The merger of Illawarra councils appeared inevitable and the region's community leaders should start laying the groundwork, Wollongong Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery said yesterday.
Councillor Bradbery's view puts him at odds with his Shellharbour and Kiama counterparts, who yesterday rejected the idea of an Illawarra merger.
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All three mayors spoke out after the State Government said it would appoint an expert panel to investigate the future of local governments in NSW.
The three-member panel will consider matters including voluntary amalgamations.
Cr Bradbery said in his "grand scheme of government" the role of the states was redundant.
"I would see Australia having federal government and then regional governments which would be ultimately the aggregation of councils," he said.
While acknowledging such a change might not occur in his lifetime, he said it was something the region's councils could work towards through collaboration.
"The economies of scale enter into this. Delivering services across the three local government areas for instance could be done more effectively and efficiently.""What I'm suggesting is that collaboration and shared resourcing seems to me the way to go and preparing the ground for future amalgamations."
The issue of council mergers has long been a touchy subject in the Illawarra, and Shellharbour and Kiama mayors Kellie Marsh and Sandra McCarthy both spoke out against them. Cr Marsh claimed Shellharbour was not a "generic brand" and that all three council areas were unique.
"We know what's going on in our backyard and the more things that we take away from local government - it's just a recipe for disaster," she said.
Her comments reflect the view that a merger could cost communities their distinct identities.
Kiama Mayor Sandra McCarthy said residents had strongly indicated their preference to stand alone. Amalgamations were likely to be easier in metropolitan Sydney than the Illawarra, where distinct geographical boundaries separated the local governments, she said.
She also supported the Illawarra's existing structure, including the collaborative role of the Southern Councils Group, of which Kiama, Shellharbour and Wollongong are all members.
In a 2005 Kiama council survey, 89 per cent of participants believed Kiama should remain separate.
Local Government Minister Don Page has said the Government is opposed to forced amalgamations.