Save Our Councils' anti-amalgamation campaigner Philip Jenkyn speaks at Guyra demerger meeting this week

AGAINST AMALGAMATION: Tara Mendes, Katrina Rolff, and Debbie Mendes at an anti-amalgamation rally in Guyra in 2017. Photo: Madeline Link.
AGAINST AMALGAMATION: Tara Mendes, Katrina Rolff, and Debbie Mendes at an anti-amalgamation rally in Guyra in 2017. Photo: Madeline Link.

Save and Grow Guyra (formerly known as Guyra Anti Council Amalgamation – ANTY) will hold a demalgamation meeting at the Bowling Club this Thursday, at 7pm.

“There is a very strong situation where we can get Guyra Shire Council back,” member Gordon Youman said.

Anti-amalgamation campaigner Philip Jenkyn OAM, a retired barrister and anti-amalgamation campaigner with Save Our Councils Coalition, will talk about how to successfully demerge from Armidale Regional Council, and why he thinks it is justified in Guyra’s case.

The group will also present a UNE report arguing that demalgamation hasn’t helped nearby towns, 14 years after a merger.

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The Save and Grow Guyra group hopes that the state elections in March will bring back the old Guyra Shire Council.

The Liberal-National Coalition merged Guyra with Armidale Dumaresq Council in 2016, as part of their “Fit for the Future” scheme.

Labor, the Greens, and the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party have all promised to reinstate the councils if they are elected in March – if residents want it.

Armidale Regional Council mayor Simon Murray – a Guyra resident, and the former council's deputy mayor – and Hans Hietbrink, last mayor of Guyra, have both argued that Guyra was struggling financially before the merger, and simply cannot afford to stand by itself.

“They should be looking at the cold, hard facts, not the emotion,” Cr Murray said.

Most residents, Cr Murray said, were happy with how things are now; all services were provided, while some felt roads, mowing, and cleaning up were all done better now. The big advantage to Guyra was the Malpas pipeline, as well as youth and Aboriginal services.

Guest speaker

Guest speaker Philip Jenkyn OAM, a retired barrister and anti-amalgamation campaigner with Save Our Councils Coalition, expects the old council to be restored.

“They will get that back,” he said. “What the community should be doing, really, is getting in behind those members of the community who actually want to get Guyra back. Get in there, work up a petition, and have your referendum if there’s a change of government.”

Mr Jenkyn led the successful campaign to prevent Sydney council Hunters Hill from being merged.

“The most essential thing about a local community is that it should be based upon a sense of identity, and a sense of belonging,” he said.

“To run a community or a council successfully in the country requires motivation and commitment by local people to a particular area that they find an affinity with, that they feel is their place.

“By sucking up Guyra into Armidale, into a big regional council, what [the government] are doing is really sucking out of Guyra the commitment, the sense of belonging, of looking after and managing your own affairs.

“What government of any morality would ever do that to a community?”

Amalgamation hasn't helped Barraba 14 years on

The Save and Grow Guyra group will also present a paper from UNE researcher Andrea Wallace studying the effects of amalgamation on Barraba, absorbed into Tamworth Regional Council in 2004.

Ms Wallace has also written a paper studying Guyra community’s members expectations, and surveying Armidale Regional Council workers and employees to see how the merger affected them.

This, and a paper looking at the consequences of Manilla’s merger with Tamworth, will be published next year.

Barraba community members surveyed felt that council services had declined over the last 14 years, Ms Wallace found.

“Council amalgamations, as perceived by the residents of Barriba, don’t offer any positive economic or social benefits,” she said.

Barriba residents didn’t feel they were well represented on Tamworth council. Because their views and preferences hadn’t been articulated, they haven’t got what they want.

There were a marked economic decline in the town: less employment options for locals; local businesses suffering; less money flowing through town; and a loss of sense of community.

The process of amalgamation itself was also incredibly costly, Ms Wallace said, and disruptive for councils and communities.

“Nothing has really improved post-merger,” Ms Wallace said. “It hasn’t contributed positively to the economic or social well-being of that community.”

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