Shellharbour’s battle won: 'I never back down when I know I'm right'

There were tears, hugs, cheers and bubbly as the news that Shellharbour council would not be merged with Wollongong reverberated around the southern chambers on Tuesday afternoon. 

At the centre of the celebration was Mayor Marianne Saliba, who endured public criticism for months to stand her ground and keep up the council’s legal battle against the merger.

And, while she played no part in the internal machinations which prompted a change in premier and ultimately a change of policy, her sheer perseverance meant the two councils were still standing on Tuesday.

Had Shellharbour councillors, led by the mayor, not voted to keep going with their Land and Environment Court challenge and subsequent appeal, the City of Greater Wollongong would have been in existence (and under administration) since May.

And while there’s been hints the new premier planned to shift the government’s controversial council amalgamations policy since Ms Berejiklian was sworn in, Tuesday’s final confirmation came as a shock to Cr Saliba.

“I think it’s a bit of reality check,” she said.

“I never thought for a minute we didn’t deserve to stand alone, and I certainly never thought for a minute that we should have been merged.

“I’m really proud of my colleagues, and the community, that have been involved in this particular battle, so I’m very grateful to the new Premier and I want to thank her for listening to the people of Shellharbour.”

Flanked by councillors Kellie March, John Murray and David Boyle, Cr Saliba raised a glass to their perseverance and wiped away tears of relief.

“I never back down from a fight, when I know I’m right,” she said.

“This is just an absolutely thrilled to let our community know that we survived as Shellharbour City Council and we’ll continue for a long time to come.”

She also said the victory had taken on a deep personal significance after the recent death of her mother, May Hudson, who was a councillor between 1986 and 1999.

“My mum was here for 14 years, so this is a really significant occasion for me right now,” Cr Saliba said.

She said councillors planned to celebrate their “victory” at a briefing scheduled for Tuesday night.

As for the frosty relationship which has developed between Wollongong and Shellharbour councils over the past 14 months, Cr Saliba seemed to have let go of any hard feelings.

“I’m just glad we’ve been able to help save them too, because there was something to be lost for their community, and I’m looking forward to working with all the Illawarra councils in the future,” she said.

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