LOCKHART’S successful bid for independence has been described as “the work of someone above”, after it was revealed the lawyer tasked with deciding the shire’s fate advocated for its demise.
Government-appointed delegate and former Manly-Warringah, Eastern Suburbs and Parramatta rugby league player Mike Eden recommended the state government forcibly merge Lockhart shire with Corowa and Urana.
Sensationally, Mr Eden dismissed local concerns it would take Lockhart residents almost a full day to travel by public transport to Corowa to participate in local government.
"It would take 22 hours travel time to attend a council meeting in Corowa for a Lockhart resident using currently available public transport. The return trip would in most cases take longer,” Mr Eden said.
"Concerns over communities of interest and geographic cohesion do not present an impediment to this merger proposal.”
The Albury-based lawyer also gave short shrift to the groundswell of grassroots public backlash to the amalgamation proposal.
"Residents and ratepayers have at several public meetings ‘unanimously’ opposed the proposed merger and in fact any other merger,” Mr Eden said.
"Many of the Lockhart Shire residents and ratepayers oppose the proposed merger because of the perception they will lose their identity, service provisions and representation.
"While the majority of submissions received were opposed to the merger proposal proceeding, this consideration on its own would not be an impediment to implementation.
Lockhart councillor Jim Morgan claimed it “was anyone’s guess” how the shire avoided amalgamation.
“The merger process was a guessing game the whole way through, the goalposts kept shifting the whole way through,” Cr Morgan said.
“I wouldn’t have a clue how we survived, but the community’s outrage must have held some sway.”
Wagga MP Daryl Maguire’s defence of the shire was lauded by Lockhart mayor Peter Yates and chairwoman of the Lockhart Shire No Merger Action Group Justine Isherwood, but he refused to be drawn on how Lockhart escaped the clutches of the state's forced merger campaign.
“It’s all academic who spoke to who ... picking over the coals isn't helpful, we have to look to the future,” Mr Maguire said.