AMID the clamour and controversy surrounding forced council mergers, a critical point seems to have been largely ignored.
Councils, for all their sins, are the closest form of government to the people.
Operationally, they are the most relevant to our daily lives, collecting our rubbish, patching up our roads and maintaining the cultural and sporting facilities many of us use weekly.
Politically, councillors are the most accessible and accountable of all elected representatives.
In rural NSW particularly, councils are also an intrinsic part of a town’s identity.
What would Junee look like without Junee Shire Council?
How would Cootamundra have progressed if its local government head office was in Gundagai?
Of course, like all bureaucracies, the local government sector is riddled with inefficiencies.
Collectively, the state’s councils are haemorrhaging a million dollars a day.
But the state government has played a part in that demise.
For years, local government has been their whipping boy, forced down a fiscal mine shaft through continued rate capping and cost shifting.
Now councils are on their knees, the Baird government is delivering a fatal blow to many.
Reform is essential, but it must be done strategically and in concert with those at the coalface.
Mergers should be based on communities of interest, shared infrastructure and natural synergies.
It makes no sense for a farming community like Lockhart to be lumped in with a river community like Corowa.
The Boundaries Commission has simply stuffed it up. Many of their decisions defy common sense and beggar belief.
If this government wasn’t riding so high in the polls, the issue could become an election game-changer.
Consultation with communities has been a sham and the whole process appears to have been a means to reach a pre-engineered outcome.
Local Nationals MPs Adrian Piccoli and Katrina Hodgkinson may well believe in local government reform, but they’ve done a lousy job of prosecuting the argument for it.
And until they do, their political stocks will suffer.
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