A MERGED Newcastle-Lake Macquarie council was in the NSW Government’s sights months before a review controversially found the councils lacked scale and capacity to stand alone, a report has shown.
The merged council appeared in a July 2015 KPMG report, which showed the government knew the councils it wanted to amalgamate and then worked backwards, by “paying KPMG to retrospectively create and then ‘review’ the alleged financial savings of the mergers”, Greens MP David Shoebridge said.
The company “marked its own homework” and was involved in the government’s forced amalgamation process months before the controversial Fit for the Future review was made public in October, he said.
The KPMG report shows a Newcastle-Lake Macquarie council as Group 10, behind an amalgamated Gosford-Wyong council as Group 9, with Dungog-Maitland as Group 11 and Gloucester-Great Lakes as Group 12.
The KPMG “Options Analysis: Local Reform” report and its timing undermined government descriptions of an “independent” assessment of the financial savings of each merger because KPMG listed the preferred mergers before any potential savings were determined, Mr Shoebridge said.
The release of the report during a Land and Environment Court challenge of a Sydney merger has further undermined the state’s local government reform process which led to clashes between residents and merged council administrators at meetings last week.
Newcastle Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes said the amalgamation process had been “a real shambles from the get-go”.
“Even the Premier is acknowledging the process has not been a good one. It was the advocacy work of Newcastle and Lake Macquarie councils that showed the government there would be high costs and little benefits from a merger,” Ms Nelmes said.
Lake Macquarie MP Greg Piper said the original proposal would have left “Lake Macquarie sacrificed to bolster Newcastle”, regardless of community views.