Council merger protest pickets John Barilaro’s front gate

Hundreds of protesters from across New South Wales converged on Queanbeyan on Friday to put pressure on the state's coalition government to end the forced council amalgamations.

Busloads of angry residents from towns as far as Tumbarumba, Delegate, and Dubbo chanted their way up Monaro St towards deputy premier John Barilaro's electorate office.

Last month Mr Barilaro made a pledge to put a stop to future council amalgamations but said he would not support removing mergers that had already been created.

State opposition leaders, Greens representatives and the federal Labor Member for Monaro Mike Kelly joined the protesters.

Local government spokesperson and Greens minister David Shoebridge, as well as the shadow minister for local government Peter Primrose said their parties would put forward legislation when parliament resumed this week to work with the government to end the controversial policy.

Both also said their legislation would include a plebiscite to give each community the power to decide on a merge.

Mr Shoebridge said the councils that had already been merged, such as Queanbeyan-Palerang, were only amalgamated in theory alone.

“It hasn't actually happened on the ground yet, there's been a hell of a lot of money blown, but the core infrastructure is there and we can reinstate the councils.”

One of the more contentious aspects of the policy is the process of assigning power to an unelected administrator.

And Labor minister Mr Primrose said this was a common gripe he heard from residents.

“The communities feel dis-empowered because they say they haven't been able to elect their own councillors, they weren't consulted about any of this and the ones that have merged are particularly worried by decisions being made by administrators,” Mr Primrose said.

“You've got decisions to close swimming pools, you've got staff being sacked, you have land being sold, and this is happening in every area," he said. "Really complex, difficult, expensive decisions being made by people who are essentially dictators who only report to one person, and that is the premier.”

Mr Primrose said the opposition was willing to work with the coalition but is also willing to capitalise on the growing movement amongst regional NSW against the government.

“If they say they're going to listen to local communities and they're going to stop the mergers, we'll back them," he said.

“If they don't then the campaign is going to continue.”

Save Our Council's spokesperson Phil Jenkyn said the group vowed to wage an electoral war against the sitting government if their demands are not met. Particularly against ministers in marginal seats such as Mr Barilaro.

“If they don't reflect the will of the people, which is to get rid of these hated forced amalgamations, then the communities around NSW will wage a campaign of put nationals and the liberals last in everything you do,” Mr Jenkyn said.

“Get your despised and hated forced amalgamations off the table, you've got no mandate for it and never went to an election on the policy.”

Dr Kelly said the federal Labor Party would fund the statewide plebiscite. 

“Let's take a deep breath, undo it, look at plebiscites as a way of moving forward and just get back on a track that reinforces democracy, reinforces rural and regional communities and not have this Sydney-centric approach," he said.

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