State election: Candidates on de-amalgamating Guyra

POLITICS: Adam Marshall MP, Debra O'Brien, Rayne Single, and Dr Dorothy Robinson. Photo: Steve Green
POLITICS: Adam Marshall MP, Debra O'Brien, Rayne Single, and Dr Dorothy Robinson. Photo: Steve Green

Gordon Youman, of the Save and Grow Guyra group, put the hard question to the Northern Tablelands candidates on Friday night: Would they support the demalgamation of Guyra from Armidale Regional 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 will all support demalgamation if residents want it.

Adam Marshall MP (Nationals, incumbent)

Mr Marshall explained that he opposed the merger in 2016, but was not given the chance to vote against it; then-premier Mike Baird made the decision over his head.

"My view on that forced merger process has not changed, and will not change," Mr Marshall said.

Mr Marshall and other MPs had threatened to cross the floor and vote against the mergers if Mr Baird introduced legislation into parliament.

"The premier didn't go through a parliamentary process," Mr Marshall said; "he used a legislative process within the act to ram it through."

Mr Baird used the provisions of sections 212 to 218 of the Local Government Act to cause a boundaries commission hearing.

"I fought the fight," Mr Marshall said. He had stood up at public meetings; questioned the veracity of the KPMG report on council mergers (and still had not seen the full report); and made an extensive submission to the enquiry. "In politics, you don't win them all, unfortunately," Mr Marshall said.

The amalgamation, Mr Marshall believed, "doesn't actually address the fundamental issues in local government that I'm passionate about".

"If you put two councils together that are in financial trouble, just merging them together doesn't actually fix anything, unless you fix the fundamental issues underlying what dropped those councils in that position to start with."

Debra O'Brien (Labor)

"I'm very sympathetic to the situation that Guyra people are in," Ms O'Brien said. "If the Guyra community actually want [de-amalgamation], then the Labor party will support it."

Labor, Ms O'Brien explained, was against forced mergers. If 10 per cent of the local community sign a petition, that would trigger a plebiscite.

The 2016 merger decisions "were made with a vacuum of information", Ms O'Brien said. The forced amalgamations, she said, had to do with councils' financial positions - "but we don't know whether that's improved or not".

Rayne Single (Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party)

"We support a plebiscite into ratepayers' opinions," Mr Single said. "If [a demerger] is what they want, I support it."

The SFP never supported the forced council mergers, Mr Single said. Both here in Guyra, as well as in Tumbarumba shire, the party would work with the community and listen to their wishes. Queensland had also demerged many councils forcibly amalgamated in 2008.

Mr Single knows first-hand the effects of council mergers. His family in Tingha were happier to go to Inverell than to join Armidale - but it has taken more than two years for the transition to happen. "That was a whole dog's breakfast," Mr Single said.

Dr. Dorothy Robinson (Greens)

Official Greens policy is to support the will of the people by a plebiscite, Dr Robinson explained. If that verdict is demalgamation, then the Greens policy is also to provide the funds to make it happen.

"I believe in democracy," Dr Robinson said. "A plebiscite is the best way we have of allowing people in the communities to exercise their democratic right, so please make use of it."