Amalgamation hysteria: the sky isn’t falling

This is the ludicrous front-page of the Daily Telegraph on 4 December. We have removed the picture of Ricky Ponting’s farewell and replaced it with an image of the Evil Empire’s Rupert Murdoch, trying to look “humbled” before the Leveson Inquiry into the irresponsible behaviour of his own newspapers, and in particular, the practice at News Ltd of hacking into private phones. Nice.

Prepared under the byline of the Telegraph’s State Political Editor (and not the respected local government writer), the article, boasted of as an “Exclusive”, was not exclusive it all because it was simply nothing more than the distorted publication of old news available to everyone.

The NSW Government has a policy of rejecting the concept of compulsory amalgamation - consistent with a succession of previous Governments over the decades hoping that common sense would encourage the voluntary building of bigger, better, more financially sustainable councils to provide improved services and better pay and conditions for employees. But common sense is a decidedly uncommon faculty sometimes, and this hasn’t worked effectively. Too much for the politicians to lose.

However, while the Government remains opposed to compulsory amalgamation, its broad-ranging brief to the Independent Review Panel has not provided any artificial restrictions on proper analysis of the best options for local government over the next 20 years. The document from which the Telegraph concluded that “MERGE OR DIE” was an appropriate headline was nothing more than a mistaken conclusion from the well-researched, respected and compelling paper Better, Stronger Local Government: The Case for Sustainable Change published in November.

And, when you think about it, if the purpose of merged councils is to provide better services to the community, better services are not provided by cutting those staff who provide them.

Just to be clear for the Chicken Littles of the world, the NSW Government does not have a policy of compulsory amalgamation, nor has it reneged on any policy of compulsory amalgamation. We don’t like what the Government is doing about employment laws and we harbour suspicions about their attitude to employees generally, but the reality is under their current policy nothing will happen.

Some bad news for the panic merchants but, all things being considered, the inappropriately sensational article in the Telegraph could have been worse: they could have hacked into all our phones.

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