OBERON Council will take its opposition to forced amalgamations all the way to the Land and Environment Court after joining a legal battle to fight the state government’s plans.
A proposal handed down by Local Government Minister Paul Toole late last year would see Oberon Council forced to merge with Bathurst Regional Council as part of a program of compulsory amalgamations being rolled out across the state.
Oberon residents – and councillors – have vehemently opposed the plan, which is now being considered by the state’s Boundaries Commission.
In the meantime, Oberon Council has accepted an offer to join a class action against forced mergers being led by Sydney’s Woollahra Council in the Land and Environment Court.
Oberon mayor Kathy Sajowitz said an approach had come from Walcha Council for Oberon and other small councils, including Cabonne, to support Woollahra’s action.
Cr Sajowitz said the challenge, which was scheduled to be heard yesterday (Thursday), was based around the claim that the Minister for Local Government misused Sections 218F of the Local Government Act to implement proposed forced amalgamations and that the subsequent Boundaries Commission process was procedurally unfair.
“Eminent Sydney barrister Peter King has offered to act for Walcha and associated rural councils, an extremely generous commitment,” Cr Sajowitz said.
“As a result, legal costs for Oberon to join will be minimal.
“Should other rural councils decide to also join the action costs could be further reduced.
“After seeking our own legal advice a recommendation was put to an extraordinary council meeting held on April 13 that Oberon Council join with the Walcha Council action.
“This recommendation was passed unanimously by council.” Cr Sajowitz said Mr Toole had been reluctant to speak to council or visit Oberon to discuss why he thinks a merger with Bathurst Regional Council would have any benefit for Oberon, leaving council with few options.
“The concerns of the Oberon community are neither being heard nor acknowledged, to be treated with such disdain by our elected representatives is demeaning,” she said.
“Our community has overwhelmingly and consistently indicated its opposition to a merger with Bathurst Regional Council and, as such, council feels comfortable with endorsing this course of action.
“Walcha has the support of its Federal Member Barnaby Joyce and Local Member Kevin Anderson in this action.
“Although this is a NSW State Government issue, many Federal MPs are realising that the fallout has the real potential to impact strongly in the coming federal election.
“This was apparent to me while chatting with the Federal MPs that were part of the Pollie Pedal Group who visited Oberon recently.”
Meanwhile, the deadline for councillors and mayors to express an interest in joining an interim council in their areas if forced amalgamations go ahead was last Friday.