A LAST ditch legal challenge to save Gundagai council from oblivion is before the courts.
The state government went ahead with plans to forcibly amalgamate Gundagai and Cootamundra at lunchtime on Thursday, sacking democratically elected councillors and installing administrators in their place.
What Premier Mike Baird didn’t know was hours earlier former Gundagai mayor Abb McAlister lodged an injunction to halt the merger ahead of a full Land and Environment Court hearing.
The shock court challenge comes as a whole swag of local councils were wiped from the map by way of forced mergers, which the government hopes will save $2 billion over the next 20 years.
To sweeten the deal, the state government will kick in $10 million to meet the costs of merging and up to $15 million for new infrastructure.
“On Tuesday, council made a decision to take legal action and we filed the papers just before the government’s proclamation, when we were still a council,” Mr McAlister said.
Gundagai businessman John Knight – a former member of the Nationals’ state executive – said the National Party had failed to protect the bush from the Liberal’s razor gang.
“Democracy in rural Australia is dead, it died 12 months ago when the merger process started,” he said.
“This whole disaster, the merging of Gundagai council with a council four times the size, will destroy our community by taking professionals out of the town.
“The National Party should never have let this get so far, they’re supposed to protect small rural communities from the big business side of the Liberal Party.”
Despite the mergers being a Baird state government decision, Mr Knight will ask Nationals members to “put their (Riverina MP) Michael McCormack how-to-vote cards in the bin” at the July 2 federal election.
Riverina-based former deputy prime minister Tim Fischer labelled the merger of Tumut and Tumbarumba a “colossal mistake”.
“It was a NSW state government political decision to abolish Tumbarumba Shire and for that matter to correctly retain Lockhart Shire and correctly create Federation Shire,” he said.
“It follows that there can be a further NSW political decision to revoke the Tumbarumba abolition, which is a colossal mistake, and within weeks announce Tumbarumba Shire will be free-standing and independent of Tumut.”
LOCKHART shire is revelling in their independence, after a grass-roots community campaign convinced the state government to spare them from forced council mergers.
Lockhart community volunteer Jeff Nimmo said the local economy dodged a bullet.
“Our jobs, our identity and our town have been saved,” Mr Nimmo said.
“There’s not one vacant shop in our town but it would have become ghost town.
“Maybe more concerning, our residents would have lost their representation.
“I am over the moon.”
Lockhart resident Myra Jenkyn said locals were walking ten feet tall.
“Lockhart is growing in stature by the day and we’re getting a great name,” she said.
“We worked hard to keep our town alive and we’re all so happy.”
"Obviously the federal election precipitated the speed by which these mergers happened." Former Tumbarumba mayor Ian Chaffey.
"The administrator hasn't had any experience in local government, but has to convince two communities it will be alright." Former Cootamundra mayor Jim Slattery.
"There can be a further NSW political decision to revoke the Tumbarumba abolition, which is a colossal mistake, and within weeks announce a further adjustment mainly that Tumbarumba Shire will be freestanding and independent of Tumut." Former deputy prime minister Tim Fischer.
“Democracy is dead in rural Australia.” Gundagai businessman John Knight.
“The NSW Government has listened to community concerns and created new wards that reflect the identity of existing communities,” local government minister Paul Toole.