Academic Brian Dollery gives his theory on amalgamation reason

Professor Brian Dollery.

Professor Brian Dollery.

Council amalgamations are not in the interests of communities, and the push for them is often driven by the big end of town, a professor of economics told the Gazette.

The Gazette this week published part one of our interview with Brian Dollery, a professor of economics at the University of New England. Here we speak to him about what he feels is the real reason behind the push for amalgamations.

Professor Dollery, also the director for the Centre for Local Government, said he doubted the government’s claims that amalgamating the Hawkesbury and The Hills would save $54 million over 20 years.

He said the proposal, released earlier this month, did not state how accounting firm KPMG arrived at the conclusion of the estimated savings.

He said there was a mountain of research which suggested that the cost of amalgamating councils, not to mention social and cultural costs, was massive, and often ended up costing more than estimated savings.

“There is no net savings in amalgamation - it is expensive and there is overwhelming evidence to support this,” he said.

Professor Dollery said so-called independent analysis, such as that KPMG did for the government, should be treated with a grain of salt by the public, because the government commissioned the research.​

When asked why the government would be so keen on amalgamations if there was such a mountain of evidence against them, Professor Dollery said he believed there was pressure put on governments by wealthy developers to amalgamate councils.

He said the government wanted to make it easier for developers to build things in NSW.

“You have pressure groups in Sydney. The big end of town wants fewer local councils because it is easier to get development applications approved,” he said.

“It is easier to form an ongoing and close relationship with that council and foster goodwill with the staff with a big council than many little ones.”