“Look out, Gladys, we are coming!” That’s the vow from Tumbarumba citizens after a private plebiscite showed almost unanimous support to reject the forced merger with Tumut shire to form Snowy Valleys.
The Save Tumbarumba Shire group cheekily ran their own plebiscite alongside the official NSW council elections last Saturday and were not surprised to find nearly 93 per cent of Tumbarumba electors don’t want to jump into bed with Tumut.
The voters were asked: “Should the NSW Government restore the former local government are of Tumbarumba Shire, with a locally elected council?”
The results of the plebiscite were resoundingly in the negative. Of the 1275 voters who lodged formal votes at the council elections at three booths in the old shire area, 1207 (94.7 per cent ) voted in the plebiscite. Of this total, 1125 voted “Yes”, signifying their support for the demerger of Tumbarumba Shire, and 6.8pc voted “No”. The “black shirts’ who conducted the survey said they used independent scrutineers to count the plebiscite votes, with sealed ballot boxes and anonymous voting.
Lucy Henderson, a spokesperson for the group, said that there was no doubt that the government must “immediately admit the absurdity of their situation or face the wrath of voters across regional NSW”.
“Tumbarumba told the government the merger was a stupid idea 2 years ago,” she said. “This result shows that it still is. We were ignored, lied to, and thrown on the scrapheap by politicians who just don’t care about the people who elect them. So now Tumbarumba is going to fight back and get our democracy restored. Look out, Gladys, we are coming! She can’t ignore this. She can’t reject 93 per cent of Tumbarumba.”
The group already has sent one delegation to the Premier several weeks ago and now were seeking another “urgent meeting”. But it would seem any bid would be forlorn after Mrs Berejkilian said she would not undo any councils that had already been merged before her back down announcement about council mergers earlier this year.
“This plebiscite shows Tumbarumba people have not given up and that we are doing the right thing,” Ms Henderson said. “When they did the Fit for the Future assessment of councils before the mergers were announced, we actually came in at number two most fittest council in the state – after Sydney City Council. The final recommendation from the delegate designated to look at our case was that we not be merged, but this was ignored.”
Newly elected Snowy Valleys councillor and teacher James Hayes, who appears as a front runner to be Tumut’s new mayor, said Tumbarumba people were entitled to pursue their dream of a demerger if they wanted to. Mr Hayes said he was not in favour of the council merger himself and it would have been interesting if the plebiscite was held in Tumut, and what result the Save Tumbarumba shire group would have received from Tumut voters.
“The merger wasn’t something we wanted either but we have to live with it,” he said. “The important thing is to get on with the job and make sure everyone in the new council area is catered for.”
Mr James said there were a number of priority areas for Snowy Valleys given its rising industrial base and he wanted “urgent action’ from the NSW Government to support the new council. Tumut needed a new fire and ambulance station and hospital. It also wanted the re-opening of the rail branch line to Wagga. Visy, one of the biggest exporters of containerised goods in Australia had its major paper base in Tumut and was currently sending 2000 tonnes of paper a day to Wagga by road to be put on rail, putting huge pressure on the roads system.
“We’ve got a lot of needs in Tumut and our industry base including the proposed Snowy 2.0 project is growing by the day. There is also a lot of community facilities that need urgent upgrading throughout the council area including community halls and other facilities.”