On Monday March 27, the NSW Court of Appeal held in favour of Ku-ring-gai council regarding the proposed merger with Hornsby Shire. The verdict, reached by a panel of three judges, will prevent the merger from going ahead in its current form.
Justices Basten and Macfarlan reached their decision on the grounds that Ku-ring-gai had been denied procedural fairness, partly due to a consultant’s report that had been kept secret from the public and the official investigating the merger. They held that the public interest in keeping the report secret was outweighed by the public interest in making sure the information was available.
The council’s win has brought fresh hope to the battle against the NSW Government’s merger proposals, particularly after Woollahra Council was unsuccessful in convincing the Court of Appeal with a similar argument last year. The judgement has also provided encouragement for other Sydney councils contesting the mergers, including Mosman, Lane Cove and Strathfield councils, who claimed they would be presenting a similar line of reasoning.
Speaking after the judgement was handed down on Monday, the Mayor of Ku-ring-gai, Jennifer Anderson, said that she was ‘heartened’ by the courts decision. “We believe the court’s decision signals a turning point for Premier Berejiklian’s government. If they continue with the merger process they will be flying in the face of our community and our court,” Mayor Anderson said.
Although the Court of Appeal’s decision has quickly become a beacon of hope, it is unclear as to whether it marks the beginning of the merger plans’ downfall or just a minor technicality. In his judgment, Basten JA recognised that although there was a possibility the decision in this case would not be futile for the council, “if the flawed examination.. (was) redone properly, relief should be granted”.
Whether the Berejiklian Government should or will amend their current merger proposal remains a topic of public debate. Opposition Leader Luke Foley stands in clear opposition to the NSW Government continuing with their proposal. “After today’s shellacking the government should just admit defeat” Foley said. Greens local government spokesman David Shoebridge added his voice to the dissent.
Despite opposition, it appears the threat of a merger still hangs over Ku-ring-gai Council, as a spokesperson for the Local Government Minister Gabrielle Upton indicated that the government was still determined to push ahead with the merger. Only time will tell as to whether Ku-ring-gai’s recent ‘win’ will pay off in the long run.