Shooters' Robert Borsak champions Save and Grow Guyra Group

SAVE AND GROW GUYRA'S CHAMPION: Robert Borsak MLC, of the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party. Photo: Nicholas Fuller
SAVE AND GROW GUYRA'S CHAMPION: Robert Borsak MLC, of the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party. Photo: Nicholas Fuller

The Save and Grow Guyra Group has a new champion in their quest for demalgamation: Robert Borsak MLC, state leader of the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party.

Mr Borsak is a keen hunter. Now he has council amalgamations - and the state government - in his sights.

The old Guyra shire is not lost, he told a meeting at the Guyra Bowling Club on Wednesday night.

"We're not going to let it die," he said.

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If the SFFP wins more seats, Mr Borsak promised, they would support Guyra's demalgamation.

"Anything can happen in the next four years," Mr Borsak said. "All we need are one or two by-elections in the lower house, which the government by history will not win, and you will see a government in disarray."

Until then, Mr Borsak urged his audience to take the long view, and maintain their rage.

His audience of 30 enthusiastically applauded his speech.

The Save and Grow Guyra Group believe that Guyra has gained nothing from the merger with Armidale in 2016; that residents lack representation; that council is not maintaining services, and is selling former Guyra shire assets.

"If this keeps going," member Ray Mulligan said, "we're going to be nothing but a little village just up the road from Armidale."

They point to reports and academic studies criticising forced amalgamations, and look hopefully at demalgamations underway in Queensland.

Cr Murray, however, doubts that the people who attended are a good representation of the Guyra community.

"There's no support for them," he said. He also maintains that the poll was flawed in both data collection and interpretation.

MEETING: Gordon Youman, of the Save and Grow Guyra Group, listens thoughtfully to Robert Borsak. Photo: Nicholas Fuller

MEETING: Gordon Youman, of the Save and Grow Guyra Group, listens thoughtfully to Robert Borsak. Photo: Nicholas Fuller

SFFP oppose demergers - fit for the future?

The SFFP opposed demergers when the Baird government approached them after the 2011 coalition, Mr Borsak said. Their policy was, and still is, to see forced council amalgamations reversed.

"Forced council amalgamations are front and centre of our agenda not just for the bush, but also for Sydney," Mr Borsak said.

The reorganisation process, Mr Borsak said, had failed; only one amalgamated council (Dubbo) performed according to plan. Every other has produced a loss.

Mr Borsak said he could not understand why efficiently functioning, solvent councils like Guyra had to be amalgamated. "It can only be a complete failure of representation by the National Party," he said.

Mr Borsak had not seen the Deloitte report into shires' financial viability - still not released by the government - but believed that Guyra was considered 'fit for future' in it.

"Guyra was never going to be fit for the future," Armidale Regional Council CEO Susan Law said on Friday.

Guyra council, for instance, could not afford to maintain its assets; it contributed a third of Armidale Regional Council's $62 million of deferred maintenance on assets across the region.

Similarly, while Armidale Regional Council has some financial challenges, those challenges existed in both councils. In the last full year of Guyra and Armidale Dumaresq councils' existences, combined they made a $23,000 deficit.

Putting two such financially challenged councils together, Ms Law explained, would not suddenly create a financially sustainable single council.

"You've got a much better chance of gaining that financial sustainability if you are a larger amalgamated council than if you were smaller," she said.

"You have a greater rate-base; you can amortize your costs across a broader rate base and revenue base; plus you attract more in the way of grants because you have a bigger population."

The old Guyra council, Cr Murray said, was only going to come close to financial viability at the time if it raised rates by 30 per cent.

He warns that if Guyra demalgamates, rates will skyrocket - particularly now that Tingha has gone to Inverell.

An estimated 900 ratepayers would, for instance, have to pay $4 million for 50 council staff's wages alone - but could not afford operating costs.

As an accountant, Mr Borsak should have asked how Guyra residents could run a new council with so few ratepayers, Cr Murray believed.

"You might have 50 staff, but you'd have to give them a shovel and crowbar to dig a trench, because they wouldn't have any money for machinery," Cr Murray said.

Shooters Party challenges Coalition

The Shooters, Fishers, and Farmers, Mr Borsak said, was positioning to be the "right-wing, conservative party of choice in the bush in NSW".

With three members in the state lower house - for the electorates of Orange, Barwon, and Dalton - and, they say, more farmers in parliament than the Nationals - the SFFP expect to win more seats in future elections.

Mr Borsak attacked the "boy minister" Adam Marshall MP as a lackey of the Liberal Party, the dog wagging the tail of the Nationals.

Mr Marshall has repeatedly said - both in this newspaper and at public meetings - that he was not given a chance to oppose the amalgamation, despite his threat to cross the floor if Mr Baird introduced legislation into parliament.

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

Mr Marshall was also re-elected with the biggest margin in the state - including in Guyra, where 86 per cent voted for the Nationals.

"If they were so against what has happened, his vote in Guyra should have plummeted," Cr Murray said.

Mr Borsak also claimed that an animal rights group in the Coalition wanted to stop farmers breeding working dogs, sheep, and cattle - as they were already trying to ban greyhound racing and recreational fishing.

Cr Murray suspects that Mr Borsak was trying to get a voter base. "There's nothing like scaremongering," he said.

Next steps

"At the moment," Save and Grow Guyra's Gordon Youman said, "it looks like a lost cause - but it's not. Guyra will never give up... All we're trying to do is have our community survive..."

"We're one council; they've got to get over that," Cr Murray said.

The Armidale Regional Council, he explained, provides services to, and takes up liabilities for the old Guyra shire. He disputed that the new council provided less to Guyra; they actually, he thought, provided more, while anecdotally locals say they provide better services.

He supported residents' democratic right to demerge, if they had the numbers, but did not support this demerger, because of the initial demerger costs and the long-term ongoing cost.

Mr Borsak promised that if the SFFP could force demalgamation, they would force the government to produce money to buy new assets for the council.

SAGG said it would seek appointments with Mr Marshall and Cr Murray. Demanding the two come to Guyra was a popular suggestion, while Mr Borsak looked forward to debating Mr Marshall. The group would also draft letters of complaint to both men about the assets sale.

Cr Murray said the group should come and speak to him in his office any time. "I will not meet anyone on demand, but if they would politely ask me, no troubles at all." They were welcome to write any letter they liked, but neither he nor Mr Marshall had to act on it.