FEARS Brewarrina would “become a suburb of Walgett or Cobar” have fueled the local council’s decision to reject their share of a $20 million deal to join one of two new Joint Regional Organisations in the Far West.
“We were elected as a local council for Brewarrina constituents – not for our neighbours – and we are completely different to Walgett and Bourke,” Mayor Phillip O’Connor said.
“(Government) told us it is not an amalgamation, but it looks pretty close to me.”
Member for Barwon Kevin Humphries said it wasn’t too late for council to change its mind and join Cobar, Bourke and Walgett in a North West joint organisation that would sit beside a South West grouping of Balranald, Broken Hill, Central Darling, and Wentworth.
The organisations are similar to 11 others that have rolled out across the state since April, including 74 local government areas.
But Cr O’Connor was resolute.
“The decision to stay as we are was not unanimous, but pretty close,” he said of the May vote by councilors to go it alone.
Brewarrina Shire had a population of just over 1600 at the 2016 census and a land mass of 20,000 square kilometres that stretches to the Queensland border.
About 60 per cent of the shire’s population identifies as Aboriginal.
The region relies mainly on wool, sheep, beef, wheat and cotton for industry and income.
Cr O’Connor said his fellow elected members were confident the council had placed itself well to prosper in the coming years, and were not concerned that the region may be missing out on a slice of $20m, the carrot used by government to get the eight councils to sign on.
“If you look at it, $20m between eight councils won’t go very far,” he said.
“It’ll be gone in a couple of years and everyone will be fighting over who gets what.”
“We’ve made some big changes here over the past few years and we’ve set ourselves up pretty well.”
Deputy Premier John Barilaro confirmed the money will still be divvied up between the new Northern and Southern joint organisations.
The funding package covers $500,000 in road plan upgrades, $1m to employ extra staff, $10m to invest in tourism and infrastructure projects, and funding to re-establish Far West Air Services to Cobar, Bourke and Lightning Ridge or Walgett, as well as airport facilities in both the north and south.
The proposal replaced the unpopular Far West Initiative that signaled plans to add a fourth layer of government over the region.
Mr Humphries said the organisations would see councils, state agencies and other stakeholders planning regional projects that cross traditional boundaries and would otherwise be difficult for individual councils to get done on their own.
“The new joint organisations can now start making decisions that make life better for local families, businesses and communities across the region,” he said.
“I strongly encourage Brewarrina Shire Council to act quickly and join a joint organisation.
“It is not too late for the council to ensure its community also benefits from the new regional bodies as they start to make key decisions and progress important regional initiatives.”