Commissioner reflects on demerger inquiry

NSW Independent Local Government Boundaries Commissioner and mayor of Temora Rick Firman.

While Temora Shire mayor Rick Firman’s council escaped the 2016 council mergers, Cr Firman says some communities were not so fortunate.

Cr Firman continues to serve on the NSW Independent Local Government Boundaries Commission (LGBC) as one of four Commissioners. He is the only Commissioner who is from a rural community. Cr Firman was also on the previous LGBC, with the four being re-appointed by the Governor of NSW, for a further five-year-term.

The LGBC have recently concluded their inquiry into the proposal to de-amalgamate Cootamundra-Gundagai Regional Council (CGRC). This is the second de-merger submission to have been put to the Local Government Minister in two years, with the current report and recommendations being supplied to the Minister last week.

The Commission recommended that the proposal of de-amalgamation be implemented. It also recommended that, if the proposal is implemented, the Minister consider the holding of elections for the de-amalgamated Shires as early as feasible.

The final recommendations for the current proposal were adopted by the LGBC, 3 votes to 1.

In reflecting on the most recent work with CGRC, Cr Firman said it was another “lengthy and in-depth process”.  

“After only just concluding our last inquiry over 12 months ago, we were back at it as there was a recent amendment to the NSW Local Government Act 1993, that suggests a council who has been merged, may, if its within 10 years of the date of amalgamation, apply to the Minister for Local Government to have a de-merged entity,” he said.  

The Minister must then automatically refer it to the LBGC, for them to conduct an inquiry.

“As a Commission, we’ve really worked hard, to be frank,” Cr Firman said.  

“We’ve had to consider 11 factors as part of our deliberations, for example, attitude of community, financial situation etc.   

“We hosted several public hearings in both Cootamundra and Gundagai, with the mayor, councillors and citizens able to speak to us directly, from the heart, about what they’re thinking about the merged entity.

“The LGBC also received further written submissions, which we read every single word. I even recall reading where one gentleman even wrote to Her Majesty the Queen, to intervene and de-amalgamate the CGRC.

“I felt this time, even more than the last inquiry we conducted, the effects of the mental health and wellbeing on the councillors was telling. Even more so, the staff.  

“We heard and read consistent evidence that the CGRC was beyond toxic. It’s so very sad, it really is. We even heard from psychiatrists, wives, husbands and friends who all expressed their serious concerns about the health of their loved one.”

The Temora mayor heaped praise on the manner in which the community keep standing up to speak and writing submissions.  

“This has been going on for some time now. There must be some submission fatigue out there, but the citizens kept turning up and writing letters to the Commission – it spoke loudly to us,” he said.  

“There are some mergers that obviously work, and that’s terrific. However, it was very clear to me that this merger has not and will not be a viable entity. For a council to be successful, it is my strong view we must have the hearts and minds of your staff and of your community. This certainly is not the case, as far as I’m concerned, with CGRC.”

Cr Firman said CGRC’s finances were obviously a major factor the Commission had to consider.  

“Even with us having Deloittes conduct a review for us, it certainly indicated there are some concerns,” he said.  

“However, to me, there was very clear and genuine desire for both communities to step up and pay more in their rates, fees and charges, to become a de-amalgamated council.  

“It’s also important to add that Deloittes indicated that Cootamundra would be better off, financially, in a de-merged scenario. It remains my strong view that the Gundagai citizens are prepared to pay more – and also identified that they have other income in, which appears quite substantial.

“Ultimately, this has been an extremely interesting roller coaster for us as Commissioners, but more particularly for the mayor (Cr Charlie Sheahan), the former mayor (Cr Abb McAlister), councillors, their staff and the entire community.  

“This is an emotional journey as well as anything else. What I can say, hand on heart, is that we as a LGBC couldn’t have worked any harder. We couldn’t have given more to our roles.”

Cr Firman went on to praise his colleagues – Bob Sendt (Chairman), Lesley Furneaux-Cook and Grant Gleeson.  

“The Commissioners I worked with were outstanding individuals. They ooze integrity, decency and I am proud to serve beside them,” he said.  

“It’s a shame that our Chairman, Mr Sendt, and Commissioner Furneaux-Cook have chosen to stand down from the LGBC, to pursue other interest. They both are outstanding, professional individuals. I’ve learned a great deal from them and wish them nothing but the best.”

Cr Firman and Mr Gleeson will continue to serve as Boundaries Commissioners, with their term concluding on February 26, 2026. 

An announcement on a replacement as Commission Chairman and a Commissioner is expected to be announced by the Minister soon.  

“With our final report now in the hands of Minister Tuckerman, it is appropriate that she is given the proper time to seriously consider our LGBC report and its recommendations,” Cr Firman said.

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