Farmer voice at risk with council mergers
We are always talking about the farmgate price in agriculture these days – but what leads to the farm gate is the local road. And the local road is managed by the local council. This is why the amalgamation of local councils is so important to farmers.
The efficient upkeep of local roads and services is dependent upon councils that understand the needs of the farming community. NSW Farmers is concerned that larger scale councils that dilute the farmer voice will lose touch with the real rural pulse.
Amalgamations intended to make councils ‘fit for the future’ can have unintended impacts on the unity and cohesion of local government through the creation of potential rival communities within a single local government area. The potential for this is particularly acute in rural areas where the tyranny of distance can create very real geographic and psychological differences between communities.
Farmers often contribute a high level of council rates when set against the services that they are able to readily access. Amalgamations that result in marked decreases in the proportion of farmers in a local government area could cause a decrease in engagement in key agricultural issues, or a decrease in the representation of farmers on their local council. For example, currently Guyra council has 33% of ratepayers from agricultural land, but once amalgamated with Armidale this will reduce to seven per cent.
NSW Farmers is completely opposed to forced amalgamations. We have been consistent in putting that case to government in submission after submission. At its core, NSW Farmers holds that local councils should provide three core functions: provision of essential services (water, sewerage, roads etc); provision of local planning services; and the oversight of the spending and decision making associated with these first two functions.
NSW Farmers will be making a clear submission to the Office of Local Government as it assesses the NSW Government’s proposal for 35 amalgamations. We will be defending any farmers in regional councils who are concerned that forced amalgamations will have an impact at the farmgate.
Published: The Land 19 February 2015
Contact: Jaimie Lovell
Phone: 1300 794 000