Cootamundra-Gundagai council merger on shaky ground after High Court ruling

VIGOUR: Rally attendees let their feelings known as the potential for further legal action looms larger and larger. Picture: Lachlan Grey.

VIGOUR: Rally attendees let their feelings known as the potential for further legal action looms larger and larger. Picture: Lachlan Grey.

The fight over council amalgamations could escalate after an eastern Sydney council was granted a High Court appeal to overturn a Supreme Court ruling upholding its proposed merger.

This comes after a massed rally in Gundagai last week mourning the “death of democracy” one year after the merger between Cootamundra and Gundagai. 

Woollahra Council in Sydney’s east were initially rejected in the Court of Appeal on December 22 last year after contesting its forced council merger with Waverly and Randwick. 

However, after further documentation was made available through the NSW Civic Appeals tribunal, Woollahra was granted an appeal by the High Court in Canberra last Friday.

Spokesperson for the Save Our Councils Coalition Phil Jeynken said the High Court milestone would galvanise anti-merger supporters across the state. 

"We are absolutely determined and committed to winning this battle," he said.

"We're winning at the ballot box, as you noted at the recent by-elections, massive swings, in both the country, in Orange, and the city over this issue."

Woollahra's appeal has inspired confidence in dissenting residents from Cootamundra and Gundagai, with former Gundagai mayor Abb McAlister saying the decision was another step forward towards independence.

“This is just another win for local councils against the government,” Mr McAlister said.

“Right from the start our merger has been a total mess and it was never going to work.

“We are a special case and we should be treated as such.”

Council in Exile spokeswoman Amy Turner said the merger must be reversed if Gundagai was to be preserved.

“Job losses as a result of our merger could result in entire families leaving our town,” Ms Turner said.

“The ripple effect is endless.”

Cootamundra-Gundagai Regional Council administrator Stephen Sykes conceded the decision was a step forward for those wishing to contend the merger.

However, Mr Sykes said he was singly focused on ensuring a smooth transition into the upcoming September elections.

“I note the high court determination to allow leave to appeal,” Mr Sykes said. 

“This is a first step but has no impact on the job ahead for me. 

“My role continues to be to deliver the best organisation possible to the elected body in September 2017.”

If Woollahra is successful in overturned its Supreme Court ruling, it could spark a series of de-merger efforts (potentially in Cootamundra and Gundagai) in direct opposition to the Berejiklian state government.  

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