced mergers under his government. One bottle of wine later, add a new premier, and the clock ticked again – this time, rapidly.
On Wednesday, when the clock struck 12, small councils stared down their destiny as the deadline for their final submission to the government on mergers passed.
Small towns believe their council has been given a death sentence – and they are banking on Nationals’ MPs to fight for them.
However, many local mayors are wary of the party’s support.
“As far as the Coalition is concerned, I suppose it’s a bit like the tail wagging the dog,” Coolamon mayor John Seymour said. “The National Party are supposed to represent rural and regional areas … I don’t think they even have a policy on mergers. Some of them have rolled over (and supported councils), others haven’t come out of the woodwork.”
Cr Seymour’s council was ruled “fit” under the “Fit for the Future” reforms, but said he was still anxious of a forced merger.
“We’re in the lap of the Gods, but those community meetings have shown where we stand,” he said. “We’re serious about this. We want to stand alone.”
Cootamundra MP Katrina Hodgkinson represents many of the eastern Riverina communities – and their councils – in the firing line.
Temora mayor Rick Firman – a staunch ally of the National Party – said the shire had so far received “solid support” from local MPs.
“I’m not saying we haven’t had disagreements along the trail … but they have said they will back us, and you can’t ask for any more than that,” he said.
Gundagai mayor Abb McAlister warned against a city-centric view of councils.
“Katrina can either toe the party line, or she can stand behind us and fight the good fight,” he said. “She has said she is right behind us – we think, we hope, she is.”
Ms Hodgkinson did not return requests for interview before deadline. The government has told councils to expect a determination on their future by Christmas.
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