Local government consolidations are often proposed by a wide range of interests, often out of the belief that they will produce more efficient (less costly) governments. Much of the academic literature supports this view. However, the evidence indicates that material savings routinely fail to occur from such amalgamations. The claimed $300 million annual savings in Toronto's megacity quickly became higher costs and a larger bureaucracy.
As in the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec the Australian state governments of New South Wales (Sydney is the capital), Victoria (Melbourne is the capital) and Queensland (Brisbane is the capital) have been aggressive in forcing municipalities to merge over the last two decades. Often these attempts have met with opposition from residents. A forced amalgamation in Montreal was so unpopular that a new provincial government established mechanisms to "demerge." Despite formidable barriers, 15 cities chose independence.
Sometimes amalgamations are proposed for much smaller jurisdictions than 2.5 million population Toronto or even the 1990s merger that created the 90,000 population city of Melbourne, which is the core city of the Melbourne metropolitan area.
In July, the New South Wales government announced intentions to amalgamate three jurisdictions ranging with a total population of 35,000. The city of Armidale-Dumaresque, Uralla Shire and Gyura Shire are located in the "New England" region of New South Wales, one-half way between Sydney and Brisbane. The amalgamation would have replaced the local governments with the New England Regional Council, a mega-jurisdiction of 5,000 square miles (13,000 square kilometers), a land area approximately equal in size to the area of the states of Delaware, Rhode Island and the province of Prince Edward Island (Canada) combined.
The proposal met with determined opposition, from citizens and from the local governments. For example, the Uralla Shire Council submittal to the state Local Government Boundaries Commission, cited pitfalls of local government consolidations, relying on both Australian and international research. The Armidale Express reported that two former Guyra Shire council members mobilized that community against the amalgamation. There were substantial concerns. One was an interest in preserving historic communities, and the nearly universal aversion to moving city hall farther away. Errors were claimed in state government analyses that led to the amalgamation proposal and fiscal concerns were raised.
In the end, the Local Government Boundaries Commission recommended against the proposed amalgamation. Minister for Local Government, Barbara Perry made the announcement on November 17. Uralla, Guyra and Armidale-Dumaresque will not be forced to amalgamate.
The decision brought immediate positive responses from local leaders. Uralla Shire Mayor Kevin Ward said that he couldn't be happier with the decision. Guyra Shire Mayor Hans Heitbrink said that the decision not to merge the three councils speaks volumes about the spirit of the communities who fought to save their separate local government areas. Armidale-Dumaresq Mayor, Peter Ducat, spoke of the stress that the decision will relieve for council staff and the community.
They have reason to be pleased. Rarely, if ever, in recent decades have Australian jurisdictions retained their communities and their local democracies in the face of state amalgamation proposals.