Shellharbour council to appeal merger court ruling

“I think we owe it to our residents to fight, to try and save the city.”

With those words from Shellharbour City Councillor John Murray, debate over whether the organisation should splash more cash to continue its legal battle against amalgamation began on Thursday night. 

Talks during the extraordinary meeting centred around the costs of maintaining the fight, but ultimately the decision was made to push ahead. 

The Land and Environment Court this week dismissed Shellharbour Council’s case against the NSW government’s plan to force a merger with Wollongong City Council. 

In a judgment handed down on Tuesday afternoon, Justice Tim Moore said there was “no defect in the process for this proposed amalgamation”.

On Thursday night – after an hour-long, closed-door legal advice discussion – councillors publicly voted 5-2 in favour of appealing the decision via the NSW Court of Appeal.

The appeal includes “taking any necessary steps for interlocutory relief”.

Councillors Helen Stewart and Peter Moran voted against the move. 

Cr Moran said the information provided to him during the confidential session didn’t “fill me with confidence” that the appeal would be successful.

He also stated he didn’t think it was in the best interests of ratepayers to “unnecessarily prolong the situation”.

“We have to accept … the state government has put our heads on the chopping block and they want to drop the axe,” he said.

Cr Murray said the council had “everything to lose and nothing to gain” from the merger, a sentiment echoed by Cr Paul Rankin.

“If we don’t stand up for the residents … I think we would be negligent in our duties to the community,” Cr Rankin said. 

Mayor Marianne Saliba stressed the council had to “do everything we can”.

“Nobody wants to throw good money after bad in a case that we won’t win, but we don’t know that and, yes, sometimes the underdog does win,” Cr Saliba said.

“If it means that we continue with the battle, I think it’s appropriate.”    

Councillors also voted in favour of releasing information about how much money has been spent to-date on its legal challenge. 

Prior to the meeting, five residents addressed councillors, with all expressing a desire for the council to maintain its fight. 

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