Time to unite together Amalgamation is back on the agenda – not that it was ever really off it.
Dr Joseph Drew told us in February that the likely scenario was that measures would be rushed through early in the new government’s term in the hope that the memory would be lost before the next election.
The Independent Commission into Local Government suggested possible amalgamation between Gwydir and the Moree Plains Shire – apparently on the grounds that Warialda is closer to Moree than Inverell and the distance from Bingara to Moree is irrelevant. That the commission did not measure these distances demonstrates the depth and thoroughness of their research.
Other information missing from the commission’s report and from ‘Fit for the Future’ guidelines is what local government in the future will actually be required to DO. We all know about roads, rates and rubbish and the fourth ‘r’ of regulation (especially when it provides the fifth ‘r’ of revenue to fill government coffers). But will local government of the future continue to provide social infrastructure – playing fields, libraries, aged care hostels, pre-schools and swimming pools? Evidence from the UK, which provides much of the model being followed here, is that removing these services or making them unaffordable is likely to happen.
In fact things are going so well in the UK that a statistically significant increase in admissions to hospital accident and emergency is being partly attributed to the loss of aged care and disability services provided by local government.
The state also appears uninterested in the economic contribution made by local government to regional economies; in the Gwydir shire government is second only to agriculture, and is an important stabilising influence.
Closer to home the biggest immediate threat is that cost cutting will lead to an unseemly turf war between Warialda and Bingara residents about where council offices should be located.
The poverty of parts of the shire has been widely reported in the past week, as postcodes in the Gwydir shire (not Gravesend) are amongst the poorest in Australia.
If the shire is not to be amalgamated, it is essential that both towns prosper; for one town to gain at the expense of the other will simply push the poor end further into poverty and deepen existing conflicts.
In the past week I have heard comments from residents of both towns about how the other has been favoured by preferential treatment and funding.
As a resident of neither town I have the impression that council has tried hard to be fair to both centres, and if Bingara has larger grant funded projects, it is because Bingara residents have lobbied hard for funding and often written grant applications themselves.
Projects like the Living Classroom and the Roxy have the capacity to generate significant income for the shire, and the undeveloped Myall Creek memorial has a potential to draw visitors from across the world.
Bingara and Warialda have been at loggerheads since the 1850s, when Bingara was a gold mine and Warialda the government town that tried to control it.
To survive the present threat residents of both ends of the shire need to work together for a mutually beneficial result. Cooperation is going to hurt, but it has to be done.