Lismore council has agreed to become involved in a pilot ‘joint organisation’ which could result in a super council that covers the Northern Rivers region.
The state government wants to create four pilots, or groups of councils, from regional NSW to help co-design a ‘robust yet flexible’ model for joint organisations.
Such organisations would collaborate on regional priorities, working closely with the state government to deliver a collective voice for their regions.
In a mayoral minute, Lismore mayor Jenny Dowell said all mayors at the October 10 meeting of the Northern Rivers Regional Organisation of Councils (NOROC) had agreed to apply to become a pilot organisation.
‘If we don’t put up our hand we’ll be left with what is imposed on us,” Cr Dowell told the meeting last night.
‘Every mayor and general manager at the NOROC meeting said yes’.
The push to create joint organisations is part of the NSW Government’s Fit for the Future process, which is expected to result in council amalgamations and the creation of an ‘appropriate forum for collaboration on regional priorities’.
By becoming a pilot, the Northern Rivers group of councils, which includes Lismore, Tweed, Byron, Ballina, Kyogle and Richmond Valley councils, would have access to $300,000 to help with establishment costs.
An officer from the Office of Local Government would be assigned to the JO to help in the development of the model, with extra support from the Department of the Premier and Cabinet.
Cr Dowell said by being involved as a pilot, ‘the opportunity exists for NOROC to create its own certainty and shape its preferred future in consultation with its communities’.
Not all councillors were convinced.
Cr Gianpiero Battista asked ‘how do we know we don’t add another layer of bureaucracy by supporting this?
‘To me having another organisation looking after the Northern Rivers goes against the idea of having a diverse society,’ he said.
‘There is a need for cooperation but I truly believe we are creating another level of bureaucracy but they (the mayors and generals managers) would be still fighting for their own turf.’
Cr Dowell said ‘the state government doesn’t want that and neither do the ROCs (Regional Organisations of Councils)’.
Cr Greg Bennett also expressed concern that another layer of bureaucracy would result, and that elected councillors would be disenfranchised from important decision-making.
Cr Dowell said however that it had been made clear that joint organisations would be formed regardless.
“It’s expected there will be 15 across the state. It’s going to happen,’ she said.
Although she eventually supported the motion, Cr Vanessa Ekins also expressed concerns that councillors would be left out of the loop on important decisions.
She accused NOROC of employing consultants for major initiatives such as waste and water instead of involving councils and county councils.
‘They are making decisions about roads and water supply and leaving us out in the cold,’ she said.
When the vote was taken, however, all councillors except Graham Meinke, Greg Bennett and Gianpiero Battista supported the motion.
Lismore will now notify NOROC of its willingness to take part in the JO pilot program.
Cr Dowell, who was recently elected as the interim president of NOROC, said other councils had either resolved to support the submission, or their mayors had indicated they would write a letter of support.
A 12-month president and vice president will be elected at the NOROC annual general meeting on 7 November in Ballina.